Pew Sermon for Sunday 26th March

“She’ll regret it when she’s older!” said Aunty Noleen…

(The names have been changed slightly to protect the guilty).

Aunty Noleen, by this time, was of advancing years, and when she said this, she was sitting in state, in her overgrown garden, doing a very creditable impersonation of the Wicked Witch of the West. Not that she would have ever been seen in red shoes – she was dressed, as I recall, entirely in black.

At the time, I was only recently married, and hadh a young family, and so, was yet to discover the many, varied and colourful characters of my wife’s Bristolian family. These two aunts – sisters – Noleen and Betty – there were many others – were possibly the most colourful. Their Father, a solicitor and legal emissary, had illusions of social grandeur, and thus forbade one to marry a lowly seaman, and forbade the other to marry an even more lowly curate. He also forbade his son (my wife’s grandfather) to marry a shopkeeper – so the couple eloped instead, and that settled the matter. By the time the shopkeeper’s son had fathered my wife, she (the shopkeeper) was known as ‘Nana’, and became one of my dearest friends, before she died.

Well, the sailor later became a captain, and the curate a bishop, but alas, no such happy ending for Noleen and Betty. They both remained spinsters into very old age, living in a cottage in the middle of Somerset, hated each other, divided the cottage in half, kept to themselves, and never spoke to the other for years. Which was strange, because the local villages regarded them both as Mother Theresa figures. Just separately, and not together!

Well, soon after I was married, Betty died, and we were duly instructed by ‘commanding officer’ Father In Law to attend the funeral. (He was sunning himself in France at the time, I seem to remember.) 

So, we made the trip over to the West Country. My wife and sister in law “looked after the kids”, and so brother in law Gregg and self were left to face the music, in the shape of the funeral service, and the remaining aunt.

“What’s you daughters name?” she demanded of Gregg.

“Victoria” said Gregg, hoping this was the right answer to give to someone of that era.

“No!” said she, stamping her foot. “What’s her full name?”

“Victoria Rose”, replied Gregg, rather more uncertainly.

“She’ll regret it when she’s older!” said Aunty Noleen…

“Yes…” said Gregg, meekly, “…she probably will…”.

An inauspicious start to a funeral day.

So, into the church we went, with no one talking to anyone else, the total absence of anyone I was related to, not really helping things. Apart, of course, from Betty’s arch enemy from the “other side” of the cottage.

And so, I found the funeral service somewhat isolating, a bit empty, and rather sad. 

Until the final hymn. 

“We now stand to sing Betty’s favourite hymn, ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’”. 

A cold fear came over me, as memories of a thousand tuneless Sunday School children attempting to make these verses meaningful – and musical – and failing – came back to me.

And then something strange happened. That hymn, as it was sung, became one of the most moving and important moments in my life.

I don’t think there was a dry eye in the house.

God can do that. 

Catch you unawares. 

And transform things – from the mundane and ordinary into the ethereal and transcendent.

We sung that hymn last Sunday in Dunsfold. It brought it all back.

Dear old Aunty Betty. Rest in peace. Rise in glory.