When speaking to the Treasurer of our Methodist church whilst working on the allotment on Monday, he happened to mention that our minister was helping to oversee the funeral of an Afro-Caribbean lady at another one of the Methodist churches in our circuit. The PA equipment at this particular church isn't very good and the treasurer had been to help out at another funeral held there by setting up his own PA so that testimonials could be given from the floor of the church instead of using the old fashioned raised pulpit (daunting for many a local preacher never mind a bereaved family member!). Unfortunately the treasurer had another appointment to go to today but he asked if I felt I could go and set up the equipment and check everything ran OK. Of course I said I would and I have to say I'm very glad that I did!
The funeral was for an elderly Afro-Caribbean lady and when I arrived at the church to set up the equipment at about 12.15 there were already probably close to 50 people in the church for a 1 o'clock service. As you can imagine the number grew and grew, and more chairs were brought out and, in the end, when the funeral party arrived, there were probably close to 250 people in the church. An amazing sight in a church that I have only ever attended when there has been a maximum of fifty people present.
Our Methodist minister led the funeral procession into the church and then after a short welcome passed the service over to one of the three Bishops who were to oversee the proceedings. I have no idea from which denomination the three Bishops came but in the course of the service it became apparent that there were at least three others present and 2 of them even took part. The service ran almost self contained with people simply following "the programme" and standing to give their relevant reading, testimonial, song or poem at the allotted time.
In the course of the proceeding it became very apparent that one of the Grandchildren of the deceased has obviously felt the day would be easier to cope with under the sedation of what I would imagine would have been quite a substantial amount of Alcohol. He came in and out of the building two or three times and even gave an unannounced rendition of a song he said his Grandmother loved, apparently with some difficulty as splitting his concentration between standing upright and singing seemed to be causing him some difficulties.
I am of course in no way ridiculing this young man, or his actions. Dealing with the death of a loved one, and especially someone who is the pillar of a very tight knit family of 6 children, 21 grandchildren, 1 great grandchild and numerous nieces and nephews, as this lady was, is a task that is unspeakably difficult. My point though is that the service went on totally as though this hadn't happened, there was a feeling of the presence of God in the room and indeed there was a real sense of rejoicing for the life of one who has passed and the joy and love she had given whilst alive.
The service continued to move into realms which I had never experienced before as the lid was removed form the casket and the family all went to pay their respects to the loved one they had lost. One of the daughters of the deceased lady sang an unaccompanied gospel hymn as this happened and was joined by a self professed "rastafarian Christian" who proceeded to call out that God was in the place, that he could feel the spirit of the Lord with him and whilst he was a rastafarian he was also a Christian.
Again I must stress that I am in no way making fun of what went on at this funeral. Although what happened there was totally outside of my realms of experience there was still a feeling of respect for the dead and a real sense of joy at the life she had led.
This got me thinking as I walked home that I consider myself to have gone through the denominational mill a little. I have experienced a very solemn Anglican communion and have passed through the waters of full immersion baptism stopping off at speaking in tongues along the way. I considered myself to have seen most of the ways we as humans can worship God from chanting in Taize to expressive dance at my local Anglican youth service and yet the funeral service of that lady today has stopped me in my tracks. I experienced a totally new form of worship today and if I was told about what had gone on I have to say I might have been forced to titter a little and think it all sounded a bit strange and "far out". But, being in that service, I can truly say that although some parts of the proceeding were amusing, they were only amusing in that it was joyful amusement in celebration of a loving soul that had passed on.
How easily as Christians can we fall into the trap of thinking that our way is the "only" or the "right" way? How easily can we shun the practices of those we feel to be members of "Fringe" denominations? Even within our own denomination and very often (in the case of Methodism) districts, circuits and even churches, differences in how we approach worship can cause rifts that are so difficult to heal or bridge. And then, to consider those of other denominations or faiths when we find accepting the practices of some of those in our own church to be "not the way it should be done", is this really a Christian Attitude?
"Love Thy Neighbour As Thyself"
What does this mean to us, day to day as we encounter people and try to show Gods love through our actions towards them. Are we really as accepting as we should be as Christians of those whose views differ from ours or do we fall into the category of those who invoke Gods name to support our blinkered and unwavering views? Does our religion become more important than our faith?I honestly felt that I was very accepting of the views of others and adopted the approach of whatever way you want to praise, does it really matter as long as it is heart felt praise. The service today has made me move my goal posts a little on the playing field of how we express our love for God, my only hope is that my goal posts are not the only ones that are so easily moved.