Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Farewell John Morris

Today Clare and I said goodbye to an old friend, a quietly radiant man whom we had first got to know forty years ago when I was a student training for ministry at St Michael's College Llandaff. John Morris, dying at eighty-seven was mourned at his funeral in Llandaff Cathedral, where he had been a worshipper for many years, by a congregation of about 150, which included as many as a dozen clergy, male and female, and both our Bishops. He was a life-long layman of spiritual intelligence and learning. He was modest and humble, always enquiring, exploring and discovering wonderful new things about life. You could say he was typical of that breed of teachers who leave a lasting influence on one generation after another.

He came from a non-conformist farming family in Caerphilly, where I served my first Curacy, and had become an Anglican, like his elder brother, in his youth. Although from a radical Christian pacifist background, he served right through the second world war and survived, to complete his higher education and become a teacher of English and Scripture. After his first job, he returned to the Grammar school which had educated him, and remained there forty years. An unspectacular career by restless modern standards, but one which left a lasting impression on generations of students.

John and his wife Mary met Clare and I at St Mike's one evening when they were out looking for some musical students to recruit to take part in experimental liturgy in the Parish of Llandaff North, where they were worshipping at the time. We got on well and kept in touch while I worked in Llandaff diocese. John referred Martin one of his troublesome sixth formers, to me when I was Curate in Caerphilly. Martin caught the faith which shone from John unassumingly, but I was entrusted by John with the challenge of dialoguing with him about the relevance of the Gospel and God to his concerns as a young political activist.

Martin was one of the most original insightful and creative thinkers I have ever known, and made my own critical and rebellious instincts feel quite tame and conservative. He survived the exchanged to be baptized, confirmed and eventually ordained. John was very proud of Martin, and Martin gave a touching eulogy at the service. Only I know how much Martin struggled to say what John meant to him and to so many others. He was on the phone to me several times in the 36 hours before he stood up in front of all those friends and strangers assembled to celebrate a life so well lived.

It was one of those days. Just as I was leaving for the midday Mass at St John's, before going on to the funeral, Martin rang and said his computer printer had died, as he was about to print before leaving his home in Newport to drive over for the funeral. So, he emailed the file to me for printing. It arrived a couple of minutes before the Mass was due to start, and thankfully the office computer system behaved immaculately and delivered to order. That Martin should trust me with this task as an old friend was one thing. That he should trust that my computer system would be able to deliver was a real act of faith.

After the funeral, and before going back to John and Mary's house to gather with other mourners for the funeral tea, I had to go back into City Hall for a meeting of Cardiff Business Safe, to see a presentation on a business crime intelligence data system - a duty required of me as a new Board of Management member. In the midst of death we are in life. Sometimes I wish it wasn't all so crowded.

When we returned to Cardiff from Monaco, we met up again unexpectedly at the local doctor's surgery, the day we were re-registering with the NHS. Then we met again when we went to worship at Llandaff Cathedral, where we found John and Mary in the congregation there, involved in working with others to deepen the spiritual life of the community through a prayer and mediation group. The last time we met was just a month ago, again at the doctor's, each of us getting checked against those troublesome signs of ageing, though he was 25 years older than I. He went fighting through a war at the end of which I was born, yet despite all those brutalising experiences remained meek and gentle to the end, resting calmly in the love of God as his end approached, much in the same way as he had done throughout his life. I could envy faith like his.

1 comment:

Fr Edward said...

Keith such lovely words about John Morris. He and Mary were a great partnership and very kind to Karen and I when we moved to Llandaff five years ago. It was always a privilage to celebrate Mass for them in the house and to listen to the many stories of their spiritual adventures. I too found Martin's eulogy very touching and oh if all our laity could sow the seeds of faith that John sowed.

Every best wish
Edward Dowland-Owen