Remembrance Day

The poppy.  The two-minute silence.  The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month.  These are words and images familiar to anyone from, or living in, the UK.

I, however, live in Germany.  Yesterday, with less than a week’s notice, as church warden, I had to step in and lead our church’s Remembrance Day service.

Here we also call it Peace Sunday, because we in our church need to emphasise the service is not about celebrating victory, but about remembering those who gave their lives in conflict, and also about praying for peace between nations.

As warden, my usual task in this service is just to:

  • Lay a wreath
  • Find a German/young person/woman to lay the other

For yesterday I had to:

  • Look through the service sheet
  • Liaise with the preacher
  • Do a dry run
  • Check timings
  • Explain to the wreath layer the context of the service and wreath laying
  • Find a replacement for me to sit in Sunday school
  • Much, much more

In the days before the service, I practise my lines.

Sunday turns up.  I stand at the lectern.  I have been to the loo three times with pre-lectern nerves.

10:45 on the dot.  We start.  I read verbatim from my notes.  I want to get it right.

10:54 We reach the point where we lay the wreaths.  We are meant to start the silence at 11:00.  No way can I pad out the service till 11:00.  I make a decision on the ground.  I signal that we start tne 2-minute silence.

The silence seems to last two hours.  Everyone keeps the silence immaculately.  My blood pressure is lowered.

I thank my wreath layer and return to the lectern to continue the service.

More hymns.  More prayers.  I introduce the preacher, a USAF veteran.  He preaches.  And preaches.  It’s a hum-dinger, forty minutes long, but engaging and thought-provoking.  I then look for our intercessions person.  He is AWOL: “absent without leave.”  I had anticipated that eventuality.  Time for ACTS.

  • Adoration
  • Confession
  • Thanks
  • Supplication

I pray.  We all pray. As I pray for peace, I hesitate for a second or two as I look at members of congregation who come from war zone countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.  I lick my lips and take a sharp intake of breath, thinking of what these people must have gone through.

Fast forward.  Just before 13:00 the service ends with the Grace and notices.

I give thanks to God for a another dignified Remembrance/Peace Sunday service.  The congregation files out to refreshments in the church hall.  I even get compliments on my suit and on how I led the service.  I am truly flattered.  It was a team effort:

  • Leader
  • Chaplain briefing
  • Musicians
  • Sidespersons
  • A patient congregation

After shaking lots of hands and being asked in the absence of “the priest” if I can provide a visitor with some “holy water.”  Answer: er, no, I can’t, and anyway, as far as I am concerned, all water is holy.  That would be an ecumenical question.

13:00 Everyone has been fed and watered.  I breathe a sigh of relief that all went well.

Have a dignified day, won’t you!

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Am Dreizehnten August…

The Thirteenth of August is a significant date.

  1. International Left-Handers Day.
  2. The Berlin Wall was built on this date in 1961.

Here’s a joke to take you through this date.

Günter Schabowski has passed away today. On arriving at the gates of heaven, St Peter tells him,

“You will be getting into heaven.”

Schabowski asks St Peter,

“When?”

St Peter shuffles his papers and says,

“Das tritt nach meiner Kenntnis… ist das sofort, unverzüglich.”

 

Have an august day, won’t you!

yellow plush toy

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Please call the church warden on…

The vicar is away for several weeks’ holidays.  That means anyone phoning the vicarage with queries is asked to phone me as church warden.  I don’t mind.  Happy to help.  Variety is the spice of life, and I get a wide variety of calls.

First call of the hols – yesterday

Unknown mobile, a lady’s voice:

Hallo.  Do you spik Englisch or Cherman?

G in G:

Würden Sie lieber auf Deutsch reden?

WE speak in German.  The caller is one of the local undertakers.  An English lady has recently died.  As she’s not Catholic, the local Catholic priest won’t bury her.  Can the Anglican priest come to … Cemetery this Friday and bury her ashes in an urn?

G in G:

No.  He’s on holiday abroad this month.  How urgent is it?

Untertaker:

It’s not urgent.  Her ashes are in an urn.

A very practical, German answer.

I email the vicar and cc: the undertaker to assess next steps.

Today the untertaker writes back to advise the local Catholic priest will, after all, bury the English lady’s ashes.  Very kind of him.

floral design steel container

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This afternoon I decide to sit in the library in the city centre in order to:

  1. Read the Torygraph
  2. Write my diary
  3. Think of some blog writing to plan for my avid readers thereof

Another phone call from an unknown mobile number.  It’s a semi-regular member of congregation.

Can the vicar countersign some passport and birth certificate documentation, please?

G in G:

No.  He’s on holiday this month.  What’s the situation?  Maybe I can help?

It turns out:

  • The fiance is a national of country X
  • but was born in country Y
  • and also has a passport of country Z

Fiancee is a German national, but has decided that she and fiance will get married in Caribbean country XX, which requires about 300 copies of doxs (countersigned by a doctor, teacher, priest or person of similar standing) in order for a marriage to take place there.  But if all else fails, they will marry in a German registry office to make it all legal.

G in G:

Rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrright, I think I understand.  Where are you right now?

Semi-regular member of congregation (SMOC):

We’re at the airport.

G in G:

If you’d like to come to the library in the city centre, I can take a look and countersign.

SMOC’s fiance turns up thirty minutes later.  We sit in the library.  I have a brainwave.

Let’s jump in your car and head to the church.  We have a selection of rubber stamps there.  That’ll make everything look more official .

Twenty minutes later we reach the church office.  I grab the official rubber stamps and the ink pad.  I take a sheet of A4 paper from the photocopier.

Thump, thump!   Thump, thump!

For a moment, I felt like I was an immigration official at passport control.

I show the sample rubber stamps to SMOC and fiance.  They are happy.

I take the copies of passport and driving licence.  Fountain pen out, I write:

I certify…

I open the ink pad again.

Thump, thump!

Church rubber stamp next to my signature and at the bottom of the page.  Off you go!

person holding brown stamp

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Have a rubbery day, won’t you!

One Year On

My Dad, Sunray, passed away died exactly one year ago today, suddenly at 14:00 GMT, while walking back from his local shop.

How time flies.

How was my grieving process?  Actually, IMHO, there wasn’t really one.  I was very matter-of-fact the moment I found out via a Facebook Messenger message from my younger brother.  I was in the office, collating an Excel spreadsheet.  I told my colleague, “My Dad has just died,” in the same way and tone that we would tell a colleague, “Our boss popped in, looking for you.”  I then carried on with my spreadsheet to meet a deadline for our rather unfriendly product owner.

I did pause to send out a Whatsapp round-robin message to Schatz and to church friends to ask for their prayers for Sunray’s soul.  Replies came in from single “prayer” emojis to long, warm messages from members of my house group.  I wasn’t in shock, but I think I was stunned.

I did not cry until I got home.  By then the posts and kinds words and funny stories about him flooded in on his regimental old comrades Facebook page.  Tears of grief ran out of my left eye, and of laughter from the right eye.  It’s what Sunray would have wanted.

That was then.  This is now.

I still feel relieved.  I still do not regret deciding to stay away from his funeral.  In any case I was still not well enough to travel at that time.  Even walking to my local shops and back was a major physical exertion.  I am glad that I visited his grave two months later, said a prayer or two over his grave and placed three daffodils on the broken earth, marking his relatively fresh grave.

I have prayed daily that his is indeed resting in peace and that God will let his infinite mercy shine on Sunray’s face.  Since he died one year ago, several more of his regimental brothers have died.  I pray that they will join him in the Senior Squadron bar to exchange “Do you remember when…?” stories.

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Sunray in November 1998

Have a poignant day, won’t you!

 

Another Day, Another Funeral

When I was in my twenties, I was attending weddings on a pretty regular basis.  Since I moved to Germany in early 2012, I’ve been attending funerals on a regular basis, admittedly not as me, but as church warden/verger/dogsbody.  Last week I even decided it would be prudent to keep several condolence cards at home “on stand-by” for the next few deaths within the church family.  I even admitted to Schatz last week that I often write Tripadvisor reviews in my head after each funeral.

  • Quality of the eulogy
  • Piety of the mourners
  • Was there any laughter among the tears?
  • Suitability of the songs/hymns
  • And so much more

Last Friday, I came with Schatz to a funeral.  Very rarely is there much “fun” in a funeral, even if it’s Grandma Beatrice who passed away at 103.  But this was not a “nice” funeral, where the Brits would sigh philosophically:

Oh well, they had a good innings.

This was a very difficult funeral.

  • A “professional” suicide.  (Let’s leave it at that.)
  • She had had a very unstable life from childhood.  (Let’s leave it at that.)
  • She had been well-loved by many friends.  It was standing room only in the chapel at the cemetery.

The lady vicar preached very well.  She bit the bullet.  She talked about the elephant in the room: the fact that this was a suicide.  The vicar mentioned God wrestling with her decision, but ultimately we humans have free will.  The vicar quoted from Psalm 130.  After the service, I thanked the vicar for using the ideal Psalm for this funeral.

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Upbeat songs were played during the service.  Tears were seen.  I squeezed Schatz‘ hand a few times, for the widower was a good friend and confidante of Schatz.

The mourners all filed out towards the grave for the urn to be placed into the ground.

Ah yes, I nearly forget to tell you, the two dog-lovers filed out towards the grave, bringing their two dogs along.  Thankfully neither dog barked.  Thankfully one of the owners had brought a sandwich bag in which to place his dog’s mess as “pooch” left a “present” en route to the grave.  I’m a great dog-lover.  But dogs at a funeral, and, moreover, at the burial?  Why?  Tell me why.

We reached the grave.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust…

So called out the vicar, a fact which was quite ironic, given that a group of five or six smokers stood about 20 metres away from the grave, topping up their nicotine levels.

(Could they really not have waited a few more minutes, or stood behind the adjacent trees, out of sight?)

The mourners placed rose petals and shovelled earth on top of the urn.  Friends shook hands with, and hugged, the widower.  I shook hands with him.  I did not hug him.  Nothing to do with being British and not huggy-huggy.  I didn’t want to pass my bronchitis onto him.  (The smokers meanwhile carried on smoking.)

The vicar led the mourners in the Vater Unser prayer.  I prayed it in English.  A few heads turned in my direction, when the English language was heard.

Our Father,

Who art in Heaven…

The mourners filed out.  The smokers stubbed their cigarettes on the footpath.  Everyone headed off to the restaurant for the funeral buffet.  Schatz and I did not.  We headed home to my flat to decompress.

J, RIP.  May you finally find peace.

Have a despair-free day, won’t you!

Topic (sic) of Cancer

Cancer.  The Big C.  A tumour… and it’s malignant.  And probably many other euphemisms.

Mrs Grasshopper was diagnosed  with stage 4 terminal pancreatic cancer on 25 October last year.

Der Tod ist sicher.

Prognosis – how long before you die – twelve (12) months from diagnosis.  As at today, Mrs Grasshopper is still alive (but not alive and well).  Every day is a bonus.  Guesstimate now as to how long she has got is now 6-8 weeks, maybe a a few days later so she gets to see Christmas Day.  But who can tell?

Anyway this article is not about Mrs Grasshopper per se.  Death, sad to say, is certain.  That’s a brutal fact.  But what about Grasshopper, my classmate from the mid-70’s, hard-nosed riot squad policeman?

Ever since diagnosis, Grasshopper and I have kept the communication lines open.  He calls me “Padre Ginge.”  I send him and Mrs Grasshopper a pastoral card.

In the last two months, Mrs Grasshopper has been suffering new symptoms on a weekly basis.  Grasshopper has been dealing in a businesslike manner, being a trained medic, logging her symptoms and monitoring her slow downhill journey.

Mrs Grasshopper is in denial.  She truly believes she will be alive in two years to see her son’s graduation.  It’s unlikely that she’ll still be around in two months.  That’s a brutal fact.

To be honest, cold, callous and clinical, Mrs Grasshopper is not my main concern.  My main concern is to make sure that Grasshopper does not end up having a nervous breakdown while looking after his wife.  Today he admitted to me that he had had a meltdown this morning and had spent almost all day in bed.  That is out of character for Grasshopper, who is normally a very positive, matter-of-fact person.  We had a good long chat via Whatsapp while I was taking the tram into the city centre this afternoon.  He sound weary.  His voice was starting to crack a bit.  First time I’ve heard him like that.  Big boys do cry, or at least allow their voices to wobble a bit.

I mainly listened.  Grasshopper needed to let off steam.  I told him I was here 24/7 if he ever need a good rant.  I don’t want him having a nervous breakdown or “doing something stupid.”

Yesterday Grasshopper found this pastoral card from me landing on his doormat.

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Who cares for the carers?

Have a caring day, won’t you!

Pun, Pun, Pun!

I like listening to BBC Radio Tees’ breakfast show.  They run a headline competition every weekday.  I won once.  Now, in a similar vein, here’s an article I saw last week.

Girl pours grandfather’s ashes into cookies which she had baked.

Here are all the puns that the Brits wrote with true dark humour about this case.

  • Instead of biscuits, she could have got some potatoes and made ash browns.
  • Her classmates said the cookies were not soft enough: they were, in fact, bone-dry.
  • I’m not sure the cookies had a full-bodied flavour.
  • She said she only wanted to urn some money by selling these cookies.
  • She took full responsibility for her action. It was hearse, and hearse alone.
  • She’s been told not to do it again. But I suspect she cadaver ‘nother try.
  • Grandma had asked her, “What do you make of Grandad then?” She knew exactly what…
  • That just takes the biscuit.Seems these cookies are going to be marketed by Huntley Embalmer.
  • When the people eating these cookies found out, they were “coffin” all over the place.
  • I hear she made chocolate bour-bone biscuits.
  • She needs to have a wreath-think about her life choices.
  • She could also have made a pyre (pie) or two.
  • Her classmates should have washed the cookies down with a bier or two.
  • But really she should not have taken the cookies “inter” school.
  • She’s in trouble with the law. Someone has called the corpse.
  • Next time she can make chocolate crem cakes.
  • It’s lovely when children bake with their grandparents.
  • What happened next…. Remains to be seen

One lady commented:

I find nothing funny in it. In fact – disgusting.
Girl needs some psychiatric help – and of course some legal action too.

To which a wag replied:

Definitely not funny at all.  I mean, she didn’t even mix any ginger or nutmeg into the cookie mix.  Shameful!

Putting the “fun” into “funeral.”

Have a punny day, won’t you!