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.


Daybook Entry – 19th April


Outside my window…is me!! I’m blogging from the garden today. It’s a beautiful morning – blue skies, bright sunshine, still cool air, birds singing, no radios in other people’s gardens yet….wow, England at its best!
I am thinking…about my future. My life has been at a standstill for nearly 18 months now due to this stupid health situation and it’s high time I stopped sulking and started making plans.
I am thankful for…Patrick at the JobCentre. If it weren’t for him I wouldn’t have gone on the Expert Patient Programme, and I wouldn’t be so optimistic about my future today.

I am praying for…new babies. There seems to be so many people from my family and friends who are expecting babies or who have just had them recently and it is such a joy to know new life is happening all around me. My baby making days are over now, but it doesn’t stop that feeling of expectation and promise when I hear a new baby is on the way.
From the kitchen…something light and summery today.
I am wearing…green cutoffs and a yellow top
I am creating…music. I want to do an arrangement of Swing Low Sweet Chariot for the youth band and I’ve got the opening whizzing round my head at this moment so as soon as I’ve posted this I’m going to go and write it down before inspiration deserts me. Also, I’ve got a half-finished crocheted monkey that I’m making for my son in my workbag, and two just-started blankets for the special care babies at the hospital.
I am going…to a session of reflexology this afternoon.
I am reading… “The Land of Painted Caves” by Jean M Auel and I’ve got my next three books lined up for when I’ve finished it. Yes, I’m in a reading vein!
I am hoping…the weather stays as good as this for the weekend when we go away in our caravan for the first time this year.
I am hearing…nature
Around the house…machines are whirring and kids are sleeping
One of my favourite things…is fresh air
A few plans for the rest of the week: Got to get things packed back into the caravan and get clothes/washbags ready for weekend, then it’s food shopping tomorrow night (for weekend) and on Thursday evening we are going to a service at St Peter’s Church at 6pm before celebrating the Last Supper at our church. Then Friday morning it’s wagons roll!!!
Here is picture for thought I am sharing…

The Last Supper

Come and join us at and join in!!


St Patrick

Who was St Patrick? What did he do? When did he live? Why do we celebrate him today?

There is a lot of ambiguity around Patrick’s early life, but modern historians have agreed that it was likely he was born near Kilpatrick in Scotland in 387 to a high status Roman father and a native British mother. When he was around 16 years old Patrick was captured by raiders and taken to Ireland where he was sold to slavery. Ireland at the time was a completely pagan country inhabited by Druids and Patrick learned their language and customs during his captivity, which was to help him later. Patrick prayed to God during his captivity, which helped him endure the hardships he faced daily. After about four years God spoke to Patrick in a dream telling him to flee Ireland by making his way to the coast and to board a ship home.

Patrick returned to his family and joined the church, such was the strength of his faith in God. He was ordained a Bishop and returned to Ireland as a missionary to spread the message of the Gospels and to convert the population. He didn’t have an easy time of it and faced hostility from the local chieftains. His first miracle is recorded as happening during an encounter with Dichu, a chieftain, where he was barred from making progress on his journey. Dichu raised his sword to strike Patrick but found his arm had stiffened when he tried to bring it down. His arm remained like that until he believed Patrick’s lesson about the Gospel and was converted. He offered Patrick the use of a barn on his land, which Patrick used as a resting place then. He later returned to the barn to use it as a retreat and after his death a church was built on the hallowed site. There is still a church there today and the site is known as “Sabhall” pronounced Saul.

He gradually converted the people of Ireland from paganism to Christianity and one of the tools he is reputed to have used was the shamrock. A native Irish plant, it was a symbol of life and rebirth to the pagans which Patrick used to demonstrate the concept of the Holy Trinity. The shamrock is still a symbol for Irish people the whole world over today.

It is a popular belief that Patrick banished all the snakes from Ireland, but there was never any evidence to suggest that snakes inhabited the place at all. It is more likely that the term “snake” is a symbolic representation for the Druids.

Patrick died on the 17th March AD493, which is the date that has been adopted as his feast day by the Catholic Church and the Orthodox Church. Made a saint shortly after his death in recognition for his work, he has never been formally canonised by the Pope. Nevertheless, he appears on the Catholic “List of Saints” and is counted as being one of the saints in heaven.

St Patrick is one of only a few saints who are embraced by both the secular and religious communities (think St Nicholas and St Valentine) and on 17th March everyone’s Irish….!

The prayer of St Patrick:

Christ be with me, Christ within me,
Christ behind me, Christ before me,
Christ beside me, Christ to win me,
Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,
Christ in quiet, and in danger,
Christ in hearts of all that love me,
Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.