Reflections on a two funeral week…

Posted by on Jan 1, 2016 in Blog | 2 comments

Over recent years I’ve become fairly settled in my end of year routine. Vose Seminary, where I am principal, closes for the week between Christmas and New Year, so when I finish preaching the Christmas day message, I am off for the remainder of the year and for the first few days of the new one. Once Christmas feasting is over, the obligatory maintenance on the home gets undertaken – very poorly to be sure – but nevertheless all paving gets water blasted, our decking gets re oiled, and any other tasks I have been unable to wriggle out of, get performed. After that, I set my major goals for the year. They range from the noble to the impossible, and are there to niggle away at my conscience as the year progresses.

But this year my ritual has been disrupted. This is a two funeral week. I often go for months without having even a one funeral week, so it is making for a more reflective year end.

The first funeral was for Bob Clark, legendary leader of the Baptist Churches of Western Australia for the  20 years leading to the third millennium. Diagnosed with a brain tumour over a year ago, he lost his battle against it on the 21 December. Lost it? I think Bob would say that some battles are better lost, and he gratefully accepted the defeat that allowed him to be ushered into the life which is eternal. He had spent a little over 80 years on this planet, and a lot of living had gone into each year.

Painful though it is to be presented with a terminal diagnosis, there are some advantages in knowing that the end is not too far off. Bob accepted that he was dying, and that freed all of us to talk about his life and legacy and to celebrate its many highs (including being awarded the Australian Medal, honouring him as a member of the order of Australia… it was no small life that Bob led), and to commiserate over some of the sadness – chief of which was the death of his daughter Bronwyn to childhood leukaemia when she was 14 years old. Bob served part time as the director of field education at Vose Seminary for many years (including several during my time), so we organised a farewell morning tea for him at Vose in September – a time when we could tell him how much he had meant to us, and when we could pray together for the journey he was about to undertake. At that time it was thought his death would be within the month, but dying is sometimes a slow business and he took over three. In the end, he died on his 52nd wedding anniversary and was buried on the same day of the year as his daughter Bronwyn was, back in 1983. You can dismiss it as co-incidence, but his wife Sue sees it as a gentle sign from God – a reminder that all is well.

Bob’s legacy is enormous. 600 people at a funeral for an 80 year old between Christmas and New Year bear testimony to that. During his leadership of the Baptist Churches of WA, the denomination embarked on a era of church planting – a golden era of growth. Keen that theological education should educate more than the mind, Bob was instrumental in introducing supervised field education at Vose. Dozens and dozens of church leaders say the reason they have persevered in ministry is a result of the insights gained during SFE. As a member of the executive of the Baptist Union of Australia, Bob was the key mover behind its Crossover ministry, which helps Australian Christians share the gospel with other Australians. And the list of achievements goes on. Bob was wise, witty, well read and genuinely interested in people. A remarkable leader, he empowered others to find their own voice and to lead. And he was a great encourager… that is what I will most remember about him. How he encouraged me – again and again and again.

Bob, you gave so much and lived so well. It was time for you to go – but my, we will miss you so…

As I write, I am about to head to my second funeral. This is for Peter Hudson… whose daughter Cat is married to my son Nic. We share a common granddaughter, the wonderful 9 month old Maya-Rose – first grandchild for both of us. Peter’s death was sudden… no warning at all. Just the news of his death two days before Christmas. At first it was thought to be as a result of a car accident, but now it seems more probable that the accident was the result of his earlier death from a massive heart attack whilst he was driving. We are grateful that no one else was injured, especially as the road where the crash occurred is extremely busy. Perhaps it was a co-incidence that no one was hurt… but we see it as a little sign that God limited the blow we and others experienced.

Though he was brought up by Christian parents, God talk didn’t feature much for many decades of Peter’s 60 year life. He was a bit of a lad in his day, and as a student engineer his focus was on the social life that status afforded rather than his studies – which he nevertheless managed to complete. His working life was largely spent as a chemical engineer and project manager –  and he did this in a number of different countries. He would be the first to say that he wasn’t always the ideal husband or father – but he muddled along, doing the best he could – and sometimes couldn’t.

Peter’s conversion over 10 years ago was huge. It saw a radical transformation take place. Suddenly God was everything in his life. His laugh changed to one that was genuine and heartfelt. Cynicism receded. Gentleness became a new characteristic. Arrogance disappeared. You simply could not have a discussion with Peter without it moving to God and God’s trustworthiness and fatherly love. Peter was a mentor to many. On the day of his death he had three mentoring appointments lined up. He had just finished the first (over breakfast) and was on his way to the next when he heard God call his name.

In many ways Peter still had so much to live for. He was 60 years young, had a growing ministry (and he had told me just weeks before that he believed God was going to expand this to a wider teaching ministry, in addition to the one-on-one ministry which had been his focus) was deeply involved in many groups, was busy transforming the grounds at Vose Seminary (where he had taken on a semi-retirement post as groundsman), was a committed husband, father and grandfather.

But God called his name… And I have no doubt that Peter responded with joy. We are immortal until our life’s work is done. If God considered it complete, Peter would have been more than happy to be with Christ – which is far better…

By the time you read this, the service to honour his life will be over. At present, his departure still seems overwhelming to us… But Peter had an incredible ability to trust that God knows what He is doing – so we will trust that as well…

So what do I take from this two funeral week?

While none of us can know for sure what the year ahead will bring, we do know we must live it one day at a time. How we fill the hours of each day will determine whether at the end we are able to say that we lived, and loved, and laughed and left a legacy. And at the best of times, we will do that with the awareness that Jesus is Lord. And even if we forget that transforming truth, Jesus is still Lord… every day – whether joyous, tearful or somewhere in-between.

2 Comments

  1. So grateful that your blog is something you’ve taken up. Realised last week that you would indeed have this ‘two funeral week’ and prayed about that. Thanks so much for expressing thoughts that console and lift up.

  2. Thanks Brian for sharing part of your journey and the brief summary of 2 incredible men. Our period on this earth is all to short, thanks also for your encouragement in these blogs and in your life.

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