Sunday, May 29, 2016

old friends and family

There's a piece I wrote on here, years ago, which finishes with the story of the passing of Gladys Gregory. A saint of God.

Her son was Stuart, warden & treasurer alongside John Murphy of fame and memory when I first arrived at Pontypridd. The photo here has them both at a picnic lunch we had in the vicarage garden there to celebrate the re-opening of church after the interior renovations in 2005. Alongside them, Gwyneth Williams, and behind her, Anne, Stuart's wife.

If ever I have to explain what keeping the fifth command looks like I need only describe Stuart and his mother. She cared for him beyond measure as he grew up; he repaid this love every day as she grew older. He watched over her decline, and (with heartbreak) the passing of Anne as well.

A quiet Anglican, he never really shouted about his faith. But worshipping with his fellow Christians was the bedrock of his life. He sang in the choir at St Catherine's from boyhood days till the choir morphed into music group in my time, and then he sang in the music group. He knew all the hymns; he had no idea on many of the worship songs, yet he stood at the front and worshipped any way.

He would tell a story of his grandmother's funeral - a time when the presence of Jesus was so thick in the room, that he expected to open his eyes and see him.

On Friday I drove to Pontypridd and attended Stuart's funeral. All the folk in that top photo are gone now. Like Gwyneth, St Catherine's was Stuart's home from home. Like Gwyneth, I expect he is overwhelmed by the wonders of Glory, and the joy of hearing those words - "Well done, good and faithful servant." At last, he's not outshone by John; at last, with his devoted Anne, he is now opening his eyes and seeing the great Love of his life.

I spoke a few words at the service in church and finished by saying: Stuart, we will miss you; thank you for being one of us; see you again one day.

Gill Tuck took the service, and she went on with the family to Glyntaff; I got waylaid. I hope Stuart wouldn't mind. I see the folk at St Catherine's so rarely, and one of the joys of remembering those old friends who go before us is that we do so with old friends still around.

So I took a little time with those who lingered in the church.

I'm often dumbfounded by those who say - "I don't need a church to worship God." I guess they actually mean "a church building", and if so, I completely agree. But a church is not a building, it is a people. It is relationships. It is - as Stuart and Gladys both knew so well - a family. Families have their moments; but we are bound together by something stronger.

I do need a church. I am not built to worship alone, though I do pray and worship and live with God daily in my own walk. But I belong to Jesus within his family. The process of leaving Pontypridd was  enormously hard because this was my family; I regularly get asked if I miss Wales, and the honest answer about the place is - no. But the people? Ah...

Here are Derek and Pauline, and Joyce and Gill and Stewart and Jason, and Jane and Teg. Ken and Trish and Julie and Alan and Andy and Enid and all sorts of others had already left by the time we thought to take the photo. I debated with a group of curates here recently about how close you get to folk in your parish; friends, or just friendly?

As I chatted over coffee and watched and listened and looked and saw, I thought of those who I saw through Ponty to Glory: Stuart and his mother, of John Murphy and his best mate Ken, of Gwyneth, of Cynthia; I thought of those I saw through Ponty to ordination: of Martin and Chris, of Wayne, of Miles, of Karsten; I thought of those I saw through Ponty to places far and wide, and of those who shared the journey for a while: of Dan and Kirsty, of Richard and Naomi, of Matt, Matthew & Sion. I looked at the people around me and thought of the folk back in the Shire.

Friends, just friendly, or...

Another question occurred: when folk meet me, I am often asked - Do you have a family? They mean are you married, and my usual answer is - No, it's just me and a Springer. But seriously, next time I get asked "Do you have a family", I really must reply -

O yes. So many of them. You wouldn't believe it.  

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