Today I had the 2 day's notice funeral at 11a.m. and I have the last ever Kidz Club at 6:30. It makes for one of those days that reminds what a weird role this is, how you need to be something of a chameleon, how much it is a privilege, how it really is about 'limping with the Lord'
I was driving over to Loughborough listening to the Ken Bruce show - ever-so holy - and one of the songs he played was 'The Living Years' by Mike and the Mechanics. It seemed very apposite given the context in which I was to be conducting the funeral: 'it's too late when we die to admit we don't see eye to eye.' I had been told there'd be around 15 people at the funeral, and had printed off 25 service sheets; in the end there were nearer 50 so announcing hymns 'omitting verse 3' from the red book, whilst not my ideal, was inevitable. What really struck me was the great parting of the waves as the deceased's widow, her family and their friends sat one side of the aisle and his blood relatives the other. Whilst there had been enough generosity of spirit to ensure the blood relatives were named, I did wonder how much they felt able to engage with the picture I was painting. I see too much of this at funerals and sometimes wish that when people have domestic fall outs they could see how it impacts on this most vulnerable of times. The stepson in thanking me said he felt I'd managed the 'fine line' well, and both sides seemed genuinely appreciative of what was offered.
Then, still disguised as a vicar, it was into the town and to a supermarket to buy food for tonight's end of term, end of club, party. I always feel a bit conspicuous walking around dressed in black, and find it mildly amusing when this is juxtaposed with buying crisps, cakes and fizz. The woman at the checkout was unusually chatty and we talked a bit about the importance of parties, the place of 'religion' and the need for people to offer support in times of crisis. Whilst she didn't adhere to any one religion, she said, she thought there was a lot of good in all major world faiths. That was refreshing! As I sat in the cafe munching my lunch, I pondered the visible representative of the church bit: what do people make of it when they see a vicar eating ham, egg and chips in Sainsbury's?! (Other supermarkets are available!)
Now I have to sort out the food for tonight's party, drive (because the weather is incredibly wet and thundery) to one of the Dibley supermarkets to get some flowers for the kids to give to the official leaders and work out whether or not I'm glad it's too wet for them to have a water fight!
Recently someone asked me what gave me the most joy about ministry. It was - and is - an extremely good question, and I wouldn't claim to have a good answer for it. But on days like today, when I can offer a little bit of comfort and hope in a place of pain, am allowed to engage in conversations on matters of faith or spirituality, and can then muck around with a group of children hopefully giving them some special memories to take into adulthood, I get glimpses of why all the 'pants' stuff is actually worthwhile because it gives me the opportunities to be, if only in some microscopic way, Gospel in a world desperately seeking meaning.