Friday, 6 August 2010

Now That's a Send-Off

I have just returned home from a most remarkable experience. I don't normally like to talk of the specific cases of my ministry, but this was something very special.

It was my honour to officiate over a West-Indian funeral, that the family arranged to the smallest detail. For a start, it has been a six-hour affair for me which already makes it unique in my modest experience.

Caribbean funerals are very different to 'standard' white English ceremony, partly because of what goes into the service but also the way that community recieves death.

The body was recieved tby the family this morning at their home, where they paid their final respects. The coffin was without its lid as that community seem at pains not to contain and shroud death. They seek to focus on the deceased, not their coffin. We processed the near mile to the church with a jazz band leading us and accompanying us along the way (similar to the image above); we will have crippled the traffic flow of Aylesbury for nearly 25 minutes, but no-one seemed to mind. The service itself was long by my own standards, lasting well over an hour and a half. The main difference is that the coffin is opened once again and that all the mourners (over three-hundred in this case) undertake the Viewing where they file past the deceased and pay respects to him and to his family who are close at hand. At the graveside, the usual words gave way to the family  filling the grave in themselves while the gathered throng sing Negro spirituals without pausing for breath. In short, the family do just about everything that can be done beyond the minister. Sons carried the coffin, daughters led the tributes, and so on.

This all took approaching six hours. It was six hours of time with a remarkable family who, within the context of their grief, celebrated a life lived well. Such was the outpouring of love for a self-styled simple man that for me it was overwhelming. We white English people tend to be so reserved at our funerals, wanting to be on our best behaviour for who knows who. I learned how to grieve today. I learned how readily hope can be snatched from the jaws of death. 

...Death, where is you sting? Death, where is your victory?

Not in Aylesbury, not this day! Rest in peace, Ken.


  1. I like this, nice to see a minister celebrating a distinctive funeral rather than moaning about it, as most seem to. The standard funeral service can be very drab and colourless - a poor way to mark the end of a human life.

  2. I cherish my role as 'enabler'. I could have given them 21 minutes of 'normal', but I would have robbed them at a time when such a crime is unforgiveable

  3. That is fantastic, we have an awful lot to learn from their attitude towards death, it so much more healthy than the 20 minutes at the crem. When you and i drop off this mortal coil Father, we will expect the full rites of holy mother church. Solemn reception, Vespers for the Dead and Requiem. Not quite six hours, but nearly!



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