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Archive for the ‘Weddings, Christenings & Funerals’ Category

OK, so it’s Advent. And that means ‘no flowers in church’. Which I sort of understand, because it is the Church of England’s ‘other Lent’ period. A time of preparation, a time of waiting. So lovely Suzy who runs the flower rota ‘gets’ this, and the pedestal of red chrysanths (with a Union Jack draped around the stand) that she created for Remembrance Sunday has been taken down.

Instead, we have a modest Advent wreath on a small table at the Chancel steps. It is of holly and ivy only, and around it are three purple and one pink candle, while in the centre is one white one.

BUT. This Sunday, the Second Sunday in Advent, we have an infant baptism as part of the usual service. A happy family christening involving 20 local, and not-so-local ‘un-churched’ people. And they don’t understand why the Rev Adrian has ruled ‘no flowers’. Why can’t doting granny arrange pink roses round the bottom of the font?

And next Thursday, we have the funeral of a much-loved elderly villager. A great supporter of church even when she was bed-bound. “I can hear you singing the hymns from my room” Aggie always told me. “I sing along too.”

Her grieving husband has already asked Suzy to buy some white lilies for a pedestal. Suzy rang me in consternation. “What shall I do?” she asked. “I know the Rev won’t want any flowers except what might be on the coffin, but I didn’t have the heart to tell Ted. To be honest, I don’t think I could have explained it convincingly!”

Indeed. And I’m not sure I could either. So I dodged this particular bullet and emailed the Rev Adrian, who had yet to sit down with Ted and plan the service. The floral ball is in the Rev’s court.

What do you do in your church? Would you ‘bend the rules’ for the christening and the funeral? How would you explain it?

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The Rev Fred is bravely tackling the difficult topic of Death, Funerals and Bereavement for our Lent meetings. Like many rural parishes, we have a largely 50+ population and for every wedding or baptism in church we’ll have six or seven funerals. It’s a privilege, and feels right, to say goodbye to an octogenarian in the village church, and hold the wake in the pub or the village hall. It means that all their elderly friends in the village can easily attend (on foot) as well as the family, who are more often than not far-flung.

We lost two elderly widows just after Christmas, within a week of each other. But sadly, for reasons best known to themselves, the families both opted for a service of Cremation in the city 15 miles away, and the village church was not required, though the Rev Fred was asked to officiate at each one. The two ladies’ elderly friends were very upset but various of us rallied round and provided chauffeur services so they could get to the Crematorium safely.

I asked the Rev Fred how these decisions are usually made. Does he contact bereaved families and offer his/our services? Or is he not supposed to ‘lobby’ for the church? His answer was a bit worrying: it’s the undertaker who most families turn to immediately, and who steer the decisions.

Actually, of course, we don’t call them undertakers any more do we? They’re funeral directors, and that is what the do: they direct funerals. And I think that’s how the church has got nudged sideways in all of this. The Rev Fred says that funeral directors ‘like’ cremations more than funerals (though I’m not sure why). Perhaps it is easier to arrange? Cheaper for a family if it’s just ‘the Crem’ rather than ‘crem’ AND church for a memorial celebration?

I am disturbed. The two local funeral directors seem nice enough, and we give them great support at the church, always ensuring that there’s a helpful ‘sexton’ on hand (often me, or one of the PCC). We make life easy for them (and the family) from blocking off parking for the hearse to putting reserved notices on the family pews and beautiful wooden bowls out for retiring collections. Yet I feel that they’re pushing bereaved families towards what is for them the ‘easy’ option of the Crem.

How can the Rev Fred and I get people to understand that the village Church is there for everyone, whether or not they’ve recently been a member of the congregation? And that a funeral is for everyone who is left behind, not simply for the person who has died.

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Getting tuned into General Synod via Twitter and though it’s been a busy day at work, have tried to keep track of zillions of #synod tweets. Something that really came out of left field is the decision to increase fees for 2013 and beyond, by (according to The Telegraph) around 50%.

Since it is the Rev Fred and I who do all the hard work, and no-one seems to have asked us what we feel about fees, I’m somewhat surprised. Apparently, fees for getting married in church will go up to £415 (including having the banns read) while a funeral will go up to £160.

I thought we were in a recession? Are we not all struggling with inflation, VAT increases, wage freezes and cutting back? Why does the Church of England think it’s a good thing to suddenly inflate fees? What message is that sending to little old ladies worried about funeral costs, or young couples deciding between a church or civil wedding?

We already struggle to overcome the feeling best expressed as “I’m not very churchy” when it comes to funerals. “But the church is for everyone,” the Rev Fred says. “It’s your village church, and you don’t have to pass a test or have been a regular attender to make use of it – it’s there for you.”

But from next January, that’s only if you can pay £160 to us, as well as pay for the coffin, the car, the pall bearers, the flowers and the organist.

Does anyone know if we’re allowed to waive fees to those in need?

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I haven’t felt like blogging for a while. The day to day story of a country churchwarden and her trusty terrier seemed a bit trivial after the village was hit by the accidental death of one of our most popular young men.

At the beginning of August, a dramatic farm accident took the life of a beautiful young man who was born and brought up in our little community. Richard married an equally lovely girl from the next village only 18 months ago. They managed to buy a little farm-worker’s cottage and though they both worked long hours, they took part in village life, whether that was enjoying a pint in the pub or volunteering to run Splat the Rat at the church fete. They lowered the average age of our little congregation considerably on the occasions – more frequent than for most people in their late 20s – when they came to church. They had just been granted planning permission to turn their tiny two-bedroom cottage into a three-bedroom home so they could start a family.

When the accident happened, the Rev Fred was on holiday. I heard about it on local radio, and as I was stumbling up the High Street to their little cottage, to see if Vicky was home, part of me (I’m ashamed to say) hoped that she wasn’t, because I had no idea what I would say to her. But she’d already been wrapped in the loving support of her parents and close family, and was not in the cottage. That night I phoned the Rev Fred to let him know.

Perhaps because it was August, and relatively quiet on the news front, Richard’s death attracted the attention of the local media. I was pretty surprised to answer the phone to our local TV station, and local papers the next day: the result, I think, of Vicky being at her parents’ house, and my number being given out by the Rev Fred’s answerphone. For a day or two, I seemed to be the only person the media could get at. They were looking for eulogies, for sound-bites about Richard and the tragedy, and I felt unprepared to give them what they wanted.

In the Rev’s absence (Ryanair not being that flexible), two days after Richard’s death, I found myself sitting with Vicky and her best friend in the little cottage. I felt woefully unprepared to provide any comfort in the face of such a terrible tragedy. I have known a dozen deaths since I moved to the village, each one a sadness, but with the comfort of a long life well lived. In some cases, death has come as a release from pain, or as a friend at the end of a long road.

But what do you say to a 27 year old who has lost the love of her life in a random accident? A strong young man at the beginning of a happy family life? Very calm, very keen to do things right, Vicky asked me what her options were and I realised that she had no idea how to go about organising a funeral. At her age, Vicky had plenty of weddings under her belt, but never a death. I did my best, but my best felt sadly lacking.

A few days later someone asked me “Where was God in that accident?” Where indeed? All I felt I could say was that, life is often random. Sometimes terrible things happen to good people. But I hope (though I am not always sure) that God comes in at this point: to help Vicky through the weeks, months and years ahead.

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A strange encounter early yesterday evening, as the Terrier and I ended our walk around the village and went to lock up the church.

As I was watering the flowers (since the volunteer arranger had done the pedestal on Friday and they were already bone dry) a young-ish couple came into church.

Always glad to see visitors, but not wanting to seem like an over-eager shop assistant, I hailed them with a cheery ‘hello’ and let the Churchwarden’s Terrier escort them round the church for a few minutes.  Flowers rehydrated, I zipped up the nave and struck up a conversation.

“We’re visitors…  Looking for a church to get married in.”

Oooh, lovely, I thought, since we’d not had a wedding for a year (see previous post).

“And where are you from?” I asked, imagining they were going to say their granny lived in the village and they were on a recce, or that they used to live here but moved away…

“We’re from M – – ” the man said, naming a market town about 15 miles away. “And we’ve been driving around all afternoon looking for a pretty church to get married in.  This looks nice.  Would hold about the right number of people.  Have you got a red carpet?  She wants to walk up a red carpet.”

I confess I was more than a bit non-plussed.   Is this what they call Wedding Tourism?  The random picking of a pretty village miles from home, just so it fits the fantasy and looks nice in the pictures?

Of course, lots of people who are not Christians get married in church.  And they don’t set foot in the building again until they want to ‘christen’ the babies.  That (sadly) is normal.  But at least the couples who get married here usually have some connection with the village, through residency, family connection or sentiment.

Disconcerted, but not wanting to be stand-offish, I said I was sure that if the bride wanted to supply her own red carpet, she could certainly walk up it… and would she like the Rev Fred’s phone number and email?

But I’m not really sure how I feel about this. From one point of view, shouldn’t I be glad that they want to mark a major milestone in their life in church, and our church at that? Does it matter if they live miles away? On the other hand, does it reduce God’s house to the level of just another wedding venue? Answers on a postcard please (or post a comment)!

We’ll see what happens.  Wish I could see the Rev’s face when she asks for the red carpet…

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I don’t count myself as a ‘professional Christian’, and though I’ve now realised there are thousands of christian blogs out there, most are too far removed from my low-church everyday Anglicanism to be relevant and the best are written by ‘professional Christians’, in other words by bishops, vicars and theologians. This means that while they’re very erudite they’re also a bit heavy for daily digestion by this full-time worker and part-time Churchwarden. But there are a few who I like to dip in and out of, including Clayboy.

Being in wedding mode my eye was caught by his post about the CofE’s Weddings Project, within which he’s linked to a popular video on YouTube called Kevin and Jill’s wedding. Do go and have a look, it’s a huge hoot and I agree with Clayboy when he says ‘I defy anyone… to watch the video without a smile and a sense of joy.’

I don’t think our little church would have had room for Kevin and Jill’s dance, but I suspect that, if Lucy and Simon had requested something similar, the Rev Fred might have been up for it!

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It’s feet up time. It’s glass of champagne time. My feet hurt and my mascara has run (a little bit). This means that Lucy and Simon’s wedding has successfully taken place. It was very beautiful, but so it should have been because a huge amount of effort and many hours of preparation went into it. Lucy glided down the aisle like a swan, but that belied the frantic paddling that was going on beneath the surface, and indeed had been going on for days.

On Wednesday, Lucy, Simon and I harvested cow parsley, hog weed, wild geranium and green barley. In the rain. For two hours. On Thursday we gathered in most of Suzy’s garden and I collected the florist’s order of cornflowers, love-in-a-mist and lisianthus. By Friday, thankfully, Suzy had returned and I could hand over the responsibility. We started arranging at 2 o’clock in the afternoon, assisted by the bride, the bride’s mother, the groom’s mother and the chief bridesmaid.

I’ve helped with enough wedding flowers to know that ‘help’ sometimes slows you down more than it really helps. But in this case, they really were very good and after Suzy had created the first ‘arrangement’ in a salt-glazed pot, we were all able to copy it and soon every windowsill and every ledge bore a beautiful, full-blown arrangement of white and green with touches of blue. Oh, and my pew ends, though a bit fiddly when it came to the ivy, looked just about right.

I say ‘soon’ but in fact it took hours. And as we had half the county’s cow parsley supply and two acres of cut barley left over, clearing up also took hours and we called it a day about eight in the evening.

I woke at 5 o’clock this morning and got up to a wonderful June day. The Churchwarden’s terrier was rather surprised to be taken round the village at such an early hour. Not surprisingly, we met no-one. The church really did look lovely, and by 10am Suzy and I had cleared the debris, Elizabeth had mopped the floor and Edna had polished the pews, scenting the still air with beeswax.

Quite a few turned out to see Lucy walk along the street in the welcome sunshine – after a week of showers and clouds. In the cool church, friends and family stood and turned to see Lucy enter on her father’s arm. At the ‘speak now or forever hold your peace’ bit from the Rev Fred, the silence was broken by the six-strong guard of honour striking their scabbards against the floor, in unison. We all jumped and giggled. There was more laughter as Lucy struggled to push the ring onto Simon’s finger. She looked beautiful; he looked as if he had just won the lottery.

The hymns, all classics we learned at primary school so well-known and loved by all, were heartily sung. The three readings were, in turn, timeless, touching and funny. The organist played beautifully while the happy couple and all the family signed the register in the chancel, and the bells pealed out as Lucy and Simon processed out, beneath the raised swords of the guard of honour, into the sunshine.

Not a dry eye in the house. Well, OK, quite a few people managed not to cry, including Suzy, but I failed happily… So, a wonderful day for Lucy and Simon, their families, friends and the whole village. And now home to relax and pour a glass of champagne to toast the happy couple.

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