We had our first burial in seven years at St Mary’s just after Christmas, where we bade farewell to a long standing member of our congregation. Burials seem to have grown less common in recent years, but I was struck by the dignity of the occasion and the sense of calm and purpose. A large part of this comes, I think, from the Requiem Mass and burial rite being in the same place, rather than having to get into cars afterwards and proceed to a Crematorium.
It is entirely natural to put off thinking about last wishes, but my own will is now very out of date, written some years ago when work took me away from Sussex. Now that I am firmly established in Buxted and at St Mary’s, (nine years this year) I think the place for me is going to be our churchyard.
In the Anglo Catholic tradition it is often the practice to receive the coffin at the church the night before, with a brief service of prayer. This was the case with our friend. Six tall candles, called Catafalque candles, are lit at each side of the coffin.
The Requiem Mass follows the next day. It is not usual to have a eulogy or a detailed reference to the deceased and their life. This can surprise some attending, even giving rise to feelings that the church has ‘not done its homework’ as regards the deceased. The eulogy in our tradition is either given at a separate memorial service, or at the post funeral reception. In the case of our friend the reception was held at the Buxted Park Hotel, where in the relaxed atmosphere of a buffet lunch, we were able to hear about many aspects of his life, including a number of amusing anecdotes.
On another but related note, we try to make sure that we always keep in mind how we welcome and care for those who come to church, both regular attenders but particularly new members of the congregation. This is very much part of my weekly role as a sidesman as I am usually the first person encountered after ascending the front steps.
There is a group of what I can only describe as church ‘mystery shoppers’ who visit churches and rate the quality of the welcome and interest shown to them as newcomers. I wish I could remember the name of this group, but I am reasonably confident that we would receive a good rating!
Just as important is the period at the end of the service. Some research I saw once described this as the ‘golden half hour’ where people are either made to feel valued and truly welcome, or simply slip away un-noticed, probably never to return.
Other things occupying us currently are our quarterly Church Committee meeting, and plans for a bigger and better Open Day & Craft Fair in May. Watch this space!