Monday, November 02, 2009

Remembrance of times past

Today Clare and I went over to Bristol where I conduded the funeral service of a former parishioner of mine from my days as Team Rector of the St Paul's Area, thirty years ago.

Freda, (same name as my mother) came to me in in a time of distressing spiritual crisis. I got to know her and the youngest of her five children, Amanda, then fifteen. All her other children were off her hands. Freda had been a single parent struggling bravely to cope for twenty years or so. She and Amanda started coming to church, but Freda's spiritual crisis turned into a health crisis when she had a stroke which had the effect of impairing her speech and weakening one side of her body.

While she was in hospital, Amanda came and stayed with us in our vast Vicarage - we had plenty of room. She stayed two years with us, until we left the Parish. By that time, Amanda had finished school and was starting work. Freda was a survivor, and while she never fully overcame her disabilities, and needed sheltered accommodation, she made the most of her life, and was happy to see Amanda married and bring a son into the world. Amanda was the closest to and most supportive of her mother.

When she rang to tell us the news of Freda's death two weeks ago, I volunteered to take the service. I wanted to be able to pay tribute to this brave woman, raised in post-war poverty, never lucky in love or money, but ever one to fight back from the edge of despair to laughter and resignation in the face of the rough deal which life handed out to her. We've kept in touch with Amanda over the years, but her siblings were always strangers to us, so we were meeting them for the first time over refreshments in a local pub after the service. I hope they thought I did justice to their mother's character and courage.

The service was at Canford Crematorium. I don't think it's changed at all in the thirty years since I was last there, yet it all seemed unfamiliar, as did the roads around Westbury on Trym, once well known to me. During my PGCE year I'd helped out in Holy Trinity Parish Church, Westbury on Trym. This sense of unfamiliarity puzzled me. Was it that I'd forgotten after 25 years? Little seemed to have changed in the village or vicinity. I came to the conlusion it was a matter of looking at a place I knew with different eyes, without the old associations of places and people. I doubt if there'd be anyone i n that Parish who would remember my nine month sojourn with them after this many years.

Curiously enough there was an elderly retired engineer among the parishioners, whose interest was in the potential of geothermal heating. This was where I first heard a technical explanation which has driven my more recent interest in seeing St John's explore the same course of action. I can't even remember his name.

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