Friday, 10 March 2017

In sure and certain hope

FRIDAY MARCH 10th 2017 


Most times when God calls you to do stuff, we can come up with all kinds of reasons to say no. And so God, patiently, keeps calling. And eventually, we discover, that we have to face your fears.

My biggest fear about being a priest was having to take funerals. It was a fear of the unknown. And probably, let's be honest, a fear of my own sense of mortality. It meant facing mystery and trusting God. It also meant having to accept my own grief from personal and deep losses. And then, there was the huge sense of responsibility for others and their grief, of finding the words to bring truth and comfort as well as fearing I would make a terrible horlicks of taking a service.

So God said to me, face your fears and go and learn from others who do what you fear most.

During my training at Queen's, I spent many rainy Tuesday afternoons sitting at the back of various crematoria chapels watching and learning.

I discovered there were some extraordinary officiants and some dreadful ones. 

I witnessed comfort and I saw discomfort.

I found that some ministers seemed to be going through the motions and others had taken huge care to listen to the story of the family and friends of the person whose funeral they had taken.

I heard inspiring and profound connections made between the life lived and the love of God at work in their lives. 

I listened to men and women eulogize and praise and speak honestly about their loved ones - warts and all. 

And I never ceased to be amazed at the uniqueness of each life - and how ironic it is that only at the end of a life do we begin to understand and love even more that person.

So, I realized, as I listened and watched and learned, that, in fact, God had given me the skills needed - because up until then I had spent all my working life listening to the stories of people's lives, only for them to end up as column inches in the paper I worked for as a journalist.

Today, as I stood at a graveside of a much-loved family matriarch, and watched her son and grandson and nephews and other male relatives infill her grave with love and purpose - with the women of the family  singing hymns, and others laying flowers and bouquets oh-so carefully on the fresh soil; today as the stories were told, and poems recited, and music played, and prayers said; today, I remembered that long walk of discovery begun 15 years ago. And as I again, with trembling, reached to find the words and encourage others to utter the words, that made sense of the love and life and death of a beloved and precious person, I am so grateful that God gave me strength and perseverance to face my fears.

For out of my deepest fear has come a vocation which fills me with a huge sense of privilege and purpose. Fear makes you think about yourself. And so God gently, and sometimes forcefully, reminds us to think beyond ourselves to others.

What might God be calling you to do which fills you with fear yet may indeed bring liberty and hope to others?


  1. There are indeed fears of the unknown, but there are also fears of the known based on present or past experiences. Fear of abuse in all its forms, fear of being a victim of violent crime, fear of being rejected, fear of bullying, to name just a few. Fear is disabling and debilitating.

    Today the people of Mosul live in fear for their lives, literally, as their city is bombed and torn apart, as do the 20 million people who face the threat of starvation and famine in Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan and Nigeria. We pray for those God calls to bring aid and relief and hope.

    When Jesus set his face towards Jerusalem, knowing he was going to be put to death, and in such a violent and humiliating way, I wonder how much fear he experienced. We know he agonised in prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking God to take the cup of suffering away, yet accepting God's will. And we know his heartfelt cry from the cross "My God, my God, why have you left me?" Yet Jesus remained faithful to his Father's loving plan to redeem the world, bringing hope and life to us all. Love overcame fear.

    At times when I am fearful, what helps me is when others continue to believe in me, and knowing God always calls me his beloved daughter. Facing fears can be extremely hard but not impossible with others by your side.

  2. When my great grandfather died, all was lost for my great grandmother. She was left with three young boys, no income, no pension and no state benefits. The eldest, my grandfather, was her hope. He was a teenager, a determined, hopeful one. He took his place as the man of the family. After school, he delivered newspapers and did whatever jobs he could to keep the family going. He kept his two younger siblings in school, knowing that education was paramount. Sent home from school for not having a uniform, he borrowed one, ensuring that his own education did not suffer. Of the three of them, he was the most successful. He built up his own business from scratch after learning the ropes from his employers. He kept his eyes firmly fixed on God, and by his unwavering example taught us, his grandchildren, to do the same. My great grandmother must have wondered what lay in store for her when her husband died; a life of grinding poverty for herself and her children? Or did she hope for a better future, in faith.
    Romans 8: 24,25
    But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what they already have? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.
    Hebrews 11:1
    To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for, to be certain of the things we cannot see.

    1. My grandfather was 13 years old when he lost his father.