This evening people from local churches meet to share in an annual service of "Grieving and Gratitude" at one of the C of S churches. Last year I helped lead the service; this year I am exercising a ministry of flopping on my settee. I am sad I can't go to the service as there are people I wanted to remember who this year slipped from this life to the life of eternity. Of course we don't need a special framework to remember, and I don't need to be with others in some formalised rite, so I am sitting on my settee recalling those from my story who died this year.
So I start with B, and overlap from last year, a diamond in the rough whose second marriage I conducted, and for whom I had deep affection, who this time last year died very suddenly.
Just weeks later came L, a lovely Brummy who had was already terminally ill when I moved north, and whose parting wish was that I would take his funeral. A delightful and funny man, whose mischeivous smile and open tears on my (metaphorical) shoulder I will not forget.
There was D, my local MP from down south, a man of principle who understood deeply what constituency politics was about who, too, suddenly died on Boxing Day whilst out walking with his family.
Then F, in her early twenties, a young mission partner who I'd met when she visited Dibley with BMS and who I had encouraged to explore a call to full time Christian service. At the time I felt guilty that these words of mine had played a part in her dying so far from home; ten months on the guilt has given way to privilege in having met this amazing youung woman.
J was a gatherer, the only one I've yet had to farewell. After a couple of years of burying 'my' flock in ever increasing numbers, it has been good to do so less; yet for folk here this was one more in a year of heavy losses. She was a special member of our church with her trademark topknot and irrepressible humour; I am glad I knew her, if only in passing.
Lastly is M, who at 49 years 364 days older than me (a fact she loved to quote to me) was the second oldest of my Dibley flock, and the oldest, if nowhere near longest served, actual church member. She combined practical wisdom and deep faith with a healthy measure of mining-community grit; she loved owls (her flat was full of pictures and ornaments of them) and she loved life. I have always remembered the essence of her words spoken to me during an illness, "I'm ready either way, to live is good, to die is fine" - she showed me how Paul's injunction could indeed find expression.
So, tonight as I sit on my settee, in my imagination I light candles to remember these saints, now at rest, giving thanks for all the light they brought to my life...
For all the saints, who from their labours rest,
Who Thee, by faith, before the world confessed
Thy name, Oh Jesus, beforever blessed: