Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Not funereal, please

Catching up on some group emails I encountered this: "Not a funeral service but a celebration of G's life." What is it with this? I hear it more and more - "We don't want a sad service, Vicar, he wouldn't have wanted that."

Well I bloody well would. What do I expect when I die? General celebrations? Carrying in the coffin to Ding Dong the Witch is Dead? I would want to think that when I go there might be the odd tear shed, and perhaps one or two people with at least a vague sense of emptiness and desolation.

Of course, it's the demise of faith that lies behind it all. Strip away hope for what lies ahead, and you're left with nothing to do but look back - and perhaps try somehow to deny the reality of death and sorrow. "Not a funeral service" means something very much less. The Anglican funeral rite contains these words:

we have come here today
to remember before God our brother/sister N;
to give thanks for his/her life;
to commend him/her to God our merciful redeemer and judge;
to commit his/her body to be buried/cremated,
and to comfort one another in our grief,

which is so much more than "celebrating the life" of the deceased. The Christian ceremony looks back, and celebrates what was, but it also looks ahead in hope to the resurrection, and to God's judgement. That last bit is important. It allows us to admit that the dead person was not perfect. We don't have to come over all dewy-eyed and suddenly transform them into plaster saints. I didn't know G, but if they were perfect I'll eat one of my hats. A "celebration of the life of" rather hits any sense of reality about the late beloved on the head.

Of course, nowadays lots of people are not believers, and their obsequies ought honestly to reflect that, but a streak of realism ought also to be present even in one of those depressing humanist gatherings. If all we have is a backward look, then at least take off the tinted lenses.

The jolly approach is also unfair to the bereaved. They do feel grief, and loss, and guilt and all kinds of awfulness. We are there to offer support and comfort, and should be able to do so without feeling that somehow it compromises the joy of the occasion.

So, in short, give me a traditional funeral any day. It's so much fuller and richer than those celebration thingies.

Friday, 4 January 2008

The Christmas letter

Dear Friends,

A year has sped by since the last Christmas missive, and while on the one hand it seems like only Yesterday that I was seated at the Steaming Keyboard in the white heat of Creativity, on the other hand, so much has happened that I must necessarily be selective. But what to select? I could, I suppose, produce a Good Bits version, and leave out all the Not So Good Stuff. But that would seem both uncharacteristic and somewhat dishonest. Yet I must also avoid the opposite Extreme, for I am frequently castigated (in certain family quarters) for pessimism.

So. to pick out salient events in the past Year:

Young Master James continues his career in Asbestos Removal and continues to drive a White Van. He has ambitions to move into the area of Land Reclamation, believing that while asbestos will eventually be Eradicated, land will remain in abundance - or at least, the Polluted variety will. He has also sufficiently mended his heart as to meet a new girlfriend, called Rebecca. She seems an eminently Suitable young woman, save for her voice, which is audible only to Bats. Or at least, so it seems to an Aged Parent who now wears two hearing Aids. These are of the Digital variety, and possess the excellent property of being able to tune out background Noise in Restaurants and Public Houses. At home, they can tune out anything by dint of the Off Switch.

Master Laurence, having relinquished his employment as a Hospital Porter, embarked for a time on career in part-time Barmanship, but is currently resting while enquiring after an Apprenticeship as an Electrician. Time will tell whether this will bear fruit. He passed his Driving Test with flying colours (to a mixture of parental Pride and Apprehension) and now navigates his brother's ancient Fiat around the shoals and rapids of Greater Manchester. How long this will continue is problematic; a minor collision with a sturdier Volkswagen has raised questions as the to Roadworthiness of the Cinquecento.

Miss Polly contines to flourish at school while apparently taking extra lessons in how to be a Cool Chick. She has taken up the guitar, and occasionally can be heard in Practice. She has inherited her Mother's ability to sing in tune, but alas, so far seems to have her Father's guitar Skills.

The Good Doctor continues to work at Stepping Hill Hospital, and has now been joined by a third Consultant Microbiologist. (All three are Women, but quotations which involve words such as "Hubble" and "Bubble" are regarded as Unamusing.) The new arrival's Advent was announced as the dawn of a New Age, in which there would be sufficent Microbiological Consultation to allow Sarah to return home at a civilised time of the evening. In the Event, it seems that the third Consultant has discovered areas of Microbiology which had hitherto lain untouched, such that the individual Work Load appears to be diminished not one Whit. On top of this, Sarah continues to be involved in the Children's Work at church and to pursue her ambition to walk across the country by obscure Footpaths.

I myself continue in relative good Health while complaining about the Stresses and Strains of Team Rectorship. A recent training course held for Team Rectors by the Diocese turned out mainly to consist of asking what it was that Team Rectors actually did. This was a mild Disappointment, as most of us were there to ask that selfsame Question. I have also recently bought a new Digital Camera, which is providing much harmless Amusement. And by virtue of tales too long to tell, I have also acquired two new guitars. This means that I am now unable to play a whole four Instruments, which is something of a personal Record.

In September, Gavin the Curate departed to take up a new ministry as Army Chaplain and is now ensconced in Paderborn, Germany. There were Tears shed, and much waving of Handkerchiefs, but the greatest Revelation associated with his Departure was that Curates do actually work. At least, since his move, the Rector finds himself doing much more than has been his wont!

I have no wish overly to tax my Readers, and am aware that this will not be the only Round Robin to have graced their Christmases, and will therefore end with every Good Wish for Christmas and the coming Year.

Yours etc.,