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Clergy Comments


Dear Friends,

Retirement is definitely busier than I thought it would be. There’s so much going on in our lives and in Low Furness. Downsizing, sorting out and cataloging the family photos have all taken a backseat. Reading and reflection are occasional rather than the new norm. There’s so much to do, so many new memories to create. At the recent WI Concert, I shared a memory, which I have been encouraged to write down. Strangely enough, it concerns the first funeral I ever conducted on my own. As a curate, having been trained and shown how to conduct funerals by my vicar, he said, “you’re ready to fly solo. The next funeral is yours to take”. All was going well. We arrived at the graveside. The undertaker looked at me for the nod to lower the coffin into the grave, when one of the sons of the deceased stepped forward and whispered in my ear, “Vicar, dad had a favourite possession which he took with him wherever he went. Is it alright if we put it on the coffin?” I thought, leaving aside the fact that I was only a curate, not a vicar, ‘I don’t know. This wasn’t in my training and it’s not in the manual’. I looked to the experienced undertaker, who had overheard, for guidance. He gave an almost imperceptible shrug. He didn't know either. Taking that as there being no objection, I answered the son, "That'll be OK". He turned to his brother: "The vicar says it's OK". His brother stepped forward, placed the object in the centre of the coffin and stepped back. The undertaker looked at me. I nodded. He signaled the bearers. They began to lower the coffin, and without further ado the nodding dog from the back of father’s car bade me a solemn farewell! Tears and laughter never seem to be very far apart.

Around that time, the vicar also decreed that I was ready to take weddings. Off he went to visit his sister, leaving me with five weddings to conduct at forty minute intervals on a Saturday afternoon. Brides entered the south door and departed through the west door. Each wedding had three hymns. The rule was that if the bride was five minutes late, one hymn was omitted. If she was ten minutes late, two were omitted. If she was fifteen minutes late, she went to the back of the queue for the afternoon. No-one was ever fifteen minutes late! The first wedding was going great. The bride was on time. Everything was on schedule. She was about to make her vows. Then, her eyeballs began to disappear. She was going to faint. ‘No’, I cried internally, ‘you can’t’. A kaleidoscope of thoughts rushed through my mind. This is only the first of five weddings. When ladies faint, how long are they out for? Should I use the smelling salts I’d seen in the vestry drawer? What effect do they have? Will they make her cough or splutter? If she doesn’t come round quickly, can we just carry on and can I declare her married when she wakes up? Quickly, I raised my right leg, turned my right foot, and pressed it against her knees. The shock brought her eyeballs back. She looked at me. I fixed her look and dared her to faint. She followed me through her vows and the rest of the service. In the vestry, signing the register, she thanked me: “Thank you she said, I thought I was going to faint, but you scared me so much that I didn’t dare. Thank you”. How to win friends and influence people.

These things just go to show. One never really knows what’s around the next corner, how things are going to turn out. Our nations seem to be in confusion, politically, socially,

economically. What seemed certain a few weeks ago is now completely different. The only thing that seems certain is surprise and uncertainty. Mercifully, experience has taught me at all times and in all circumstances, to trust in God. He alone is the same yesterday, today and forever. He created life, loves us all, and wants the best for all his children and creation. When I’ve doubted and failed him, failed to listen, failed to learn, failed to obey, things have gone wrong. When I’ve tried to understand, listened and followed, his promises have always been fulfilled. I pray for wisdom, for my family, for our nation, for the world. Not enough. I should pray more. But, God is gracious. He is always there, always listening, always working for our salvation. As a wise person once said, “If God seems far away, guess who has moved!” James 4:8 says, “Come close to God and he will come close to you”. May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in the knowledge and love of God, and of his Son Jesus Christ our Lord; and the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among you, and remain with you always, Amen.

Rev Alan Barrett

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