Thursday, February 05, 2009

A rare occasion these days

After the Eucharist today, the first funeral for me to conduct since last May. I did just one funeral all last year, five in 2007, eleven in 2006, seventeen in 2005. The end of 2006 was when the Parish was divided. People come into the city parish to work, have fun, shop. Occasionally they may die there, but that doens't mean that their funerals will be there. It seems strange when I hear of colleagues doing a hundred funerals a year, and struggling to find time to fit everything else in around funerals. I am privileged to have time for the missionary exploration of working among people in retail and public service bodies, and more importantly, time to reflect on this journey into uncharted territory.

The funeral was of an elderly matriarch with a huge extended family, so there was a congregation of a hundred or more. I was asked to read a eulogy on behalf of the family, as none of her children felt capable of doing so. I was touched by the well crafted thoughtful nature of the five hundred word text that had been written for me. It made my task easy. The writer thanked me for giving voice to his words after the service. I don't think he realised what he had created until he heard it spoken by another. There was a lot of affection around, mixed with the sadness of the moment. Many of those attending trekked out to Western ceremony for the burial, despite the cold and the snow. A minibus carrying a dozen people was late arriving, ten minutes after the hearse and cars. The chief mourner asked if it would be possible to wait. "We're a close family", she said, "We should be united here." It was evident in the way people huddled together and looked at each other, and we didn't have long to wait.

Walking back from along Church Street from where the funeral director's car had dropped me off I was accosted by a middle aged man exiting from The Old Arcade pub, with a fierce stare. He proceeded to demand who I was, then announced himself by various strange metaphors to be almighty God come in judgement on lying hypocritical clergy. He was not poking fun. He was totally serious, without humour, quite off his head. After a few minutes of being harangued, I broke loose from his stare and headed off to church. Within minutes he'd followed me in, and took to shouting denunciations at an unseen audience, before noticing me and continuing his tirade. The fact that I was speaking to a couple at that moment who seemed to be going through some kind of crisis and needed reassurance went un-noticed. Several other visitors quit the church, looking decidedly nervous. The finally, the tirade ended and he too departed, leaving me with this astonished young couple, and another young man who had witnessed it all out of my line of sight, and was distressed by it all.

It was such a strange interlude - a storm of psychic energy manifesting itself in a string of people disturbed, eddying around like leaves in the wind around the church tower outside, and gusting in and out of the tranquility of the place, just for a moment.

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