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Church Times Diary May 2017

Church Times Diary May 2017

“It’s Pat’s Birthday today! Wish her all the best!” chirped Facebook one morning a couple of days ago, inviting me to write on her timeline. While my father was alive, (he was almost ninety-nine when he died) Pat was a great friend to him, for which I’ll always be grateful. I remember once realising that we’d missed her birthday, and a significant one: “I’m so sorry,” I told her, “we hadn’t twigged it was your fiftieth!” She laughed: “Actually it was my sixtieth”. Honestly, you’d never have guessed: she had been an Air Hostess for British Airways for their Helicopter fleet and had never lost that youthful professional gloss. In her time, she had dealt with a whole range of celebrities, including I remember her telling me a breezy brush with “The Beetles” in their prime.

And she’s been dead for two years. Having developed dementia, her daughter took her home to America where she died peacefully with her family.

I have a number of old friends who still have this strange twilight afterlife on Social Media, and I’m not sure what to feel about it, especially being a priest with the role of managing the rite of passage between life and death. On one hand, I’m sure some people find it a comfort, a reminder of the presence in their lives of those who have gone. Yet for me, this cheery obliviousness of absence jars rather. It is, I gather, an increasing problem - often no-one knows passwords or security information to shut down such sites. It reminds me of the wonderful “Silence in the Library” episodes of Dr. Who, where the character of Prof. River Song dies yet is “saved” to a computer and so carries on a shady afterlife until snuffed out a few series later. A wonderful idea for Science fiction, but less so for real life. Or death.

And so these departed friends will keep popping up with invitations to write on their time line. With wistful regret, I will decline.

You wouldn’t argue with Simon.

Six foot three (he says he used to be six foot four but has shrunk a bit) he’s shaven headed & with more than one tattoo.

And on Good Friday he played Jesus in our dramatization of the passion.

Next to Holy Cross church in Uckfield is the Malt House, a unit run by the wonderful Kenwood Trust, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation charity with a strong Christian ethos which has since 1967 cared for men and women on the edge, and which now supports and transforms the lives of some two hundred people a year. The buildings of the Malt House nestle immediately under the tower of Holy Cross, like chicks round a mother hen. Simon is one of seven men who live there, in the second stage of re-hab, and he – like them – often joins in our community’s life, for midweek services, helping with furniture moving and maintenance or just sitting in peace and quiet in the church during the day. We value them hugely. This last Good Friday, we enacted Gethsemane, Peter’s denial and Jesus’ trial in their beautiful gardens. And indeed Simon was Jesus.

A few days ago I was chatting with him after one of our wonderful Men’s breakfasts (full fry up complete with black pudding, so I was replete and happy), before we were going to throw some pews around, and he said to me “D’you know fifteen months ago, if I’d been seen going past a church, a police car would have been there a few minutes later making sure I wasn’t up to no good? Now I’m welcomed as part of the church community. If someone had told me then I’d be playing Jesus in a church play, I’d have told them they were bonkers”. It had started when he’d been given the stark choice between prison and re-hab, and he’d reluctantly chosen the latter. And to his surprise, had come to faith, and he is for me one of the most powerful examples of the transforming power of faith that I’ve ever witnessed.

He’s moving on in the next few days to a stage three unit where he’ll be supported but pretty much independent. We’ll miss him. We mean to keep in contact, because that’s what families do: and that’s what Simon is, part of our family. It shows that, through God’s love and Providence, hope and the potential of new life are always there.

The Rector – John Wall

Reproduced by kind permission of The Church Times.

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