Monday, 21 March 2016

Holy Week challenges

A car arrived for me in good time to get to St Mary's for today's funeral. On arrival, however, the area of Bute Street near St Mary's was very congested with parked cars and people. Getting into the church yard was gong to take a while, so I got out and walked the last hundred yards, conscious of losing time and needing to be fully briefed before starting. The lady who died was a regular church attender at St Mary's and had lived in Butetown all her life. About 300 people, attended, standing room only inside, and people in the porch and standing outside.

There wasn't enough time to do a full check of the service texts presented to me, and there'd been no time yesterday to prepare a full version of my own, so I had to navigate my way through the complete solemn ritual of a Requiem Mass from start to finish. The six strong serving team couldn't have been more helpful, but the lack of familiarity, and inability to find some of the required prayer texts meant  I had to improvise. This isn't usually a problem, but I felt as if I was struggling, even if that didn't come across. 

The only mistake I made was to miss out the last hymn, though this was no bad thing as we were running behind, so we sang it at the committal instead. Congestion outside the church and some heavy traffic en route to Thornhill meant that our time slot in their busy schedule was shrinking so we had barely ten minutes remaining in Briwnant chapel. It was enough for a brief, dignified conclusion, but more difficult to move the congregation away from the chapel entrance to the flower display area in time to let the next group of mourners enter. 

It's rare for there to be insufficient time between services. Planning by all involved is well thought out. Traffic conditions make a difference, generally catered for, but dealing with such large numbers in and around church is an unpredictable factor, even for a church like St Mary's with its history of big community funerals. Often at a Requiem, there may only be a few communicants, as most attending aren't churchgoers. On this occasion there were about fifty communicants and this adds extra time.

After lunch, I went to a flat in Granetown to meet the woman who had been arranging the funeral of her partner, whom she'd been caring for, as he was bed ridden for the past twenty years. She'd just finished writing some notes for a eulogy, and asked if I would speak about him on her behalf. She gave me a framed photo to place by his coffin in church and a CD with a song by Jim Reeves she wanted played. I shaped it into a suitable tribute to them both, given the circumstances, as soon as I got home. Then, I took the bus into town late in the afternoon and  walked across to St German's for the Mass of the Day.

Having spent time writing my Lent Blog postings in advance, to be on the safe side, knowing how easily days slip away almost un-noticed, I have already studied and reflected on the texts for the next few days, and made a conscious decision not to follow my usual habit of writing a sermon, but trusting myself to preach from scripture without notes. It carries the risk of going on too long and losing the thread. I have done this before and know that I can do it, but am always apprehensive about losing the audience. 

Praying extempore from the heart is easy, practice was needed to build confidence in the early years. Teaching and preaching both require careful preparation, yet need to come from the heart. This isn't about confidence though, it's about the risk of being led astray by one's own rhetoric, and, dare I say, by ones own unacknowledged illusions and negativity. A pulpit, like any other medium, can easily become a platform for delivering worthless or unworthy thoughts, nothing to do with God's word. Any time I've looked back at sermons I've preached over nearly fifty years, there have often been occasions which leave me thinking - I wouldn't say that now, would I?

No comments:

Post a Comment