A painful privilege

Last week, I led the thanksgiving service for a lovely young woman who died of cancer. She was a friend who’d asked me to take her funeral. I hoped I’d never have to, that God would heal and bring deliverance. He has, of course, in his own way, for she knew she was going home.

The service was extraordinary, so full of hope and faith in the midst of terrible sadness. Ali pointed to Jesus in death as in life and we were able to reflect that. All in all it was possibly the best thing I’ve been part of in my 13 years of @churchofengland ministry.

I managed to hold it together throughout the service; afterwards when people told me how proud Ali would have been of me, I wobbled, but still maintained composure. On Friday morning the day after the funeral, though, I was swamped by grief for my friend.

After the service I was told more than once that funerals were my thing (more people asked if I’d do theirs). It’s not what I envisaged when I dreamt of ordination but if my ministry is characterised by helping people to die well and cope with grief that’s no bad thing.

Parish ministry should carry a significant health warning – you will love the people you lead and serve. You will bear the weight of grief on behalf of your community as well as carry it yourself. Each bereavement reopens the wounds of all the rest.

It’s painful, costly but an extraordinary privilege. I know this for sure – I wouldn’t be doing anything else, anywhere else. It may not grab the headlines but I know God has called me here “for such a time as this.” His grace has been sufficient and will continue to be so.

At my induction service someone had a word that there’d be tears in my ministry but that this wouldn’t be the end of the story – God’s promise was, “Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy” (Psalm 126:5). This is my story, this is my song. Hosanna in the highest.

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