As of yesterday – May 26th – Brighton has a change of mayor. The outgoing mayor was Cllr Alan Robins who presided over Brighton during the pandemic and did a great job over two years. He chose the Interfaith Contact Group (IFCG) as his chaplain and we supported him during this time in a number of ways. We held a memorial service for the 500 people in our City that died tragically during the pandemic and ran various events, including an art exhibition of photos taken during this sad time. It was also the task of the IFCG to present different faith groups to deliver prayers before Council meetings.
Yesterday was our last day as chaplain to the mayor. Rev Martin Poole and I went to the Town Hall for our final prayer session. Martin read two beautiful readings by John O’Donohue. I wrote a prayer and blessing for the mayor and the councillors. The reference to Dr Who was definitely unexpected. We were presented with a spectacular bunch of flowers as a token of appreciation. The prayer is below.
In this hour of change We ride a wave of uncertainty It sometimes feels like an adventure At other times it’s a bad trip on a clapped-out ghost train
Yet our City holds us tight Amidst great twists and twirls of time and tide Swept up on air, sea, wind and water Stacking bricks, bungaroosh and mortar Crescents, curves and minarets We ride together Painted in cerulean blue Printed in nostalgic sepia Attacked by a hungry seagull Splashed by the kindly waves Home to bargirl, busker and beekeeper Refugee and poet, prince and pauper… The wandering tourist will never know That you fashioned the changes and the charges
And as for my pals… the bratty kids We paddle, laugh and play Gliding and riding along the front While you… our custodians Look out for us all And knowing this I turn to you And say thank you For while the billionaire gambles And the humble homeless sleep The Council takes care of us all, day and night And a councillor’s work is not easy
Today in this congenial chamber I ask you to cherish our City Caring for it like a friend One that ages without much dignity Wrapped in leather, tattoos and tweeds Dressed in purple dungarees Unless its August In which case it’s all the colours of the rainbow…
This is a moment of gratitude Mr Mayor For your own brand of compassion and care That held so many of us During these two years of turmoil… May your replacement be equally loved and venerated Different and regenerated, like Dr Who And like the good doctor Unique throughout the cosmic universe For she will be the Mayor of a magic City
In closing… Let us celebrate our optimism, colour and diversity And being the representative of the Interfaith Contact Group I offer up best wishes to our Mayor And thanks and blessings to our councillors And all the people Brighton and Hove May we always feel connected May we always belong And may we always welcome those that seek out The kindness and goodwill of this, our beautiful City
OK… just open Facebook and take on board endless films of fluffy things, doing fluffy stuff. We all love it. I have owned fluffy things in my time, and one cat loved above all others, but plants take me somewhere else… plants take me everywhere… across the world and back again.
Today I am tending two clivia plants, which are both producing flowers. They will soon be magnificent. They came from two seeds that I took from the garden of Anna in Bondeno, near Ferrara in the Emiglia Romagna. Her lovely garden is wild and overgrown and full of leafy plants and ferns and hungry mosquitos and buddleia and heat. I put the two seeds in a soap bag and forgot about them, and when I unexpectedly discovered them, they were sad and shrivelled and dry, and looked unloved. So I potted them, and now they are massive and spectacular, and some experts might say they are big enough to split, but I say leave them and let them flower and flourish because they are magnificent.
Every plant has a story, particularly the ones that were given as gifts. The rubber plant seems a touch naughty. It was originally a gift from my sister, some 20 years ago. It got tall and taller like Jack’s beanstalk and I felt uncertain believing I couldn’t looking after it properly, so I gave it to a friend, and as she manoeuvred it out of the door, a branch fell off. I kept that branch and put it in water and it grew roots. Despite the apparent suitability of my friend’s conservatory, the original giant died, but the broken branch flourished. I trained it to grow up the walls of the bathroom, where it now dominates that space in glory, and sometimes has to be trimmed down when it gets too big for its boots, from time to time.
And what about the money plant, given to me as a teeny weeny thing many years ago, by the fabulous Carol Kirkwood? It is now vast and fine with the promise of living a very long life, and deserves to do so. It’s a succulent, and comes from the KwaZululu-Natal and Eastern Cape province of South Africa, and not from the far East, as I thought. The money or jade plant is everywhere, and popular everywhere, but when I look hard at it, I see it flourishing in the doorways of Chinese restaurants from here to Chinatown but I can also still see its modest and charming origins. There it is… growing in hot dusty lands, shining green and glorious amidst the golds and browns of dry foliage and parched earth…. There is no doubt… plants take you everywhere…
Sadly, many funerals are fixed and truly dead. They are full of words repeated over and over again by priests and celebrants who do a job, and aren’t very interested in the person that died. Their prescribed words bear little relationship to the person who died… and these occasions can be the most tragic funerals of all. The joyful funerals are the ones that honour the individual to the full – they are powerful and meaningful and those attending get a genuine feeling of connection.
If the funeral works one should imagine that the deceased attended, and enjoyed it. Maybe they are enjoying the words of love, the music, the memories and the readings. I believe that when one gets the funeral right, whoever died, be they Buddhist, Christian, Jew or Atheist, it is the correct ceremony of departure that resonates with the person that died and the funeral attendees. That resonance is recognisable and perfect.
Funerals reveal fascinating patterns of human behaviour. The younger the person that dies, the more people that attend. Older people get families that may or may not love them, who may or may not attend but when they are there, and contribute, this can be inspirational. The death of a child is particularly tragic, because it’s about the death of potential. The death of somebody who was very popular, like a celebrity is always interesting, but equally powerful and interesting are the funerals with very few attendees. One of the most powerful funerals I have ever conducted was a Buddhist funeral that involved just me and the best friend of the deceased. His friend had a massive knowledge of Buddhism, and could speak passages from the Tibetan Book of the Dead in fluent Tibetan. I found some astonishing readings and also some beautiful chants and bells and used my own Buddha to oversee the service. Although we were not allowed to burn incense, the chapel attendant overlooked the matter of lighting candles. Somehow the friend and I got it right. It seemed that the little family chapel was suddenly full of spirit, sound, love and connection. The deceased was there… but then the deceased should always be there, whatever you believe. Here’s a lovely Buddhist reading:
It is not the end of the world, when it is the end of a life it is the beginning of another life, in ‘another’ world.
The best way to honour a relationship is not by despair that it is lost, but to be grateful for what it was worth.
It is not the end of a relationship, when it is the end of a life; it is but the temporal suspension of it, till another time.