Friday, 24 July 2015

Who are Funerals for?

This morning as I met a 'parishioner' at The Crematorium she said to me with a gentle grin 'We must stop meeting like this'.  That's because some of my congregation have attended two services there this week as we've said 'farewell' to two dear friends of the church; one on Wednesday and another today.

I've spent some of this week asking myself the question 'Who are funerals for?' In truth I have quizzed myself on this topic before - I was simply reflecting on it again because of the prominence of this rite pf passage amongst us this week.

There's no doubt that the service is to honour and celebrate the departed.  We are there to remember that person - if we can, in a spirit of thanksgiving and gratitude.  Funerals become so much better when some thing of the one we are commending to God shines through making the service more personal and intimate.

Yet funerals are also most certainly for the living.  In our corporate grief we offer corporate encouragement. These services can be cathartic experiences bringing both a sense of closure and hope to the bereaved.

Sometimes the balance between the departed and the living has to be worked at in the preparation for a funeral service.  We cannot, for example, take it for granted that if it is for a person of faith that their relatives, left planing the liturgy, will themselves have faith or even realise its deep significance to the one we are remembering.

And in a way the service - like all acts of worship - is for God.  We come to him with our grief, our prayers, our confusion and longing - and through scripture and the framework of the rite we receive his comfort and hope - yet all of this is done as an offering of worship presented to God with faltering, hesitant yet real trust in our hearts.

At funeral services us ministers cannot answer all the questions we may have about why someone we are grieving for lost their battle with cancer or suffered a cruel accident - but we can speak of a loving and compassionate God who suffers alongside and travels the road with us.  This is the hope we proclaim at every funeral service - Jesus, the resurrection and the life.

This week as I recall two friends now in God's nearer presence my prayer for them is 'May they rest in peace and rise in glory.'

Best wishes,

Ian

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Long Journeys

This week the New Horizons space craft took photos of Pluto during its historic flyby of this dwarf planet.  Apparently the images and data collected has exceeded the expectations of the scientists with one image of the surface showing a mountain range comparable in size to the Rockies!

The thing that struck me was the length of the voyage to get to this last planet in our Solar System - an incredibly long journey lasting nine years.

In a day and age when 'instant' has become the norm there is, I suspect, still much to be said for the speed of the tortoise as opposed to the hare!  I even see recipe books on the theme of 'Slow' food!

Spiritually most of us would consider ourselves on a long, and sometimes 'slow' journey of faith.  Perhaps we sometimes feel we're going round in circles and arriving back at the start once again! I often think our journeys take us through 'repeated' experiences yet we tackle these episodes as different people each time round.

I think there's great value in a long, slow journey - that's the journey of faith - one that takes a lifetime.

Best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 10 July 2015

Are you an Ecumaniac?!

During my first few weeks as an ordained minister I was invited to supper with an older colleague whose opening gambit, as we tucked into the melon, was 'Are you an Ecumaniac'?  I didn't really know how to answer!  So I waffled on about how I believed in churches working together -  but how I also believed in churches maintaining a strong individual identity.  Anyway, it seemed to satisfy him and we progressed to the chicken casserole without further incident!

Almost thirty years on and I would probably still answer the same way.  So I'm really pleased to be working in Amersham where the three Churches on the Hill are in a meaningful Covenant - but I'm also thrilled that my own church, AFC, has a really strong and vibrant identity.

Ecumenism has figured strongly with us over the last week.  On Sunday we held a joint Churches on The Hill service at St Michael's and the photo above shows four relieved clergy afterwards - enjoying each others friendship and grateful that all had gone well!

Then on Wednesday we held our COTHA (Churches on The Hill Amersham) AGM.  We had two wonderful reports - firstly from The Chiltern Youth Projects (a wing of Youth For Christ) telling us what they do at the local youth centre, all in the name of the local churches. And a report from Open The Book telling us of their work at school assemblies using teams drawn from many churches in the district.

These wonderful and lively projects are not examples of 'committee' based ecumenism but 'task-centred' ecumenism - which I think is the best sort and a model that's always worth pursuing!

Best wishes,

Ian

Friday, 3 July 2015

Four Days in Derbyshire

Last week I was up in Derbyshire attending The Retreat Association's three yearly conference entitled 'Holding a Balance'.  We had great weather, inspiring speakers, good fellowship and creative worship - 'who could ask for anything more!'

As I chair the board of trustees I had something of an  'insiders' view of the goings-on behind the scenes!  I attended some of the planning meetings and took part in the discussions which focused on how to keep 270 participants happy!

Our main speaker was Iain McGilcrist, who is a psychiatrist, doctor, writer and former Oxford literary scholar.  He is particularly famous for his work on 'The Divided Brain'.  His talk was fascinating and the way he floated around the conference ever ready to engage in conversation during the breaks was so appreciated.

All our patrons attended: Rowan Williams, Christopher Jamison, Margaret Rizza and Graham Sparkes.  To catch a glimpse of a former Archbishop of Canterbury serving up the fruit salad on the table opposite one lunchtime was a slightly surreal moment!

The Retreat Association brings together various denominational retreat bodies under one umbrella and also provides a home for those exploring quiet prayer spirituality who don't have any denominational allegiance. One of the best things we do is publish an annual handbook listing pretty much every retreat house in the country and the various activities on offers.  I lent a copy to a minister colleague once and by the end of the evening he told me he'd planned his whole three month sabbatical using the info he'd found in the handbook.

I'm glad we held last week's conference.  It was super to sit at a different table every meal time and chat with Christian folk from right across the spectrum and hear about the way their church or group prays, explores faith and simply tries to 'hold a balance' between faith and life.

I'm deeply grateful to be travelling alongside such people and will look back at those four days in Derbyshire last week as one of the highlights of 2015.

Best wishes,

Ian




Speaking of Sin

Tomorrow I’m attending a Ministers’ Book Discussion Group in Luton. We meet up three or four times a year over a packed lunch to discuss a...