Today being a Wednesday I have mainly been at home attempting to undertake some study, followed by playing some badminton this evening. However, I took some time this morning to do a funeral visit because in the work I do flexibility is necessary, and some things have to take priority over others. While no funeral visit is something I would describe as definitively “happy” this was one of the better ones, with some very positive aspects.
Firstly, it was in Saltash, and in my part of Saltash (not that Saltash is all that big), so I was able to walk there. This may not seem like a major deal, but given the lovely weather we’ve got at the moment it meant I could place the visit in the context of the wonder of God’s creation, of which both living and dying are a part. Funerals, and the conversations before them, must be conducted with an awareness both of our own mortality (thus an empathy for those who have died and those who are bereaved) and our hope and confidence in the risen Christ who has defeated death (thus a strength to be leant on those who are in the midst of grief). Walking to the meeting in the sunshine managed to put me in touch with these two senses.
Secondly, I was able to attend Parish Eucharist at the local Church of England church straight afterwards, which meant I was able to place the weight of the meeting on Christ in the receiving of the sacrament. Yes, I always pray after such meetings, but to be able to do so in the context of the Eucharist was very special for me.
Thirdly, this funeral is a repeat. No, clearly not for the person whose funeral it is, but for the family. I took the funeral of the husband of the woman who has died a couple of months ago, now the family has asked me to take his wife’s. Thankfully, despite the proximity of the deaths, this second is tempered by the fact that dementia means there is a sense of release and relief accompanying this second along with the usual pain of grief. For me, being specifically asked for in relation to a second funeral is a great vote of confidence, especially since this is not a church family and they have no reason to be specific about their choice of minister, other than that they feel I did a good job last time. As someone who finds funeral ministry a great privilege but nonetheless a great challenge it is good to know that the challenge is worthwhile, that the ministry I offer to those outside the Church, as well as in it, is appreciated – for I am in a representative ministry, and what I do I do visibly on behalf of the whole Church – mess it up, and it’s the Church messing it up, do it well, and it is the Church doing it well. That is a heck of a responsibility to carry, especially since we can all have off days, so it is good to know I have done it well on at least one occasion!
Funeral ministry is one of those things that cannot be fully prepared for at College – courses, while helpful, are not the same as practical experience, and practical experience cannot be predictably provided (not unless someone is up to something illegal!), so while I know that funeral visits are not always positive occasions, and are certainly not happy occasions, there were positives in mine this morning, both in terms of my own development and confidence, and also for the family, who were able to rely on a friendly face who they had been through the same process with just a few short months ago.
This evening’s badminton may have been today’s most enjoyable part, and the studying may have been the easiest part of today, but this morning’s visit most certainly felt like the most rewarding and important part of the day.
Whether you’re currently travelling in the valley of the shadow of death, or in green pastures by still waters, travel well.