Sunday, August 21, 2016
I nearly cried.
In my last post I told how Robert, a local friend of mine had been found dead. I had once met one of his brothers who lives in another city, but did not really know his family. I heard that this brother was on his way to Dunedin. I felt that when his brother arrived to deal with funeral arrangements, he may not know where to begin to contact the local Church. I drove past the house several times to see if he had arrived. Finally on Tuesday morning as I left to go into town to meetings and chaplaincy work, I dropped a sheet of paper with the interim moderator's and the session clerk's phone numbers on it into the letterbox. I also had my name and number and the offer to help in any way. I expected that the interim moderator would take the funeral. Later that day my wife called at the house and met his brother. She and he rang me, and he asked if I would lead my friend's funeral. I agreed, though I knew that it would be emotionally tough. The brother came for dinner that night and we chatted about it, his memories and made necessary arrangements. I attended a St John Chaplains' conference in Wellington City for two days, and caught up with the larger family on Friday. The old Iona Church is part way through a restoration project and is seldom used. As we cleaned and prepared the church for the service and did the set up, we realised that my dead friend was the one who usually did a lot of these jobs on such an occasion. On Saturday, in the historic Iona Church in Port Chalmers, I led his funeral. There was quite a crowd there, including at least six senior Presbyterian ministers. I was aware that my ceremony would be different than theirs, but I thought I had to be true to my approach. As I came to the end of my eulogy I found my voice cracking with emotion and was glad to hand over to family members to share their tributes. After a couple of other speakers, I safely negotiated the remainder of the service. Robert had promised to play "Finlandia" in Church for me when I next led a service, and the brother had chosen that tune for the organist to play as we led the casket out of the Church. As I walked ahead of the coffin down the Church isle listening to this tune that he and I enjoyed, I found my lip quivering with emotion and the beginnings of a sob happen. I bit my lip and carried on. As they loaded the coffin into the hearse I wanted to yell, "Bugger!"
Today I led Sunday worship deeply aware that Robert was missing. He always appreciated what I offered. But I did feel that once again I was minister to a Church family who needed encouragement and love.
While I was in Wellington one of my firefighters phoned my wife. He was sitting with his siblings around his mother's hospital bed and she was expected to die. Would I lead her service when the end came? First thing on Friday morning I phoned him and assured him I would. I had a long association with both him and his wife, marrying them many years ago. Later that day as I was preparing Robert's funeral I received a call telling me that she had died. A couple of hours after finishing my friend's funeral, I was once again sitting with a grieving family planning for a funeral this coming Tuesday morning.
I am at once energised and exhausted by this ministry, that seems to follow me.