Yesterday, I did a funeral visit. As always, it was a privilege. As always, it hurt. As always I left it tired and drained. As always, it provided a wonderful moment to step into someone’s home and bring Jesus with me into this person’s life and often them care and hope.
Regularly, the phone call or email comes: Are we able to provide a funeral either at church and the crematorium, or just the crematorium. One of the clergy steps forward. We find out the name, the age, place of death, relationship of the person organising the funeral, the address, the phone number. We receive a small window into their life before we even meet them. The prayers begin, the heart prepares itself to pick up the phone: ‘Hello, this Rev Jonathan Phillips, I am ringing to talk to you about the funeral for …’ Sometimes you don’t get to the end of the sentence as they anticipate the call. Sometimes, there is a pause and a deep breath. A short conversation is had with some words of compassion but mostly of arranging the day and place to meet and discuss the funeral of their loved one.
Then there is the visit. Sometimes the place of the visit is the home of the person who has passed away and you sit surrounded by photo’s of their life. Sometimes it is tragic as you find out that the person was not loved, a life not appreciated. But often, it is a joy, as photo’s are pulled out, stories shared, tears shed. Family members come and go, make you tea and for that small moment you are a part of their lives, you are real to them and you care for them and carry them for the duration of the meeting. I offer them the wonderful ‘bereavement booklet’ which is offered by the bereavement team for follow up care which is often gratefully received. Having discussed the details of the service, written notes for the tribute, made records of hymns, names of the family, tunes, songs and poems I offer to pray. In that moment the situation changes and there is stillness in the room and nearly always tears are shed as we talk to our Father in heaven who desperately wants to embrace us and hold us in His arms and comfort us. We say, Amen. We shake hands and part ways till the service.
Then the service. They are not the same. The weight of the situation is upon their shoulders. I am robed. I am ‘priest’ in this situation where I care for them, carry them and comfort them, that for this time, they are in my hands knowing that they can trust me to care for their loved one as we say thank you and goodbye. The service is short but full. The liturgy speaks through the ages, of the God of mercy and the hope of all who know Jesus as their saviour. We say goodbye. I bow to the coffin and walk out of the crematorium. The family pause, they sit and then, gently and lovingly they are beckoned by the funeral director to begin to depart. The shake my hand, hug me, or just walk on by. I say my final goodbye and remind them that I am there for them when they need me.
As a Pioneer Minister, you are often not expected to do as many funerals as the traditional curate/vicar. But I would not be without this ministry. In many ways our funeral ministry takes up a lot of time, but it is deep in the community and a beautiful offering of care that we still provide. After this month of prayer and as we step into Lent – we are re-envisioning our ministry and call as the church of Lache, Saltney and Saltney ferry. Honestly, I did not start my calling with a vision for doing funerals. I needed to step back, to pray and allow God to re-envision me – to call me to this ministry. Never in my life would I have seen this as part of what I do … but I love it, I deeply hear God’s call to funeral ministry.
May I encourage you at this important juncture in the life of St Mark’s to stop and listen to what God is saying to you! Be brave, be bold and step out into what you think God may be calling you to do. Perhaps it’s a time for a change, perhaps it is time to step up and move deeper into what you are already doing. Allow God to use you in His mighty hands.