We did a lovely thing in Church on Sunday. (Ponsonby Baptist Church).
It felt like a sacrament.We were celebrating All Souls day - not on its usual calendar Sunday I know, but so what!
It began with a thoughtful reflection on death, dying and those we have loved and lost. Then we were invited to come to the communion table and type (yes type) the name or names of those we wished to honour and remember.
I watched the steady stream of people lining up, waiting quietly, then sitting at one of the two typewriters. It was so similar to the lines waiting to receive the bread and wine at communion. And of course this was communion of another kind. We were communing with those who have gone before. (See here for a previous post on the cloud of witnesses.) We were also communing with one another in our shared experiences of grief and loss. It was moving to witness each other intent on recording the names of loved ones. The sound of the typewriter keys clicking was the music of this sacrament.
Personally, as well as the names of family members, I typed the name 'Pat'. It felt like a lovely closure. Pat was one of my dear older friends. In 1956 Patricia Preest was the first woman trained and recognised as a 'deaconess' in the NZ Baptist denomination. This was a long time before ordained women ministers were even considered!
For all the years I knew her Pat was an unobtrusive person who mentored and supported others in more public roles. She was a valued member of the congregations she belonged to and quietly introduced contemplative ways of prayer where she could. When she died several years ago no-one told me until after her funeral. Her family thought a mutual friend would tell me and that friend thought they would. Apparently it was a small funeral. I felt very sad to have missed the chance to honour her by being there. So typing Pat's name on Sunday felt like my chance to say "good bye, good and faithful friend."
(Sadly, the only photo I can find of her is very out of focus! Not sure who took it!)
I often think of Pat and feel her presence. Things I remember about her :
- She loved the outdoors. When she came to Auckland in her later years I would take her to the beach and find a place she could sit and watch the sea.
- She always dressed well and wore discreet makeup. That may sound an odd things to value about her but I thought at the time that she kept her dignity and didn't slump into "not bothering".
- She was always eager to learn and to read. She often asked me what I was reading especially in the field of spirituality.
- She was a forward thinking woman. Being the first deaconess was a sign of her willingness to push beyond traditional boundaries. In her 80's she was still keen to follow the growing edges of the emerging Church.
- She loved old hymns. Several times when she was quite unwell she told me that "these lovely hymns just come to my mind".
I don't know if the hymn below was one of Pat's "lovely hymns" but she certainly knew it - and it is one of my favourites. I'm sure Pat now enjoys the fulness of "life that shall endless be". Click here for a beautiful version sung a capella by the Westminster Chorus.
O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.
O Light that foll’west all my way,
I yield my flick’ring torch to thee;
My heart restores its borrowed ray,
That in thy sunshine’s blaze its day
May brighter, fairer be.
O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.
O Cross that liftest up my head,
I dare not ask to fly from thee;
I lay in dust life’s glory dead,
And from the ground there blossoms red
Life that shall endless be.
- George Matheson