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Priests don sparkly collars inspired by ‘extraordinary’ nine-year-old 

08 March 2024

Bereaved mother’s request in memory of Erin Sadler supports Rainbow Trust

HELEN SADLER

Erin Sadler

Erin Sadler

DURING Erin Sadler’s nine years of life, glitter, sparkle, and diamanté could be found in abundance. Her mother, Helen, would decorate her electric wheelchair in different colours, depending on the season, and, at Christmas, the two would make sparkly baubles to sell for charity.

When Erin died, aged nine, in December 2022, after a lifetime of complex health issues and traumatic events, including a heart attack, encephalopathy, and a mass haemorrhage, Ms Sadler knew that she wanted this aspect of their life together to form part of the celebration of her life. During a meeting to plan the service, her eye was drawn to the clerical collar worn by the Priest-in-Charge of St Luke’s, Colchester, the Revd Hannah Cooper. Could it be given the diamanté treatment?

“It took me by surprise,” Mrs Cooper recalled this week. “But I knew that sparkle and colour was really important to Erin and to her mum; so we decided to go for it.” Wearing a “beautiful, pink sparkly collar” in front of a congregation of more than 300, she was convinced that, “this is the right thing for Erin.”

Her participation meant a great deal to Ms Sadler. “I was so moved by it, because it felt like she had involved herself deeply,” she said last week.

Afterwards, Mrs Cooper felt unsure about wearing the collar again, given its personal connection to Erin, but, shortly afterwards, Ms Sadler arrived on her doorstep with a box of five different sparkly collars. After seeking the advice of the Bishop of Colchester, the Rt Revd Roger Morris, Mrs Cooper has since worn a sparkly collar as standard, unless the occasion is inappropriate. It has been “a blessing for ministry”, she reports.

“It is such a talking point, with people wanting to know about it and commenting on it,” she said, recalling a recent conversation at the Tesco Click and Collect point. “I thought, ‘I never would have had that conversation were I not wearing the collar.’”

HELEN SADLERThe collar selection

The collars have attracted increasing notice, and, last September, Ms Sadler made them available to buy on the Facebook page she used to document Erin’s life (“Erin the Warrior and her zest for life”). She has sent them all over the country, and recently took an order for 300 from the United States. Making them has given her “a purpose, when I really didn’t know what to do with myself”, she said.

Once the cost of purchasing the materials is covered — the collars are purchased from Watts & Co. — all proceeds are sent to the Rainbow Trust Children’s Charity, which supported Erin from the age of 15 months, and was a source of “wonderful support”, Ms Sadler said. To date, she has sold 977 collars, raising a total of £3922 for the charity, which supports children with terminal and life-limiting conditions.

Ms Sadler is aware that the collars have been worn at multiple occasions, including weddings, funerals, school visits, and carol services, by clergy, including padres and chaplains. She made one on special request for a baby-loss-awareness service, and another for a priest visiting an adolescent mental-health unit.

Last week, she said that it was important to convey that the collars were “never meant as a gimmick or a novelty. . . I am incredibly mindful that this is not for everybody . . . but it does come from a place of love and respect.” She was aware of one man who “wasn’t sure” about the collar until he learned about the story behind it.

HANNAH COOPERThe Revd Hannah Cooper (left) with one of her assistant curates, the Revd Charlotte Day

Among her customers is Bishop Morris, and clergy have consistently echoed Mrs Cooper’s report about the conversations that the collars have engendered. “Erin loved people, she just embraced people, and I feel like in a way that’s her legacy,” she said. “Knowing that somebody could see somebody, anywhere in the country, and it might make them smile, is enough to spur me on to keep doing it.”

Mrs Cooper, who had to learn how to serve as a barista after arriving in the parish, first met Helen and Erin as regular customers at the Oak Tree Coffee Shop, run by St Luke’s. She recalls having many conversations with Ms Sadler while Erin was in the Reception class at Highwoods Community Primary School.

Asked last week if she had advice for clergy supporting other bereaved parents, Ms Sadler said: “Don’t try and lead, don’t try and guide; stand with us, feeling what we need to feel, talking about our children. . . We are all so different, but the one common denominator is we just want to talk about our children.”

Her daughter was “extraordinary”, she said. She sends each collar out with a note describing her: “The most glorious, witty, wild, enchanting, tenacious, grab-life-and-live-it person you would ever wish to meet, defining the odds time and time again, to rise like a phoenix.”

Erin was “loved wherever she went — she was such a character,” Mrs Cooper said this week. “She was fun, she was tenacious, she had a awful lot of spark and character, and the things she managed in her nine years of life I am not sure I will have managed by the end of my life.”

Ms Sadler’s goal is to hit the 1000-collars mark. “It is so precious to me that Erin’s name is said, that her sparkle continues, and, with each enquiry that gets sent, I can sign off as Erin’s mum,” she said. “I desperately need that.”

erinssparklycollars@yahoo.com

Facebook: Erin the Warrior and her zest for life

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