One of my parishioners has died. I knew he was very ill because people in church told me, and I met members of his family praying in church. He did not want me to call, was not a Christian, variously described by those around him as a humanist and an atheist. He wanted to be cremated – I have suggested that a humanist takes the service.
His family want to remember him with thanksgiving, and the village halls that are used by the school and by committees and rural cinema – they don’t feel ‘right’ for a celebration of a life well lived. The most appropriate and worthy meeting place for a memorial service is the church. So I have offered the church for a thanksgiving, which I will lead, Christianity-lite.
The funeral director is surprised, and tells me that most clergy won’t allow the church to be used for such a service. But we use the church for concerts – those who chose to find God in the music or the silences. Faith and God will be present at this memorial, not unnamed, not named often; present in the very stone of the building, the 1,200 years of prayer that seeps from the walls, and in the hearts and faces of those present for whom faith is important.
Which would be the better witness – to refuse a family the church which lies at the heart of the village, or to have faith that even without words, God will speak to those present?