Reflections on an EastEnders funeral

Rev Canon Dr Sandra Millar who leads work on funerals for the Church of England has written a great blog post reflecting on Peggy Mitchell’s funeral:

This week the funeral of the great pub landlady, Peggy Mitchell, took place in Albert Square. It was full of wonderful East End traditions, like the horse drawn bier led by the funeral conductor and the people standing by in respect. There were hints that Peggy had specified what kind of funeral she wanted – and it was certainly a very traditional, even old-fashioned,  affair in the local church.

But these days a Church of England led funeral needn’t be traditional, whether it takes place in the local church or elsewhere. People can wear brightly coloured clothes, the coffin might be wicker or felt or hand-decorated, it could be draped with a favourite sports shirt, balloons might be released – whatever reflect that unique life and the love of God within a framework of reflection, prayer, thanks and commendation into God’s care. The EastEnders funeral reminded me of the time I took the funeral of a pub landlord – there were nearly 1,000 people present, a wicker coffin, the singing of Waltzing Matilda and lots and lots of tributes. I spent a lot of time with the family discovering what would make this funeral helpful, and to this day I remember them and pray for them.

Whatever the circumstances, the vicar talks with the family beforehand, finding out key family contacts and tensions (that would have been interesting in the Mitchell clan!) discovering what made this person uniquely loved and special to those around him or her.  The vicar may encourage the family to make a tribute, talking about their own personal memories, and will be there alongside on the day, ready to offer a steadying arm or even take over if emotions became too much.  Together with the Funeral Director the minister is responsible for the service, making sure it all works smoothly, offering care and support as needed – and should something go wrong, the vicar will be there.

Christians believe in a God who made every human being uniquely, who knows every step we take, walks with us through our journey in life, so celebrating and giving thanks is a central part of every Church of England led funeral. The camera cut away from the funeral service, but I do hope someone spoke about Peggy with affection. If I’d have been taking her funeral I would definitely have used the line ‘Get out of my pub!” somewhere in the service!  But funerals are more than just thanksgiving: there is grief and loss, sometimes anger or regret, and a church service will also make space for holding those emotions, letting go where appropriate and finding comfort to face the future.

Above all a Church led funeral offers a message of hope – a hope that death is not the end and that both we who have to carry on living and those whom we love but see no longer are all held in the great love of God. Our recent research around Church of England led funerals showed that the timeless words ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust, in sure and certain hope of the resurrection to eternal life’ have a powerful resonance with people, even though their full meaning will take us all a lifetime to grasp.

A good vicar – and there are many like Revd Juliet Stephenson from Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the current Funeral Celebrant of the Year – will offer pastoral care before, during and long after the funeral. Sometimes that’s the space to light a candle, sometimes the space to remember and sometimes a listening ear.  I know EastEnders isn’t real [it isn’t is it?] but I hope that all who are faced with organising a funeral will know that the Church of England is there for them, meeting their needs with compassion, humour, love and grace.

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Angel mosaic revealed at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity

Angel mosaic portraitThe BBC have recently done a video report that Italian restoration workers at the Church of the Nativity in the West Bank city of Bethlehem have been showing off a stunning mosaic of an angel that was previously hidden beneath plaster.

Tensions between different Christian denominations have long delayed the repairs at the church.

But the Palestinian Authority brokered a deal between them enabling restoration work to start three years ago.

Children and Holy Communion

Recently I have been doing some reading about children and Holy Communion.  One of the most helpful things I read was this blog by Margaret Pritchard Houston:

As we were preparing to admit six children to Holy Communion before Confirmation, our curate turned to me and said, ‘So we admit them at age 7? Explain this to me theologically.’

And I had to explain that I couldn’t – that the only reason we do admission to Holy Communion at 7 is that we’re not allowed to do it from baptism, that our policy is more a compromise than a coherent theological principle.

She goes on to answer the following questions:

  • If we admit children to communion at baptism, then what is confirmation for?
  • Children are allowed to participate in other ways, aren’t they? They can come to Jesus through Sunday School and worship without receiving communion until they’re older.
  • Wanting it doesn’t mean they should have it. They don’t understand what it means, and that’s crucial to receiving the sacrament.

Empowering Children as Ministers

Empowering Children as Ministers was a day conference organised by Gill Ambrose and Ally Barrett (Reverendally), with help from the Praxis East Committee.

The notes from the day show it to have been a rich and thought provoking day with a diverse group of ministers and church representatives reflecting together on how they might empower our churches’ children and young people as ministers, and the impact that this may have on the children and young people themselves (both now and into adulthood) and on the church itself.

At a time when the Church of England is actively promoting the nurturing of young vocations, why not start in childhood?  Click here to read a full report on the day, including the full text of the speech given by 11 year old Joanna about her own experiences as a minister.

Take part in the British Film Institute Consultation

 

The British Film Institute (BFI) is running a new consultation presenting opportunities for teachers and youth leaders to give their views on the value of film and education. The feedback you give will inform the BFI’s future strategy. So have your voice heard, the consultation survey goes live on 24 June, don’t miss out!

 

Take part in the BFI Consultation Survey

The decline of play

In this TED talk, Dr. Peter Gray argues that children must be given support for more free play.

Dr. Peter Gray compellingly brings attention to the reality that over the past 60 years in the United States there has been a gradual but, overall dramatic decline in children’s freedom to play with other children, without adult direction. Over this same period, there has been a gradual but overall dramatic increase in anxiety, depression, feelings of helplessness, suicide, and narcissism in children and adolescents.

Based on his own and others’ research, Dr. Gray documents why free play is essential for children’s healthy social and emotional development and outlines steps through which we can bring free play back to children’s lives.

Boost conference

In a year when many conferences for youth workers seem to be having a break it is exciting to read about the BOOST conference.  Its aim is to build emotional and spiritual well-being in Children, Young People and Leaders

Boost is a one-day conference for those working with, or supervising those who work with, under 18’s either part-time/full-time or as a volunteer.

  • When: 11th October 2016, 9:45am-4:30pm
  • Where: Emmanuel Centre, Marsham St., Westminster, London, SW1P 3DW
  • What: A day conference exploring emotional resilience and spiritual well-being including sessions led by Dr. Kate Middleton, Rev. Dr. Sally Nash, Dr. Sam Richards, Ian Macdonald, Rev. Paul Nash, and Ian Henderson.
  • Cost: an Earlybird offer of £25 for the whole day, lunch included is available until 9th September when it will go up to £30

Go check out their web page for more information and to book.

Threads – Referendum reflections: we did this

Matt White has written a reflection on the referendum for Threads.  Here’s a snippet:

We. Did. This.

I’m not just talking about the mechanics of democracy. More people putting their cross in one box than another. It goes way beyond that.

Our actions of not just the last 24 hours have led us to this point. And if we don’t get to grips with that, then we can’t be surprised when it happens next time, or the next time, or the next time…

And as I take a long, hard, look at myself in that light this morning, some things are uncomfortably staring right back; if I choose to denigrate our politicians, labelling them all “dishonest” or “self-serving”, then I can’t be surprised when people don’t trust what is being said by them. Or refuse to take part in the process at all.

If I disengage from politics from election to election, headline to headline, only diving in a few hours before or after the next big thing, I’m not adding or shaping the discourse. I’m just clanging at the last minute in the hope my pithy tweet or couple of paragraphs on Facebook will really make a difference.

If I make villains out of those who stand up for what they believe in – even if I don’t share their belief – I push others away. Afraid to appear in agreement with those I so clearly find laughable. Making them too nervous to ask why, or start conversations that might help bring clarity to us both.

If I rush to caricature those in my communities who hold different opinions, I stop seeing them as my neighbours. I write them off with broad brushstrokes, and make it clear that my walls will always be built and my borders firmly in place.

And so today I, and we, get another choice. Not leave or remain. Not in or out – that ship has sailed.

Today I get the choice to act.

Do go read the rest of it to hear how Matt suggests we act.

EU referendum: Statement by Archbishops of Canterbury and York

Archbishop Justin Welby and Archbishop John Sentamu have issued this joint statement today after the UK voted to leave the European Union: 

On Thursday, millions of people from across the United Kingdom voted in the referendum, and a majority expressed a desire that Britain’s future is to be outside the European Union

The outcome of this referendum has been determined by the people of this country. It is now the responsibility of the Government, with the support of Parliament, to take full account of the outcome of the referendum, and, in the light of this, decide upon the next steps. This morning, the Prime Minister David Cameron has offered a framework for when this process might formally begin.

The vote to withdraw from the European Union means that now we must all reimagine both what it means to be the United Kingdom in an interdependent world and what values and virtues should shape and guide our relationships with others.

As citizens of the United Kingdom, whatever our views during the referendum campaign, we must now unite in a common task to build a generous and forward looking country, contributing to human flourishing around the world. We must remain hospitable and compassionate, builders of bridges and not barriers. Many of those living among us and alongside us as neighbours, friends and work colleagues come from overseas and some will feel a deep sense of insecurity. We must respond by offering reassurance, by cherishing our wonderfully diverse society, and by affirming the unique contribution of each and every one.

The referendum campaign has been vigorous and at times has caused hurt to those on one side or the other. We must therefore act with humility and courage – being true to the principles that make the very best of our nation. Unity, hope and generosity will enable us to overcome the period of transition that will now happen, and to emerge confident and successful. The opportunities and challenges that face us as a nation and as global citizens are too significant for us to settle for less.

As those who hope and trust in the living God, let us pray for all our leaders, especially for Prime Minister David Cameron in his remaining months in office. We also pray for leaders across Europe, and around the world, as they face this dramatic change. Let us pray especially that we may go forward to build a good United Kingdom that, though relating to the rest of Europe in a new way will play its part amongst the nations in the pursuit of the common good throughout the world.

Youth pilgrimage to Taizé – God’s Presence

A brilliant update from Richard Nihill on the Archbishop of York’s Youth Trust Pilgrimage to Taizé:

I am writing today’s blog sitting in the Church of Reconciliation rejoicing in the opportunity just to be. Surrounded by people waiting to worship, surrounded by young and old from around the world, and surrounded by God’s presence and love.

When I first arrived with our young people on Sunday I was concerned about several things: whether they would embrace or flee from the international character of Taize, how they would react having to attend three services a day, how they would cope with the silence, and how we might fill the rest of their time and occupy them.

From the first few hours of our pilgrimage here I have watched our young people worship in languages they’ve never spoken; greet like old friends students from America, from Sweden, from Italy; and share with depth and honesty in our international Bible study groups.

The services have become a perfect punctuation to the day. Often the young people are the ones who remind the leaders that it is time to be there. We have all loved the opportunity to sing the chants and let the music inspire us and the words take route within.

The silence at the heart of the services has been an element that we have all grown to appreciate. What started as daunting is now a source of nourishment. Just today one of the girls  remarked that at each service it seems to get shorter. A group of them discussed how Taizé was giving them a perspective of seeing silence as a blessing and that they wanted to prioritise more of it in their lives.

And finally, what of the question of how we might occupy our time here? Well that is most definitely filled, filled with the presence of God. Filled with God’s presence as we worship in the chapel, in both the silence and in the sound. Filled with God’s presence in our brothers and sisters as we discuss, as we socialise and as we learn from one another. Filled with God’s presence as the volunteers serve us and as we serve each other, with a smile or by kind words.

But I find myself left now with another concern  – how do we incorporate this experience into our daily lives? In the midst of a hectic existence how do we live the present moment? Perhaps the answer is in these words from today’s midday service; ‘as Peter writes; Above all, love each other deeply’.

 

Richard Nihill

Lay Chaplain, Archbishop Holgate’s

Talking to children who are bereaved

Support Around Death have recently launched a animated video for professionals on how to talk to children when they are about to be bereaved or have just experienced a death.

Talking to children who are bereaved from NES on Vimeo.

Talking to children when they are about to be bereaved or have just experienced a death may feel daunting. Knowing how children of different ages may react can help. As a professional there are many ways one can help families, friends, schools and communities do and say things before and after someone dies that can help children to cope with their loss. This NHS Education for Scotland video aims to enable professionals to facilitate such discussions through an enhanced understanding from the perspective of children who have been bereaved.

For more information on this video and other resources please visit sad.scot.nhs.uk.  This website was designed for health care professionals supporting patients at the end of life or  with bereavement care.