One of the real problems of doing funerals is finding readings that reflect life in 21st Century, and that sound appropriate for this day and age. I am constantly using Ecclesiastes 3v1-8, the one that goes like this:
“For everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the sky.”It’s a great piece, like the Beatitudes, but it seems to have been (excuse the pun) done to death, it’s just used for funerals too much for my liking, however amazing it is.
Today I had this horrendous job of filing, with papers seemingly 20 foot high and boxes and bundles and files and flimflam to the power of 10, and in my desperation I waded through a zillion papers, filing as I went, and after gathering speed, the speed of a snail that is, as well as umpteen copies of readings for weddings and funerals and babyoid blessings, I suddenly realised I didn’t need to keep on using the Ecclesiastes piece, so I wrote something that says something similar, and maybe just developing the thought in another direction, that felt right. I don’t know whether it was an excuse to get out of filing, but I think it sounds like something ‘of the moment’ and though it may not be so beautiful, it is an alternative to that elegantly scripted text of around 2,000 years ago. Please excuse the spacing, try as I might… I can’t get the text to do single spacing after a carriage return:
Yesterday I went to Worthing, to the Friends Meeting House… I was invited to talk to a faith group about ‘The role of an Interfaith Minister”. It’s a bit like being asked to think about breathing. It’s something one does all the time and it’s important, but I don’t think about it that much. I do it and just hope it works OK.
The talk had to be between 30 mins and 40 mins, and I still had to cut it short, there was so much to say, about the history, the training, what we do, and how we’re all so different. Before I got going I painted a picture of the social landscape of the UK – how this country has become a very diverse garden – a multi-racial, multi faith society, and Interfaith Ministers serve an essential service for people now. Once one explains that stuff, everything flows from there, because it is so obvious that we are needed.
During training as Interfaith Ministers we were advised to try to avoid reading from notes -particularly when doing some kind of inspirational talk – so I wrote half of what needed to be said and the other half just happened. From time to time I looked at the audience and noticed some eyes were closed, and thought: “Oh for crying out loud! I’m bloody boring everyone to sleep.” I was half-waiting for somebody to let out a loud snore, but then I realised that it was so hot people were listening quite intently, and some of the seeming sleepers were the most focused listeners of all; they later asked the best questions. In fact the audience was lovely, very appreciative and enthusiastic – it was a real privilege to have been invited.
One geezer asked how anyone could possibly embrace so many different faiths equally. I tried to explain to him about honouring everyone’s truth, and I think he went for this, but because he was a very fixed Christian and wanted to ask loads more supplementary stuff the facilitator didn’t want him to monopolise things, so she pushed me on to deal with some other questions, which were all very thought-provoking. They had listened so carefully, it was just as well that I worked hard on the talk, otherwise I would have come out of it sounding like a prize nitwit.
How to avoid falling over a lurking ego-trip-wire
I took my stole and put it out for people to see, and one chap asked why there were certain symbols on it. I explained about how and why I had chosen them; it was so pleasant to relive that moment when I decided what spiritual ideas and philosophies I wanted to carry through life… and around my neck. Somebody else asked why I used the ‘reverend’ title. I replied that I thought it was OK to use the title if one spent a lot of time praying and thinking about spiritual issues… but added that in truth it was probably just an ego thing. This generated a good cackle, which showed a degree of appreciation for the honesty… In front of so many people the only thing to do is to be honest, particularly on an unbelievably hot day.
Most importantly the talk inspired at least one or two people to be genuinely interested in becoming an Interfaith Minister, and that was good. We should be out there spreading the word, and coincidentally late last night I read all about this in iConnect, the email newsletter from The One Spirit Interfaith Seminary (or the Cemetery as one of my witty co-ministers calls it). Getting people interested is something that needs to be done, authentically… and lovingly. http://www.interfaithfoundation.org