CHURCH MEMORIAL NAMES
An article by Andrew Severn (at the vicar’s request)
The later part of April is always a difficult time for us. The emerging spring with its glorious blossom is bittersweet as we remember the anniversary of our son’s death. Time has altered the intensity of the sadness but not abolished the thoughts of what might have been. This is, as bereavement counsellors warned us, a perfectly normal part of grief and an experience which all readers of this article will recognise.
The annual reflection in his memory in church is also a comfort. A Book of Remembrance with a reproduction of the relevant names in the weekly Link is a sensitive way of saying to the church ‘this is our sad week , bear with us.’ I suspect that our experience is not unique in that we are comforted by others at a sensitive time.
But is our expression of memorial a good way of doing so? The process by which a name ‘qualifies’ for inclusion in the book of remembrance has been unclear. If the funeral is not held locally the name may not be included unless someone specifically asks for it to be, and that assumes that there is someone who is able to make that request. There are many whose names are not included because they moved away in their final years – their memory is still precious to those of their friends who worship at church. Newcomers to church, whom we strive to welcome, may be unfamiliar with our custom and the memory of those whom we recall in this way . They come with their own griefs and problems – can they be expected to take part in prayers about church family who are no longer with us?
It is time for a rethink? And indeed Peter has asked us to consider the topic. The outcome of an initial discussion is that names within the Book of Remembrance will continue to be printed in the weekly Link, and included within the prayers, unless someone requests otherwise. Anyone can request that the name of a loved one is added to the Remembrance Book, and those for whom we conduct funerals will always be offered this going forward.
Readers will recognise of course a problem that with time the number of names, like the kingdom of the saints, gets ever larger . So we do need to consider at what time in the future the memory of those who have gone before us can be omitted from an annual list, with of course due sensitivity to the feelings of a family?
There are several ways of making our practice consistent and fair. Respect families who feel helped by having the congregation being reminded of anniversaries. Respect those who don’t want the attention – those who stay away from church to avoid notice of the anniversary . Allow the person charged with leading the the prayers the discretion to include the list at whatever point of the prayers as seems fitting , given other priorities for prayer, and the freedom of words to reflect their views.
Above all, let’s remember the purpose and power of prayer; it does work – with the proviso that ‘thy will be done.’ In other words, God answers prayers that are consistent with his purpose and promise. He has already fulfilled his promises for those we remember so faithfully. It is not as if we need to plead with God on behalf of the deceased, because they are already safe in the Lord’s everlasting arms. What matters is that we give thanks to God for them, and pray for those who continue to mourn their loss.
The Church of England has proposed this prayer which fits the bill:
Almighty and eternal God,
from whose love in Christ we cannot be parted,
either by death or life:
hear our prayers and thanksgivings
for all whom we remember this day;
fulfil in them the purpose of your love;
and bring us all, with them, to your eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.