Monday, 26 September 2011

Overgate Hospice - The First 30 Years

A Sermon preached at the Minster Church of St John the Baptist, Halifax, 25th September 2011, at a Service of Thanksgiving for 30 years of Overgate Hospice - Canon David Burrows, Hospice Chaplain

Reading 2 Corinthians 4.7-15

Because you care, we can, and have done so for 30 years.

This Service of Thanksgiving is an acknowledgement of a genuine and lasting Community Achievement, of 30 years of caring.

First time visitors to the Hospice will often comment on the striking carvings in the Entrance, the generous gift of the Wood-Carvers, panels representing the towns and villages, the cultural, political and sporting life of Calderdale. At the heart of it is a panel simply showing two intertwined, open hands, the Hospice logo. Little by little, over the last 30years, Overgate has worked its way into the heart of our Community. We are upheld by great waves of affection and care, which are given practical expression in so many ways.

If you want to know where you are going, it’s good to know what brought you to where you are now, and on whose shoulders you stand. As we have looked back this afternoon, so we will look forward. In an ever changing and challenging world, Overgate too has to change and grow as well. Sometimes those changes may be difficult to live with, but there remains the challenge and opportunity set down by Dame Cicely Saunders and the pioneers of the modern Hospice movement, to care for human beings at their most vulnerable, to care for the whole human being in an holistic way, and, to be open enough to learn from those in need. Each and every one of us has a unique human dignity – that dignity is not diminished in the face of illness, or in the face of death. One of Overgate’s key statements says, ‘ we cannot add days to your life, but we can add life to your days.’ A so-called life-limiting illness, can indeed be life-fulfilling.

There is a traditional Christian prayer, perhaps little used these days, that speaks of praying for a good death, of dying in the faith one has professed, of paying respect to the things that have been of significance and value in life, of being cared for and valued. Many have discovered that it is not the life-limiting elements of cancer that endure, but those that are life-enhancing.

In the words we have just heard from his 2nd Letter to the Corinthians, St Paul writes of living the human life as like having Treasure in clay jars – jars that can be so easily broken. We are vulnerable, but capable of all that is beautiful, and honest, and holy – afflicted but not crushed; perplexed but not driven to despair; struck down, but not destroyed. For Christians, it is in the messiness and the vulnerability of life, that life’s real purpose is to be found.

Overgate rightly takes it’s place in a rebellion, a movement that has quietly challenged and changed attitudes to illness, and to dying. The very word Hospice, of course, signifies a resting place, a breathing space, a place of shelter and of haven, it’s origins lying in the mediaeval pilgrims’ Hospices, on the great Christian pilgrimage routes. Whatever Spirituality feeds and sustains us, wherever we find ultimate meaning and value in life, in the journey of life, and in the journey of dying, it is the gift of care, and time and love that the Hospice represents. That these things are no longer hidden away, that we can speak once again of death, is in part due to places like Overgate. Perhaps there is a vital lesson to be learned as well, by those who in our own day plan, and manage, and legislate for our sometimes target-obsessed Health Services: there is a better way.

Of all the things people comment on about Overgate, the one that always strikes me most of all is when people comment on its ordinariness, and that might be the greatest virtue we have to offer, of facing the hard-headed realities of disease and dying and all the messiness that involves, with a good deal of practical common sense and care, with the willingness to go the extra mile.

In the words of Grace Sheppard, ‘We all have to die one day. The Important thing is to be ready, and then we can really get on with living.’

Thursday, 22 September 2011

Emblems - A New Exhibition, by Fr Matthew Askey

You are invited to the exhibition opening:

EMBLEMS - on the themes of life and death.

Time :Saturday, October 1st · 2:00pm - 3:30pm

Location: Armley Gallery (Armley Library)

Armley Library: 2 Stocks Hill, Leeds, West Yorkshire,

An exhibition of 8 new paintings by Matthew Askey - EMBLEMS - at Armley Library.

The Exhibition runs from: 1st Oct - 30th Nov 2011 @ Armley Library

Then at Wakefield Cathedral from Sat 21st Jan - Sat 18th Feb 2012.

There will be a catalogue available with all 8 paintings reproduced, an introductory text by Revd Iain McKillop all about the history of Emblems in art and culture; and the text of a "conversation" between myself and Adrian Marc Lister, who runs the Armley Gallery. The exhibition then travels to Wakefield Cathedral in the new year.

This exhibition was made possible with the financial assistance of ACE (Art and Christianity Enquiry), Wakefield Diocese, and CJW printers, Elland.

Tea, Coffee, and perhaps something stronger will be served during the opening. (catalogue available at the opening only, or by contacting me).

Fr Matthew Askey

Swap for Yer Dandy

‘An Evening of Blarney’ Friday 30th September, 7 for 7.30pm in the Canon Winter Centre at All Saints: Fr John Gribben, CR will entertain us with tales and stories from a Belfast childhood. Admission £5, all monies raised will go to the Appeal at the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield. Tickets are available in advance, or on the Door.

In Memory of Father Laurence Wood

The Address at the Requiem Mass for Fr Laurence Henry Wood, 12th September 2011, All Saints, Elland - Fr David Burrows

Mary has particularly asked that this occasion should be one of thanksgiving; when I met with Fr Laurence a few weeks ago to plan these Funeral Rites, his specific instruction was, that if there has to be a sermon, it should be brief and uplifting – I will endeavour to achieve both.

We give thanks today for a husband and father, a grand-father and brother, and for our friend’s faithfulness and loyalty, for his humour and good companionship, for his gentle sense of mischievousness, and for 58 years of priestly ministry.

Knowing where you come from was very important to Laurence; Laurence Henry Wood, was born on 17th January 1927, third son of four boys, Frank, Thomas, and the late James, to Hanson and Edith Harriet Wood.

He was named after 2 Uncles who had died in the Great War, and baptized at St John’s, West Vale. Eventually the whole family were in the Choir there. Laurence was confirmed at Halifax Parish Church, and won a scholarship to Elland Grammar School, after his early education at West Vale.

By now he and the family knew the dark days of the War, of blackouts and rationing, and despite being in the Air Training Corps, Laurence’s Service was as a Bevin Boy, serving in 1945 in Pontefract and Barnsley. He needed to grow up fast, and learn a whole new language. He was rightly proud of his Service, not least when the Bevin Boys were finally given something of the recognition they deserved, just a few years ago.

Laurence spent 5 years at the Theological College at Kelham, under the patronage of the Holy Angels, which was very significant for him. He was made Deacon in June 1952 at Wakefield Cathedral, and his ordination to the priesthood being delayed by the Coronation, as the Bishops had to travel to London for rehearsals in those pre-M1 days, was ordained Priest on 14th June, 1953. He served his Title at St Saviour, Ravensthorpe, and subsequently worked in Parishes as Curate of Almondbury, in charge of St Michael and St Helen, and then as Vicar of Linthwaite, at Bonsall & Cromford in the Diocese of Derby, before returning to this Diocese to Longwood, with Outlane, and also as part time Chaplain of St Luke’s Hospital, before 16 years at Liversedge took him to retirement- on paper at least. He helped in some 60 Churches during that retirement, as well as being Hon Asst back at Linthwaite, before filling a similar role for us here in Elland. I know I am not the only Rural Dean to be grateful for his readiness to travel, and help out, often at short notice.

But a list of Churches can only tell us so much – for we need to go back to Ravensthorpe for the most significant event of his life; there he met Mary, and they were married by Bishop Roger Wilson in 1956, at 9.30am in the morning, as the Bishop had to get back to entertain a visiting Colonial Bishop. They had a family, Mark, John and Ruth, who married Richard, giving them 2 grand-daughters, Harriet and Victoria.

If it was important to Laurence to know where he had come from, it was equally important to know where he was headed, and what he was looking for. He showed always a great spirit of service, and a great devotion to the task. In nearly 60 years of ministry, just think how many Baptisms and Weddings that has involved, how many visits to weep with those who weep, to rejoice with those who rejoice; so many Funerals. A lifetime of memories which he was pleased to share, and, perhaps most significant of all, week by week, Sunday by Sunday, the grace and mercy of God in the Holy Eucharist of the Altar, and the faithful reciting every day of the Church’s prayers, Morning and Evening. Laurence remained faithful to the patterns of prayer and devotion formed within him a lifetime ago. It was this foundation, together with Mary’s loving support, that enabled him to help so many others to see something of God’s love. On his Coffin, as he faces his people for the final time, lie the symbols he especially requested, his Ordination Stole, the Bible given to him at his Priesting, and a small chalice and paten from his Home Communion set. Signs of Laurence’s faithfulness, signs also of the love of God in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, who meets us here at the Altar, who will wipe away every tear from our eyes, despite the sadness and pain we know today. For Christ is the bread of life, whoever comes to me, he says, will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst.

There were difficult and sad times for Laurence, of course, not least in the death of James, his youngest brother. There were the inevitable struggles of priestly ministry. One of the pieces of music Laurence has chosen today for Park Wood, is ‘The War March of the Priests’, a piece of significance for the Bevin Boys I understand, but also, I think, tipping the hat to the other side of a priest’s life. Yet Laurence faced these struggles, as he faced the news of his illness, knowing God’s faithfulness and strength. His last days, lovingly cared for at home by Mary and the family, were indeed grace-filled, and largely, mercifully, pain-free, and I’m grateful that I was able to see a little of him in those days, as we shared Holy Communion, and as Laurence made his plans for his Funeral.

There was a little phrase Laurence would use – ‘God Willing.’ Will we see you at Mass on Sunday, Father? - ‘God Willing.’ In his last days, his faithful prayer for a quiet and peaceful death, God Willing, was answered. Today we say goodbye to our friend. Today we surround him with our love and our prayers, as we commend him to God’s sure keeping, and we trust that Mary and all his family, will know that same love, and be supported by our prayers, in their loss.

The Holy Angels remained very important to Laurence. He slipped away a little sooner than we were expecting, late on the evening of Friday 2nd. Once we had prayed for him, it was after Midnight when I left the house. Almost without thinking, I turned on the radio, only to hear, fittingly, Faure’s ‘In Paradisum’, a setting of the Latin words of the Requiem Mass. ‘May the Angels lead you into paradise, may saints and martyrs receive you, and lead you to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem.’ May that be our prayer for him today. May he rest in peace, and Rise in Glory.