Blogging

Funeral Ministry


I experienced two contrasting funerals today, and they have made me think about the things that unite us as well as the things that divide us.

You might know already that I am a lay minister in my church and I am in the process of discernment as to whether I am a suitable candidate to be trained further, with a view to being ordained in the future. My ministry takes in lots of different things, including children’s work, leading worship and prayers, leading study groups and so on, and recently I have been increasingly involved with the funeral ministry that the church offers. I started off by shadowing the priest who conducted funerals, visiting the family and offering some pastoral support at the event itself. That quickly evolved into me saying prayers at funerals while the priest led the rest of the service, and then I began to deliver the eulogy and address too. More recently I have had the privilege to conduct the service from the beginning right up to the point of the committal, which for Church of England funerals can only be conducted by a priest. I have found funeral ministry fulfilling as well as challenging, and I am gaining experience every time I do one.

Funeral ministry might sound morbid and depressing but it is such a rewarding experience for me because not only do we get to share good news with people at a time when they are at their lowest, but when there are no words with which to frame that good news, we can stand alongside people and show them that they are not alone.

Which is why I wanted to talk to you about today’s funerals and the way that they are sitting with me and in my prayers today.

The first funeral was of a 41 year old man and the second was of a premature baby who died after living for an hour and 16 minutes. There are further contrasts between the two funerals, in that the first was filled with extended family and friends, with six pall bearers drawn from that circle, and the second was just the two parents who had come to mourn their loss, carrying a tiny white coffin themselves.

I visited the man’s family (I’ll refer to him as A for ease now) the day before yesterday with the priest who was to conduct the service (“E”) and was struck by just how close the brothers were, especially after hearing how the family had worked together to earn money and how they had informally adopted a lifelong friend into their midst when he found himself in difficulties. The visit was a noisy one, with everyone talking over each other to tell A’s story, and their memories came tumbling out with very little prompting from either E or myself. They were all keen to share their grief as well as some of the happier times they had shared with A before he died. Visits like this one are easier for me to deal with emotionally, because their keenness to talk and to share shows me signs that they are processing the death of their loved one and are prepared for the difficult time at the funeral ahead. It also means that the conversation flows easily and there is little prompting or nudging needed for them to tell their story.

E and I also visited the baby’s parents yesterday, and for me, that is where the deeper contrasts began to show themselves.

Baby C was the third child to this couple, and the visit took place with one of their other children in the room with us. It was very quiet, despite a toddler being there, and conversation was not quite as forthcoming as it was for the big family the day before. But how could it have been otherwise? Baby C didn’t have a story to tell, no escapades at school, no achievements or disappointments with exams or boyfriends and girlfriends and so on. But the parents were just as upset over their loss as A’s family were the day before.

The purpose of a funeral (for me) is a three-fold thing: it is to give thanks for the life of the deceased, for the bereaved to comfort each other, and to commit our brother or sister to the eternal care of God, and because we do those things at every funeral, they serve to unite us despite our differences and contrasts.

So how do we give thanks for the life of a baby whose heartbeat only lasted an hour and 16 minutes? How do we offer comfort to the parents who are grieving not only the physical loss of their child but also the loss of a life not even lived? How do we comfort a family whose brother has found life so difficult that he could only find solace and strength in alcohol? What can we say to ease the pain and disappointment, the anger and distress at the loss of a loved one no matter what their age is, or how many heartbeats they have had.

It is so, so hard, but for me, the answer to those questions lies in the one thing that united the two funerals today, and that is the promise of new life when we go from here. It is the promise that was made real by Jesus Christ, and it is what we celebrate every Easter when we remember his death and resurrection.

I can’t imagine that the bubble of grief in which the two parents have existed after the birth of their baby was ready to be punctured by the gospel message today, but I do hope and pray that the ministry they received from E and I this morning will stay with them and that they could draw some comfort from the prayers we offered. I doubt that many words will have been heard today, but I hope and pray that our being there, standing alongside both families in their grief made some difference to them.

There was a time at A’s funeral, when one of his brothers was overcome with grief, that the only thing to do was to stand and hold his hand and simply be there for him while he clutched at the coffin and cried out in anguish. It was a privilege to hold Baby C’s mother’s hand as the end of the service came, at the moment when she had to say her final goodbyes. I could feel the pain rolling off her, and there were simply no words I could have said to have eased it but to just hold her hand seemed to have made a difference to her.

So, yes, lots of contrasts in the two funerals, but lots of similarities too. Most important is the unifying message that this life is not the end, and God has his hands and eyes and ears all over us, from the moment we are knitted together in our mother’s wombs right through to the moment we see him face to face and beyond.

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Christianity

ALM – Authorised Lay Ministry


Authorised Lay Ministry is a new role, introduced three years ago and developed in the Diocese of Manchester as a way of enabling lay people (people like you and me) who have a passion for God and ministry to serve their community in various roles, supporting the incumbent and widening the church’s reach.  I have nearly finished this year’s course and am looking forward to being commissioned at the end of September. Let me tell you about my experience.

Authorised Lay Ministers (ALMs) are trained for a variety of areas within church life, such as pastoral work, mission and evangelism, children’s work, developing worship and so on. The ALM course is split into two parts; the “core” element, where we explore our call to ministry and what it means to be a lay minister in that respect and the “elective” element, where we study our particular interest and our calling in these specialist areas. I elected to study prayer and spirituality, which is something very close to my heart and something I have wanted to explore further for quite some time.

Before I went into this process I had in my mind what I thought it was to pray and what it was to experience and express spirituality, and I was prepared to find out whether the church did or did not share those thoughts and feelings with me. I was mighty glad to find that not only did the church share them, but was openly embracing of my ways and challenged me into widening my thoughts and pre-conceived ideas along the way.

Let me explain. I have a very formal and traditional background in church life, and praying in that setting, but my personal experience of prayer is something completely different to that I have known there. The God we prayed to in church seemed to be an entirely different God I prayed with by myself. You’ll notice the words “prayed to” and “prayed with” there. That’s because in my personal prayer, a lot of the time I don’t use words and I allow time and space for a reply. I let my emotions bubble up and I allow colours, images, feelings, people’s faces etc. just flow between God and me. It is a two-way communication process, where I “talk” and then God “talks” back to me. Before ALM I thought that if I’d told anyone this I would be branded as some sort of New-Age hippy or something, or written off as a dreamer, or out of touch with the church’s teachings and so on. Actually, what I found on the ALM course was that not only was that a perfectly normal way of praying but it was positively encouraged, as was praying through art, or music, or dance, or meditation and so on.

So you see, where I thought I was out of step I found that I was bang IN step, and my concept of what prayer was has been broadened and strengthened too.  I learned a lot of new techniques to help other people engage with prayer and I have already shared some of these with prayer groups and during intercession prayers at church, with the children in our Sunday School and at our local primary school. We have prayed intercessions without words, we have engaged in a prayer-flower session where we hand over our woes to God and watch as he transforms them into something beautiful, and we have prayed using cut-out “flames” at Pentecost which we then lay before the altar to name just a few.

During the first part of the course, the core element, I was inspired because of the other people on the course and their enthusiasm for what they already do in their own churches. Our tutor, Chris, was engaging and challenging in equal measure, and he made us think about all the things we are called to be when we become Authorised Lay Ministers. There is a course poem that we took as our inspiration for what we are called to be, and we prayed this at the start of the course as an introduction to the things we were going to be exploring. We will also be praying this prayer at our commissioning service in September but here it is so you can see for yourself what it is we have been working to:

Lord, you call us to be story-tellers:

Planting your explosive news into our defended lives;

Locating us in the script of your human history.

You call us to be trailblazers:

Living in your future that we receive only as a gift;

Subverting the fixed, fated world of low horizons.

You call us to be weavers:

Tracing, stretching, connecting the knotted threads’

Gathering up unravelling, disconnected lives.

You call us to be fools –

For Christ’s sake: bearing life’s absurdities and incongruities;

Puncturing our seriousness and grandiosity.

You call us to be hosts:

Welcomers of the sacred, intimate, transfiguring;

Lavish celebrants of our communities and homecomings.

You call us to be poets:

Artists and illuminators of inner space;

Naming, invoking, heralding your ineffable presence.

You call us to be gardeners:

Sowers, cultivators, nurturers of fragile lives;

Benefactors of your gratuitous harvest.

You call us to be conductors:

Celebrating polyphony, coaxing symphony;

Orchestrating the praise of your inhabited creation;

Lord, you lavish gifts on all whom you call.

Strengthen and sustain us and all ministers of your church,

That in the range and diversity of our vocation,

We may be catalysts of your kingdom in the world,

Through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Amen

Roger Spiller (1944 – )

The biggest thing that I got out of it was that we are called to be story-tellers. We are all here because of our story and I believe that whatever is in our past we have a responsibility to use that experience to help others. Just by sharing a bit of our story can have a massive impact on other people – even the negative and the messed up bits have value!

I found the whole of the ALM course to be interesting, encouraging and empowering, and it has really lit a spark inside me where I want/need to share my own experience of God with other people. It has been an enlightening experience and I’m looking forward to the journey ahead, both for my own spiritual growth and for the others with whom I will journey along the way. I would definitely encourage anyone who is hearing the call to become an ALM to go and speak to their incumbent about it. For me, it has been a life-affirming process and I am so glad to have heeded my own call when it came.

 

Pam Smith

July 2013

 

 

 

 

Blogging

Catching Up!


Catching Up!

It has been a very busy couple of days recently, and I’m really sorry to have been largely absent from Blogland and being in contact with my lovely Bliblings (blog-siblings in case you didn’t know!).

Here’s what’s been going on:

Todmorden Band

Some of you might remember that I took up the post of conductor at Todmorden Band last Friday. I have had two rehearsals now and it has been brilliant both nights, which I’m really pleased about.

The band has been going for about 12 years now, after being revived from the ashes of a 100 year old band that sadly lost its way and crumbled before new life was breathed into it. The old band was – ironically enough – called Todmorden Old Band, and this new one is called Todmorden Community Band. The band is a brass band, and it conforms to the proscribed makeup of an English brass band, ie it has 10 Cornets (one of which is a soprano cornet, pitched in Eb), a Flugel Horn, three Tenor Horns (pitched in Eb also), two Baritone Horns, two Euphoniums, three Trombones (one of which is a bass trombone and reads bass clef in concert pitch), two Eb Basses (the orchestral equivalent is a Tuba), two Bb Basses and a percussion section.

The brass band repertoire falls broadly into two categories – the “traditional” side of things, and modern arrangements of modern pieces. The traditional side is a mixture of marches, overtures, songs from the shows, solos etc and the modern side is pieces that have been written especially for brass bands or arrangements of pop songs and modern musicals etc. Like I say, that is a very broad categorisation, but that’s the way we work I guess. The “old” band was a big contesting band and they have competed at the highest levels for many years. The “new” band exists purely for the enjoyment of the players, and for its concert audiences in the town.

I have been given a specific brief with this band, and that is to take them from September until Christmas to give their resident conductor a break, and to allow him to have a rest away from the rigours of choosing music and crafting it to performance standard for a couple of months. He was the primary mover when it came to rebuilding the band 12 years ago, and by his own admission, he’s a bit jaded and wants the band to experience some “new blood” for a while to reinject them with a bit of oomph. I’m really glad to help out because the resident conductor, David White, is a music teacher who I knew from music centre banding when I was a kid and it’s nice to be able to payback those lessons he gave me all that time ago.

My first task was to sort out what music to keep in the pads and what to introduce as new stuff for some upcoming concerts. We are hosting a French exchange band in a couple of weeks, so that is my first priority. After that we have got Remembrance Sunday (show me a brass band that doesn’t!!!) and I want to play some traditionally British music without resorting the old tried and tested “favourites”, which to be quite frank, are tedious and boring for the band to play. I’m sure that each audience that listens to a “Last Night of the Proms” concert really enjoys it, but there’s only so many times we can play Land of Hope and Glory before our collective eyes glaze over and the trombones decide to go one a rampage. After that we will be looking ahead to Christmas….which I absolutely refuse to tackle until at least Halloween!! I’m looking at a couple of arrangements I can do for the band, and I’ve got a couple that I have already done that I’d like the band to try in a week or so. The first one I’m going to try is an arrangement of themes from Pirates of the Caribbean. Or maybe The Rhythm of Life…hmm…decision time!

There is a nice age range within the band and it is a mixed ability group of musicians, which makes rehearsals really interesting. There are some people who are in their 70s who are seeing out their last days of music making, but who have a massive wealth of experience between them, and there are young teenagers who are just at the start of their musical journeys meeting them along the way. There are some people who are there for the social aspect of the music making, and there are those who are there to learn a new skill as mature adults. The common thing between everyone is the thread of humour in each rehearsal, for which I’m really grateful! Knitting together all those people could be a nightmare if it weren’t for the humour and the love of music we share.

Todmorden itself is a small town on the border between Lancashire and Yorkshire, between Rochdale and Halifax. It is about 45 minutes drive away from my home, so Friday nights are taken up with driving and banding, which I am liking!! Kevin and Ethan are joining me on a Friday night – Kevin plays cornet and he’s sitting on the front row (the melody line, and boy can he blow!) and Ethan is sitting on 2nd Trombone and learning lots FAST.

So, Friday night is definitely music night, but unfortunately I’ve underestimated the time commitment this week and didn’t manage a proper blog post, which I usually do in the evenings. Next week I’ll plan ahead and do my post during the day. I promise….

Crochet Projects

I created a mascot hat on Friday….if you’re a Manchester City fan you’ll recognise it straight away as being based on Moonchester! I’m so proud of this little hat – I worked out the stitches, the design, the measurements, the fixings etc all by my little self and when I showed it to my nephew Will this morning his face told me all I need to know about it being a success. Hurrah!!!

The real Moonchester

In the realms of fairness, I suppose I’d better design a Fred the Red hat now too for the Manchester United fans out there….I suppose…..do I have to?? Really? Oh ok then…..*snarl*…..!

I’m hoping to sell some of these little blighters, so keep an eye out on Etsy.

Authorised Lay Minister

This is something that I posted about earlier this week, when I posted a guest post by my Mum as she was looking at her licensing to be an Authorised Lay Minister for our church.

It was the licensing ceremony yesterday in Manchester Cathedral, and it was a momentous occasion. The whole cathedral was filled with supporters for the 56 people who were being commissioned alongside my Mum in churches across the Manchester Diocese.  The 57 candidates have undertaken a year’s training in various aspects of ministry. My Mum’s speciality is Pastoral Care which brings her into contact with people who need that extra bit of support from the church, whether it is through illness, bereavement, crisis of faith or family difficulties. My Mum is going to be heading up a team of people who will be visiting the sick and housebound in the parish and we will be sharing communion with them in their homes. There are exciting times ahead!

We celebrated my Mum’s licensing with a party at the vicarage last night….and it was BRILLIANT. Kevin and I laid on a buffet for about 25 people who came back for drinks and nibbles, which took quite a bit of shopping and logistical manoeuvring yesterday morning.  The wine flowed almost as much as the laughter and the chatter, which was a great way to celebrate our fellowship. I love my church family.

Prayers

In amongst the banding and the shopping and the visit to the Cathedral yesterday, I also had to find time to write the intercessions for this morning’s service. We have a rota for leading prayers and reading the lessons in church, and it was my turn to lead the prayers today. I knew about it a couple of weeks ago, but I always leave things to the last minute (one of my major faults!). I try to kid myself that it’s because I like prayers to be fresh and current….but the reality is that I’m just a major procrastinator and I put things off until it’s almost too late. I suppose if they offered a qualification in procrastination I’d put off applying for it until after the closing date….tsk….Pamster!

I prayed for the usual things – the work of the church, the support of its leaders, the sick and the bereaved etc – but I also included a prayer for the two police officers who were shot and killed this week in Manchester. I also prayed for the community leaders and the officers who were in charge of rebuilding that broken community in Hattersley, which is an area that is no stranger to violence sadly.

I also gave thanks for the life of one our brothers in Christ, Guy, who died last week. Guy was 89 years old and has been a member of our church for the past 12 years. He had had a colourful life, being born in India in the days of the Raj and travelling the world ever since, but was suffering the early stages of dementia when he joined us so we only knew him in his declining years. However, his humour and his spirit was as intact as it ever was and his smile was totally infectious. He took delight in seeing other people smile and even though his dementia was a major issue at the end, he continued to make us smile and enjoy his company right to the end. A typical “Guy” thing to do was when everyone sat down at the end of a hymn, he would purposely stand up again and say “NO!!!!” loudly when his wife Val tried to sit him down. He would then look round at everyone and with a smile and a wink, would sit down in his own sweet time.

We learned at his funeral more about his engineering skills, and his mechanical intelligence when it came to inventing gadgets and devices. He was a gifted woodworker and there are literally hundreds of pieces of his work all over the world. A lovely man, and a sad loss to us.

Health

In amidst all of that going on in the last few days I’ve not been very well. I have been feeling “that” pain build up in my chest/stomach again and today I have seen traces of blood in my water which is a usual indication that my kidneys are not working at their best. I’ve taken it easy this afternoon and have rested up so hopefully I have contained it before an episode gets fully established. Fingers crossed eh?!

So….as you can see, it’s been a bit of a hectic few days recently. I hope you forgive me dear reader for abandoning you this weekend! Normal service will be resumed shortly, I promise.

Christianity

Guest Post


Today’s post comes to you courtesy of a guest blogger otherwise known as my Mum!

She has recently completed some ministry training for our church and is going to be licenced by the Bishop of Manchester on Saturday in Manchester Cathedral. In her own words, this is what it’s all about. (Eddie is our church’s minister, and the PCC is the governing council who runs the church).

Authorised Lay Ministry

I wanted to develop my pastoral ministry within church and so with Eddie’s and PCC encouragement I enrolled on the ALM course this year.

There were 2 parts to the course, and everyone, all 57 of us did this core module. The central part of the course was to engage everyone in learning and developing our ideas, and firming up our faith.

There is a special ALM course prayer that we looked at and how it fits into our church and personal life.

The ALM Course Prayer

Lord, you call us to be story-tellers:

planting your explosive news into our defended lives;

locating us in the script of your human history.

You call us to be trailblazers:

living in your future that we receive only as gift;

subverting the fixed, fated world of low horizons.

You call us to be weavers:

tracing, stretching, connecting the knotted threads;

gathering up unraveling, disconnected lives.

You call us to be fools –

for Christ’s sake: bearing life’s absurdities and incongruities;

puncturing our seriousness and grandiosity.

You call us to be hosts:

welcomers of the sacred, intimate, transfiguring;

lavish celebrants of our communities and homecomings.

You call us to be poets:

artists and illuminators of inner space;

naming, invoking, heralding your ineffable presence.

You call us to be gardeners:

sowers, cultivators, nurturers of fragile lives;

benefactors of your gratuitous harvest.

You call us to be conductors –

celebrating polyphony, coaxing symphony;

orchestrating the praise of your inhabited creation;

Lord, you lavish gifts on all whom you call.

Strengthen and sustain us and all ministers of your church,

that in the range and diversity of our vocation,

we may be catalysts of your kingdom in the world,

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

 

We had really good teachers and the other members of the group, who came from all kinds of church and home backgrounds, worked together to explore what ‘ministry’ is. It was great to meet new people and to discover their views and thoughts about the way we do things.

Once the core module part of the course was over, I chose the Pastoral elective for the second part of the course.

We looked at what Pastoral Ministry is and it is not just about  visiting the sick or lonely,  it is a lot bigger than that!

The course helped me to see that God is leading me to do his work in St Paul’s.

The course itself was not difficult, but it was very challenging.  We were asked to look honestly and closely at ourselves, which is not always easy to do.

I learned that we all ‘do ministry’ in large or small ways.  I feel stronger and more confident now for the future and would encourage anyone who is thinking about doing it to go for it.

Jody

 

I hope you will join me in congratulating her on successfully completing this new training (at the age of 63, no mean feat!) and I ask that you remember her in your prayers as she begins a new stage in her ministry. Thank you, Pam