This afternoon we drove to Caerphilly to attend Jane's funeral at St Martin's church in the parish where I served my title over forty five years ago. The last time I was in this church was for the first Eucharist celebration of Sarah Rogers five and a half years ago. We arrived early and there was time to realise some of the changes that have taken place over the years. The Benefice of Eglwysiland and Caerphilly now embraces ancient Aber Valley Parish of Eglwysilan, with Senghenydd village. The Benefice population is about 37,000, five churches, served by three clergy. Caerphilly alone had three clergy three churches when I was there, and was about half its present population.
The back of the nave is now pew free, with a kitchen enclosure, chairs and tables for hospitality. Out in the churchyard, an area is being laid out and paved for car parking, a vital asset as St Martin's Road outside is usually full of parked cars along its length. We had to walk a quarter of a mile from where we found a space, to get to the church. Also I noticed several new stained glass windows, and a glass panelled vestry. All very nicely done.
Over sixty people were present for the funeral. Another family friend, Fr Derek Belcher officiated, with assistance from Team Rector Fr Mark Greenway-Robbins and Fr Kevin Cecil, a school friend of Martin's. I gave the eulogy for Jane, whom I'd known for forty eight years. She was a truly remarkable nonagenenarian who'd married at sixteen, been a munitions inspector during World War Two, and had several successful business careers, one as the Manager of Caerphilly's famed 1000 seater Double Diamond Club, and two in clothes retailing, while she brought up two teenage boys on her own, after having been deserted by a traumatised war hero husband.
The funeral was concluded the other side of Caerphilly Mountain at Thornhill Crematorium. I couldn't help but reflect on times I'd driven over the mountain to Thornhill, for the funerals of my parents, grandparents, uncles and aunts, let alone for those of parishioners while I was curate, over the years since the crematorium first opened in 1953.
We went home, rather than go to the reception following, as it was back in Caerphilly. I needed to go to the office, prior to going to St German's for the evening's Stations of the the Cross. Co-incidentally, News arrived of the death of a contemporary from my theological student days, Jani Farrel-Roberts. Born as John Roberts, trained and ordained a Roman Catholic priest, married an Aussie social worker met while doing post graduate studies in London, fathered two children, before coming to a life crisis and going through the process of gender reassignment.
Jani then worked as an investigative free lance writer and journalist, campaignng on land rights issues with Queensland Aboriginal communities. Unusually, the couple didn't split up while the children were little, as was recommended in those days. When they returned to the UK and lived in St Paul's Bristol, they stayed with us for a while, then rented the spare curate's house across the road from us. Their kids grew up with our kids for several years, and are still in touch. Having never sought official permission from the church hierarchy for any of her life changes, Jani disconnected from Christianity and found a spiritual home among neo-pagans, and exercised a Wyccan ministry as priestess, with poetic flair.
The last few years of her life were marred by the aftermath of a debilitating stroke. As she moved from Wiltshire to Shropshire to be nearer her sister we lost touch. Sadly our commitments won't allow us to attend her funeral next week, one that promises to be pretty original, like that of our friend Moonyeen a couple of years ago. If Jani's biography is ever written, it'll make amazing reading for anyone who is interested in the demolition of sterotypes about ministry.