Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Loss and thankfulness…

Last month I wrote about my father’s final prolonged illness and death - and the support I’ve found in our parish. Sadly sickness and bereavement are an ongoing part of pastoral life - or rather they are part of life, not something to be hidden away but taken together with life’s richness and its causes for thankfulness.

In September our congregation has had cause to mourn - first the death of Jean Burt, then Irvine Macnair, and (as we go to press) Olive Booth. These are real causes for sorrow and we share their families’ sense of loss. Each of them had been ill for a long time before they died. We have to acknowledge the reality of suffering.

But with it goes thankfulness too. Bereavement brings grief - but it’s important not to let go of all that is a cause for gratitude in the lives of our loved ones. As I stood by Olive’s bedside just a couple of days before she died, I was struck by the memory of how she had gone with me to sit by the bedside of another parishioner month by month as we had shared in Holy Communion - and how that went along with healthy doses of laughter enriched by her particular sense of humour. So much she had brought into the lives of other through the long years of her life - we mustn’t let it go when our loved ones need all our care and caring, and seem to recede from us.

So too with Irvine. The last time I spent with him was not only a time for prayer but an occasion for a quick check on the practicalities of getting the Parish Magazine distributed! We know how much he brought into the life of our church from being Treasurer to mowing the grass through organising after-church coffee - and much more, but above all by being there. His life in the community touched so many - professional work as an anaesthetist but also voluntary work for hospital and hospice, enjoyment of music with the Gramophone Society - or just being out and about with the dogs! Most of us knew less about his army service, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel; that he had his “wings” as someone who could parachute in to give aid as needed - or his gift for improvising in the field.

At a funeral I’m always aware there’s so much more we could say. We need to be in touch with the richness of life - and that includes our own. When things seem bleak, we need to recognise the cause for gratitude. Then we might see life as a gift - and the Giver is God.

Martin Jackson

From the October issue of our Parish Magazine - find all its content here

Monday, 8 September 2014

From the heart…

Over the last few months I’ve had real cause to be so grateful for so much support from people at St. Cuthbert’s during a time when my father has been critically ill in hospital and finally died during August. I’m quite touched by all the cards, messages, prayers and practical demonstrations of support following his death - and my mother joins me in saying just how much we have appreciated all of these. It was good that quite a few of our parishioners were able to join us for the funeral at St. Luke’s, Hartlepool - and that they stayed on to help consume the refreshments (the local side turned out for the service but amazed us by largely disappearing before the eats and drinks - obviously something we could teach them about!).

Now I’m back in the parish - and as I write I’m just back from the first visit I’ve made to arrange a funeral for someone else. What can I say? The human condition is one of mortality. As the American theologian Stanley Hauerwas roughly puts it, “None of us are going to get out of this life alive.” But the difference Christianity makes is in what we encounter on our journey - and the hope that awaits us at its end. And the Christian hope embraces the whole human condition. It was a privilege to be able to be a priest to my father with prayers, anointing and commendation - remember they are there for anyone in need! But as I said at the funeral there was a certain priestly ministry in just being able to be his son. We can all share in that for those to whom we are close - I found it most deeply holding an ice lolly for him to eat on a hot July day. Something about a father and his son…

Earlier in the summer I read a couple of books that our Reading Group have been sharing - see their article in this magazine to learn more about their future plans. The books I read were Stoner  by John Williams and The Hare with Amber Eyes  by Edmund de Waal. The first about a fictitious life but brilliantly related; the second the story of the author’s own family. I was struck by the absence of God in the entirety of Stoner from birth to deathbed. And the story of the Ephrussi family was of Jews who were set apart only as people who would suffer discrimination and finally persecution - their Jewishness not only eschewed the practice of faith but even cultural reference. Yet strangely God comes in with a daughter of the Viennese branch of the family converting to Christianity and becoming an Anglican - in Paris and as she marries a Dutch Mennonite! And then she rescues her parents from the Nazis.

Where do we find God? Let’s give him a place in our lives.

Martin Jackson

From the September issue of our Parish Magazine - find the whole issue here