Funeral services and what the bereaved want
From Mr David Jennings
Sir, — I read the Revd Hugh Wright’s article on funerals and families’ choice of music (Wills and Legacies, 27 November) with interest. As a non-religious funeral celebrant, I have had many and varied pieces at funerals I have conducted over the years. They have ranged from “The Great Gate of Kiev” to “I’ve been swallowed by a boa constrictor”, but there has always been a logic to the choice, with the possible exception of “My Way”, where half the time you wonder whether the family have listened to the words, and the other half you think: “How appropriate!”
There is an increasing move towards secular funerals, which, in my view, can be ascribed to several factors. First, people now think that it will be acceptable to have that kind of funeral; second, church attendance has decreased so greatly, and many think it hypocritical then to go to church for the ceremony; but third, perhaps most importantly, people feel that they will be free to organise the ceremony as they wish.
I say to families when I meet them to organise a funeral that I shall not tell them what they must do, or that they cannot do something; I will only tell them that they cannot do all that they are suggesting in the time that they have allocated to them.
There is also a problem with some of the clergy who cannot or will not prepare a eulogy for the deceased. I have spoken at a full requiem mass because the priest said that he would not speak, as, if he did, he would have to do so for everyone; and I have attended a funeral at the local church for someone I knew and who had been a churchwarden. The vicar’s only deviation from the service book was to mention his name.
Celebrants cannot get away with such a mechanistic approach, as funeral directors will not call on their services again, and, if the Church wishes, in the words of your contributor, to ensure that people do not miss out on “the incomparable riches of the funeral liturgy and the opportunity to hear and partake in the hope of the gospel underlying it”, I think that many clergy will need (in the vernacular) to up their game.
3 Belmont Rise, Baildon
Shipley, West Yorkshire
From the Revd Martin Jewitt
Sir, — The relief that most bereaved families show when I say that you don’t have to sing hymns at the funeral is matched only by my relief that I won’t have to sing a solo. So I am surprised that the Revd Hugh Wright knows clergy who still hope that people will try to sing hymns that they probably won’t know.
As he writes, we do indeed need to meet people where they are, and, as Revd Christyan James warns, we must not come with our own agenda. But, amid all the poems, songs, and eulogies with which people wish to remember their loved ones, I do bring God’s agenda, as I believe I would be failing in my responsibility as a pastor if I failed to clothe that context with God’s promises of resurrection to all who trust in him. It is generally appreciated, and still expected.
12 Abbott Road
Kent CT20 1NG
Competing narratives a century after Balfour
From Mr Terry Philpot
Sir, — The Very Revd Nicholas Frayling’s article on the Balfour Declaration asks for balance on the situation of Israelis and Palestinians and not to “endorse or criticise the competing narratives of the two sides” (Comment, 27 October). The Balfour Project, of which he is a trustee, offers no such objectivity, however: Balfour’s legacy, it claims, has left Palestinians “stateless, living under occupation in their own land, in refugee camps or scattered through the world”. This is a skewed history, lacking context and fairness.
Palestinians have never had “their own land” and, until 1967, when Gaza was ruled by Egypt, and the West Bank was part of Jordan, Arab nations made no attempt to create a Palestinian state.
The Palestinian people would not now be stateless had their leaders not rejected the proposal in 1937 of the British government, the Mandate authority, for what we now call a two-state solution, which the Jews accepted. A decade later, the United Nations proposed the same with the same result, except that when Israel declared itself a state a year later, five Arab nations embarked on a war to stifle it at birth.
More recent offers (in 2000 and 2008) of a two-state solution, with compensatory land swaps, made by Israel have been rejected by the Palestinian leadership. Indeed, Hamas in Gaza seeks to create an Islamic state over what is now Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank.
Palestinian-Israeli citizens constitute one fifth of Israel’s population. They enjoy equal civil rights, their members sit in the judiciary (including the Supreme Court), and the Arab List is the Knesset’s third largest grouping.
The occupation of Gaza and the West Bank is damaging to Israel and the Palestinians, but it will not be ended by pious and essentially empty calls to recognise a Palestinian state. It will be ended when the Palestinian Authority leaders cease to create martyrs of suicide bombers by naming streets, children’s summer camps, and schools after them, while paying “salaries” to terrorists serving sentences in Israeli prisons — all facts and solutions ignored by Dean Frayling.
Post Office Row
Surrey RH8 0TQ
Motive and caution of Hereford diocesan motion for the General Synod
From Wendy Coombey and others
Sir, — On 19 October, the Hereford diocesan synod passed a motion asking the House of Bishops to produce an approved liturgy of prayer and dedication after a same-sex wedding or civil partnership. Since then, our Bishop, the Rt Revd Richard Frith, has made a significant number of media appearances clarifying that the motion does not attempt to change the doctrine of marriage. It does, however, aim to bring clarity and consistency to a genuine pastoral need.
The impetus for the motion came from parishes and local clergy who found themselves being approached by couples who wanted their committed, loving relationships blessed by God, and before it came to diocesan Synod, the motion had already been debated and passed by three of our deaneries.
As a diocese, we have adopted the strategic priorities of spiritual and numerical growth and serving the common good. We believe that the motion passed by our diocesan synod will be a positive way of helping us all become more mission orientated in our thinking and in our actions at every level of life in the diocese, so that we are proclaiming Christ, growing disciples, and inspiring each generation to follow him.
Our Archbishops have called for a radical Christian inclusion, and an agreed form of prayer and dedication from the House of Bishops would be one way of showing that this commitment is being taken seriously.
We believe that the Hereford motion is entirely consistent with mission and outreach, but more importantly, reflects the true nature of Jesus. We want everyone to experience a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ. This cannot happen if people feel marginalised, turned away, and simply unloved by Christ’s Church, whose first response should always be to love and include, not to separate and marginalise loving couples on the basis of their sexuality.
WENDY COOMBEY, LAURA DALTON
MARTIN ELCOCK, NEIL PATTERSON
Hereford General Synod members
c/o 1 Minster Court, Leominster
Herefordshire HR6 8LJ
From Kathy Bland
Sir, — I was delighted to be present at Hereford diocesan synod when the vote was passed to commend to the House of Bishops a blessing, or service of prayer and dedication, after civil partnerships or same-sex marriages (News, 27 October). We enjoyed a respectful and thoughtful debate in which speakers spoke for and against the motion with sensitivity and understanding.
What came across loud and clear was that the motion has been proposed and supported by parishes and deaneries, where it will make a real difference to the lives of many faithful Christians who long to have their relationships blessed in the Church they love. Same-sex relationships aren’t about “other people” or “somewhere else”. We are talking about members of our own congregations whom we already welcome, and whose relationships are already a blessing. We look forward with joy to being able to welcome and bless those relationships formally.
Our Archbishops have told us that we need a “radical new Christian inclusion” in the Church. I sincerely hope that this vote will bring us a step nearer to that inclusion.
Morfield, Ryelands Road
Leominster HR6 8PN
C of E flocks should be at civic Remembrance
From Dr Rolfe King
Sir, — It is striking that at war memorials around the country relatively small numbers of people gather on Remembrance Sunday for an act of remembrance generally involving a Christian service, while probably nearly every church in the land partakes in separate acts of remembrance, with these large numbers of people invisible to those gathered at the war memorial, as well as invisible to the wider public.
Since large numbers of church members are not present at the war-memorial service, is the Church involved in diminishing what should be a visibly united act of community remembrance?
If churches moved their times of worship, or incorporated, where feasible, a walk to the memorial for 11 a.m. as part of their service, more churchpeople present at the war memorial would both honour our local communities and be a significant witness. Some churches might offer hospitality afterwards.
There is, rightly, public good will towards those who are prepared to lay down their lives for us, seen in the support of such charities as the Royal British Legion, the Invictus Games, and Help for Heroes. But there is currently a real disconnection with what happens at local war memorials. This is a national matter. The Church of England should take a lead.
11 Downside Court, Rustington
West Sussex BN16 2LG
From the Revd Clifford Hall
Sir, — Rumpole coined the phrase “premature adjudication” in respect of judges who lean on juries to convict before all the evidence is in. It’s a phrase that can aptly apply to the Bishop of Chester and the Archbishop of York, who have, if your report (News, 20 October) is accurate, already “apologised to those who came forward [i.e. those who allege Bishop Whitsey committed sexual offences against them] and have offered pastoral support”.
In the same item, you quote a police summary that states: “based on the accounts provided”, had Bishop Whitsey “been alive today, then the police would have spoken to him” in respect of some of the allegations. “It is important to remember that this is not an indication of guilt.”
What, then, were the Bishop and Archbishop apologising for exactly? Have they learned nothing from Bishop Bell’s case? When will the persecution of those conclusively presumed innocent until the contrary is proven cease — in the name of Christ?
Beulah Cottage, Superlative
St George, Barbados
Beatings in the shed
From Dr Christopher Shell
Sir, — John Smyth’s beatings (Press, 27 October) took place in his home shed in Hampshire (the camps were in Dorset), and not at the times when the Dorset camps were happening. No other grown adults knew about them. The main “recruiting ground” was the Winchester College Christian Forum, not the Iwerne camps.
186 Ellerdine Road
Hounslow TW3 2PX