Written on 16th May
The last two Sundays have seen our anniversary celebrations focussing on two of the most important occasions in a person’s life: baptism and marriage. They have been very happy and moving services, enabling people to renew promises made in years gone by and bringing back lots of memories of past weddings and christenings, whether at All Saints or elsewhere.
As well as being very important to those of us who are regular church-goers, baptisms and weddings are two of the three events which will often bring people into church who do not normally attend weekly services, as they mark key milestones in a person’s life. The third milestone, of course, is a funeral. This is not a topic that would be easy to include in anniversary celebrations, and I was not surprised that there wasn’t a special service planned to cover funerals like there has been for baptism and marriage. However, it is an equally important part of what the church has done over the last 50 years for the wider community as well as those in the weekly congregation.
I was reminded of this today when attending the funeral of Edith Ford. She was a lovely lady who was a very important part of All Saints for 50 years or so, and who will be greatly missed. The service was very moving, with lovely tributes from her daughter Gillian, from Jean Reed and from Mike Truman, all read by Beverly. We heard about Edith’s life and many happy memories of her activities in the church. My fondest memories of her are the part she played in so many musical entertainments over the years, and I am very grateful to Jean for reminding us all of the time when an injury nearly prevented Edith from singing Rule Britannia at one fund-raiser. But she was not to be stopped, and arrived in a wheelchair in full regalia as Britannia herself, delivering a bravura performance.
Today’s service was very much a celebration and thanksgiving for Edith’s life, and in that way I felt it was as much a part of our anniversary events as the other activities of our “50 days for 50 years”, as was the recent thanksgiving for another long-standing member of our church community, Sandra Hyde. Although neither of them could be with us in person for the anniversary, they are both very much with us in spirit.
(13th December 1951 – 8th April 2017)
Service of thanksgiving for her life, held at All Saints on 28th April 2017
It’s been really good this afternoon to hear memories of Sandra, from different areas of her life; her family, her work, her music. And each of us may well have discovered things about Sandra that we hadn’t previously known. She was a private person, a quiet person who graciously kept many things to herself.
I knew Sandra in the context of this church of All Saints, and as a member of this parish. I first got to know her as what’s known as a ‘Chalice Assistant’, for our 8 o’clock service. Sandra and I would both arrive at about 7.45am, thinking that it was really a bit early to be up and about; and together we’d put on our robes and process out into church. And I remember Sandra quietly standing by my side, when I was new to this parish, and assisting me with setting up the vessels for Communion, washing my hands, and tidying away afterwards.
I remember getting to know her a bit better at the Thursday morning Communion service here at All Saints. Sandra would often arrive just a couple of minutes late, after the service had already started; and we’d nod to each other, and smile, and acknowledge that she was a bit late again. And then over coffee in the Reading Room I found out a bit about her family, her music, her work, her friends. And as the months went by, and Sandra started to become unwell, she’d just say a very few words about how she was, the challenges she was facing, the concerns she had; and my heart went out to her.
I remember, as the cancer got worse, going round to her house one day to pray with her. We talked about lots of things on that occasion, and shared a fruit loaf that she’d kept in the freezer and no longer wanted; I wonder now whether she was begin to clear things out, knowing that her life was no longer so certain. And I remember spotting a bugle that was sitting on the window sill; it was just before Remembrance Sunday, and we were struggling to find a trumpeter to play the Last Post for that service. Many years ago I’d played the bugle in a Girls Brigade band; so Sandra leant me her bugle just in case we were desperate on Remembrance Sunday morning. And blessedly a trumpeter was found, and the congregation was spared my very rusty bugle playing! And I remember laughing about it with Sandra – and that lovely smile she sometimes broke into, as we can see on our order of service.
But perhaps what I remember most was serving Sandra the bread and wine during the Thursday Communion service, and the words that go with that. When she came to the Communion rail I’d say those familiar words, ‘the body of Christ, keep you in eternal life’; ‘the blood of Christ keep you in eternal life’. They’re words that came in our reading from the Bible for today – John 6:35-40. Jesus said, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never thirst….This is indeed the will of my Father, that all who see the Son and believe in him may have eternal life; and I will raise them up on the last day’.
And as Sandra attended the Thursday Communion week by week, and the 10 o’clock service on Sundays when she became to ill to serve the chalice at 8 o’clock, those words became more and more poignant: the body of Christ keep you in eternal life; the blood of Christ shed for you. I knew that they were as poignant for Sandra as they were for me, because they were words of comfort, but also words of hope. For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son; so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but may have everlasting life. “And I will raise them up at the last day.”
And through those services, through the love of her friends and family, through the support of those who cared for her in the last few weeks, Sandra prepared not just for death, but also for the hope of everlasting life – life in God’s presence forever. And as we have commended Sandra to God’s mercy today, and committed her body for burial, we now rejoice that she will hear those most beautiful words of Jesus: Well done, good and faithful servant; come and share your master’s happiness.
Prayer of thanksgiving for Sandra’s life:
We thank you for Sandra’s quiet faith, her faithful service, her consistent life and witness. We thank you for the good we saw in her, and the love we received from her. May all that she was be an encouragement and example to us today. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Choice of music:
Praise to the Lord the Almighty, the king of creation
Dear Lord and Father of mankind
I vow to thee my country
John 6: 35-40
(21st December 1919 – 28th April 2017)
Service of thanksgiving for her life, held at All Saints on 16th May 2017
It’s sometimes said that people have “a twinkle in their eye”, and that is my abiding memory of Edith. She was always alert, always wanting to get to know people. And she had a deep capacity to see the best in situations and people. As she started to lose her sight, she was always commenting on how kind people were, and how much help she got, rather than about the difficulties that losing he sight caused her.
When we first introduced modern worship songs and the Worship for Everyone service, some of the older members of the congregation were not so keen. Edith’s complaint, however, was that the music made her want to dance, and there wasn’t enough room in the pews to do that!
As Edith became more unsteady on her legs, she would make her way back from the altar rail holding on to the edge of the pews. As I normally sit on the end of a row, a habit grew up between us of briefly clasping each other’s hands as she went by. Even when I was serving, I would do the same with her at the communion rail. Neither of us ever said anything about it, but it was something typical of Edith; simple and uncomplicated, but with real meaning for us.
Edith was not one for over-sentimental preaching; I think her view of God was one of a loving but firm parent. But I can’t help imagining her, having shed the infirmities of her later life, pirouetting her way up to the gates of heaven with a twinkle in her eye.
Choice of music:
The Lord’s my Shepherd
Love divine, all loves excelling
1 Corinthians 13: 1-8a
John 14: 1-6