Over the last few weeks I have enjoyed some great harvest festivals, and another great Goose Fair. I believe annual celebrations like these are important as they remind us to say ‘thank you’ to God, our Creator, for all the good things He has given us. It is good to enjoy ourselves and have fun too, but as we enter the month of November we move into a time of remembrance. We all know the rhyme ‘Remember, remember the 5th of November,’ but at the beginning of the month we celebrate All Saints day followed by All Souls day.
Who will you be remembering on All Souls day? The Church of England describe it as ‘Commemoration of the Faithful Departed.’ So, for many, it’s the special day when we remember, pray and give thanks for members of our own families or special friends who have lived and died faithfully serving the Lord during their normal everyday lives. In other words, the many millions of ordinary men, women and children, known only to ourselves, who have loved and served the Lord during their lives on earth.
On All Souls day I shall be remembering my Uncle Bernal and Aunt Gladwys and their 2 adopted grandchildren, James and Daniel. The two boys both lived short but special lives with Muscular Dystrophy, lovingly cared for by their grandparents.
Throughout his working life my uncle was a hardworking parish priest in and around Manchester. His role model was St Francis and when he changed parishes my uncle and aunt didn’t mind how run down the new vicarage was, provided there was sufficient garden for their goats and other animals, and the house was big enough for their daughter and her 3 adopted siblings, and numerous temporary foster children.
Of course Bernal wasn’t perfect but he had great concern for his struggling parishioners. My uncle obtained an old van and collected and delivered unwanted furniture to those in greatest need. In their spare time Bernal wrote and published the monthly parish magazine, beautifully illustrated by my aunt who delighted in including hardworking little mice in all her line drawings.
As well as his faith in God, I think it was his mischievous sense of humour that kept them going. The other day I spotted an old photograph of my uncle on my cousin’s Facebook page. He was carrying a large board with the words, ‘Please do not shoot the pianist, he is doing his best,’ presumably to place beside the church piano.
As a musician, my uncle rehearsed the church choir and wrote his own arrangements of American Negro Spirituals for them.
They cared for many children throughout their lives but their final challenge was the toughest when their 2 grandsons were both diagnosed with Muscular Dystrophy and they undertook their care. Both boys became wheelchair users as young children and they knew they would have short lives. However my uncle did have the joy of preparing James for confirmation. He planned a very special service for him and James chose some hymns. Sadly, during choir practice in preparation for the confirmation service my uncle collapsed. The last song he heard sung by the choir before he died was James’s favourite Spiritual– Swing low, sweet chariot, coming for to carry me home. A perfect end to a life of selfless service. A recording of the song was played at the funerals of all 4 very special people. Yes, I will be remembering them on All Souls day.
As we move further into November I hope many of us will gather to remember those men and women who laid down their lives during the World Wars. And as we remember let’s also pray for those who are serving the country now; those who have been wounded or killed in more recent conflicts; and the many civilians still suffering and dying as a result of conflicts today.
Jesus said: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:13)
We should remember them.
Reader within the Mission Community