On the pilgrim way ‘It was not at all like a funeral service’
Sheila Maxey remembers saints
Growing up in Scotland I loved Hallowe’en: the turnip lanterns (much harder to make than pumpkin ones), the ‘dooking’ for apples and other silly games. But All Saints Day completely passed me by then – and largely since. Many years ago Kees and I were in Sweden for All Saints Day and witnessed the wonderful sight of families lighting special candles, which could cope with rain and even wind, on the graves of their dear departed. The sight of those flickering lights in the deep Nordic darkness was very moving, but alien.
But this year was different. As I mentioned last month, like many other churches we were planning to hold a service specially for those church families who had lost loved ones during the pandemic and so could not have a church funeral – five, in our case. We chose the Saturday nearest All Saints Day (perhaps I was remembering those Swedish graveyards). During the planning period, the church, sadly shrunk since pre-Covid times, was also beginning to take stock of itself – past, present, and future. It suddenly seemed right, in that service, to also remember all those who had died since 2000 – a kind of roll call of the saints. Research produced 35 names and I managed to get photos of about a third – a delightful bit of contact with old friends. Our technically brilliant minister got it all up on the screen and in a beautiful order of service – under the title ‘For all the saints’.
There were about 70 people at the service yesterday, with a cluster of little children, the great-grandchildren of Jill, one of the five. It was not at all like a funeral service – although the families of the five who had died during the pandemic each presented a kind of eulogy. At a funeral grief is so fresh, and words of comfort play a large part, but this was very much a service of thanksgiving and celebration. One of the five, Tony, had been at the heart of our church’s music for decades – especially introducing us to new music. His musical family were able to enrich this service with organ, piano, cello, oboe and voices – and how that would gladden Tony’s heart! Of course, there were lots of tears, mine included, but the readings and prayers were so full of confidence that God in Christ had conquered death.
After each eulogy, and after the roll call of names, we said together: ‘And now we praise God that, for all these, sorrow and sickness are ended and they live for ever in God’s love and care.’
I have rarely felt myself so freely able, without qualification, to declare my faith.
Today, just when I needed it, I have been given the space to rest and recover. I am in isolation before a minor eye operation. What a gift! Thank you, God.
Sheila Maxey is a member of Brentwood United Reformed Church, Essex
This article was published in the December 2021/January 2022 edition of Reform