In reflective moments, clergy get to wondering how ‘productive’ they are being. Well, I do at least. Is all the graft actually doing anything? Are all the hours worth it? What is there to show for all I’m up to? I can look back over this week’s diary and point to all sorts of meetings attended, papers written, services planned and delivered, sermons preached, strategies devised. I’ve not been idle.
Yet I think that the most profound and privileged thing that happened was when I did nothing and said very little. On Thursday afternoon I sat for a while with someone close to death, in a hospital room which was a place of peace within a busy acute ward. The main sound in the room was my uncle’s breathing, and occasionally my prayers, and reminiscences of my times with him. We’re Fletchers, so the times weren’t frequent or effusive. But we had them.
Michael may have known I was there, but he probably didn’t. No matter. The litany speaks of not dying ‘unprepared’, and I would add ‘unaccompanied’ too. Other family spent time with him too, in these last days, but Thursday afternoon was my time. As many in this position will know, simply to be there and to hold a hand and to be warm of face when his eyes opened – just in case – was enough.
Michael was an organist and organ builder. His strapline was ‘craftsman’s art and music’s measure’. We used to sing ‘Angel Voices’ a lot at York, because the tune was written by E.G. Monk, Organist of York Minster. Every time we got to that line I thought of my Uncle Michael, and all the organ pipes I’d dropped when working for him in summer holidays. I now discover Monk wrote the tune for the opening of an organ in Lancashire, so it’s even more appropriate.
Michael and I shared more silence than words on Thursday afternoon. It was enough just to sit. I was convinced more than ever of our hope through death, and wondered how many times Michael would have played funeral hymns in his organ career. ‘This is where Abide with Me becomes real’ I thought. I said it too. And then we had some more silence.
Michael died later that night. My afternoon with him may not have showed much evidence of productivity. But, for me it was when I was human being, nephew, friend and priest. May he rest in peace. Thanks be to God.