Rector's August 2015 Letter

A lovely sunny month like August may seem like an odd time to choose to talk about that most avoided of all topics – death!  But I spent part of yesterday afternoon wandering round one of our peaceful churchyards, in the sun, looking for a particular gravestone and it made me think that perhaps that is a good atmosphere in which to broach the subject. 

 

Village churchyards are important places, and hold so many memories for those whose loved ones are buried there.  Not only that, they are witnesses to all of us that the dead, as well as the living, are part of the great community of God’s family, still held in his love whether their names are remembered by those alive today or not.  Often, only a slight irregularity in the turf will mark an old grave, from a time when only the wealthy could afford a stone memorial, but it makes no difference to God; just as it makes no difference if our bodies are lost at sea, or cremated and scattered, or lost on a distant battlefield.

 

And they also, inevitably, remind us of our own mortality.  That used to be considered a good thing!  Jeremy Taylor was a Church of England priest whose commemoration is on the 13th of this month.  He lived at the time of the English Civil War, and was sometimes known as the ‘Shakespeare of Divines’ for his poetic writing style.  His two most famous works were called ‘Holy Living’ and ‘Holy Dying’, but both were really more about how to live than about the process of death.  He would have argued that a ‘holy death’ can best be achieved by someone who has tried by God’s grace to live a ‘holy life’ – and a ‘holy life’ is best understood by those who are not afraid to recognise that our time here is short and temporary, and that each of us has to make the best of the unknown days and hours we receive as a gift, in the knowledge that we will one day meet the generous God who gave them.

 

Villages, and village churches, are places where death makes a huge impact.  Whereas in bigger communities, it might only be the deaths of your nearest and dearest that will touch you deeply, in a village every death makes a big ripple in that smaller, quieter pool.   To lose someone you have known and lived near all your life, even if you were never particular friends, can sometimes be more affecting than the death of a relative rarely seen.  And inevitably, groups of friends and neighbours grow old to the same natural timetable and see others they have known passing ahead of them. 

 

Increasingly, recently, I have felt that we should be able to talk more about our feelings and fears around dying before it necessarily becomes a personal imperative.  Perhaps it is because I am approaching my 60th birthday, which seems like a number where you start counting down instead of up!  Or perhaps because of the funerals I and others have taken over the last year in all our villages, often for people who have been embedded there for many years. 

 

So I was very interested to hear about a new initiative from the Church called ‘Gravetalk’, which aims to assist informal, café-style discussions around these often taboo topics.  The project is being trialled locally in Exmouth, and I would be very interested in setting it up locally here if there was interest.  Although produced by the church, it isn’t just religious in content, but aims to allow all of us, at any stage of life, a chance to muse on what we do believe, or wonder, or worry about.

 

The peace of a country churchyard is a small sample of the ‘peace which passes understanding’ that God wants to bless us with.  Why not give yourself a few minutes to soak it up, and to reflect on all those who have done that over the centuries.

 

Rev’d Karen Spray                   01392 877400                            church@revdkaren.org.uk


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