Singing for the dead, to the living

I have just had the most surreal afternoon imagineable. This morning, while enjoying my free Starbucks latte, I read on Twitter that my mate @PastorEv was facing a tough afternoon, singing “Jesu, joy of man’s desiring” which is famous, twiddly, and quite high with a small funeral party who were mostly non-churchgoers.

I asked if he needed backup.

He replied “Yes”.

Understandably, Evan was reluctant to lead the singing of this famous hymn without a little support, and in fact was prepared to forgo the singing and just read it aloud as a poem.

In I stepped with my offer of assistance and before I know it not only was I singing it, I had been promoted to doing it as a solo. Evan phoned the family and offered my services, and they said it would be entirely acceptable.

It’s the funeral of a lovely lady whom I have never met, and her only son is giving the eulogy, and it’s at the Crematorium which I’ve never visited, but as a favour for a friend and respect for a family in grief, I confirmed I would give it a go.

Fifteen minutes early, I arrived at Streetly Crematorium and enquired after Evan’s service. Another minister and the clerk at the crematorium established between them that Evan wasn’t due there today.

Cue me checking my phone and finding out Evan had his Crems mixed up and I was due in Sutton Coldfield in 12 minutes time.

We just made it.

I sang.

They liked it.

Good guys 1, unintentional foul ups nil.

And that’s what I did on my day off.

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2 Responses to Singing for the dead, to the living

  1. Evan says:

    Andy – you were an absolute lifesaver today!

    For the rest of you, here’s my take on proceedings (I’m the vicar!). I got an email through a week ago for a funeral. No problem. It then turned out that the next of kin lived down in Cornwall and I’d have to do the preparation meetings over the phone. On the phone I then found out that the next of kin was the nephew of the deceased. The son lives in Australia but will be coming back for the funeral. The lady who has died was a life long spinster, but back in post war England she became pregnant and had a son who was immediately taken from her and adopted. The son became the Australian son but wasn’t seen until his adoptive mother died 36 years later and he was passed a letter from his birth mum who said “This is my address, if you ever want to find me I’ll be there”. All those years later and she’d never moved house. The long lost son picked up the phone, called directory enquiries, and made the call. He said what his name was, when he was born and where and said he was trying to find his mother. The lady on the other end of the phone said “This is your mum!”. Just wonderful stuff.

    So this lady has now died and I’m doing her funeral and her long lost son is flying back from Australia. She’s requested two hymns in her funeral plan and one of them is “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring”. On the phone to the son I simply said the hymns seemed fine but I didn’t know the Jesu one.

    Then today, late morning, with the funeral at 2, I figured I should check out that Jesu hymn so I’d be ready to sing it. My heart sank! I watched half a dozen youtube clips hoping I’d find one which made it sound singable. Not one! The more I watched the more my heart sank. Here I was just hours from a funeral with the order of service all printed and I had a hymn I couldn’t possibly sing and a congregation of about 15 people who would be listening to me destroy what should be a beautiful moment for them all.

    I tweeted simply that I was in a pickle, not even thinking about anyone helping out, and Andy madly tweeted that he was free if I needed a hand!

    The Lord is merciful!!!

    A brief twitter conversation and a chat on the phone and Andy did indeed get promoted to coming along to do a solo slot.

    I told him that it was 2pm at Streetly Crem. No problem. See you there! Excellent! I could breathe a sigh of relief. Hoorah!

    I called the family, they were thrilled with the idea. Excellent! Win win situation.

    So I get to Streetly Crem at 1.35. I gather my stuff together and head over to the list of funerals to see which chapel I’m in. I look down the West Chapel – not there. I look down the East Chapel – not there either!

    That’s odd. So I check my letter from the Funeral Directors and low and behold it says “SUTTON CREMATORIUM” *not* “Streetly Creamatorium”!

    We live and learn every day.

    I spot a wandering organist and plead with him to tell me how to get to Sutton Crem. he doesn’t know.

    I look at the time. I’ve got 20 minutes! TWENTY MINUTES to find out where Sutton Crem is (I didn’t know!) and actually get there. It’s never going to happen.

    I leg it across the car park. Jump in the car. PRAY! “Lord, please help – guide me – get me to the crem on time! Please Lord – HELP!!!”

    I set off having no clue which way to go. I took a wild stab and set off. I called the funeral directors on my hands free kit and they told me the directions. Turned out I’d guessed well. The directions I was being given were the same as the route I was now madly driving in blind panic.

    I tried calling Andy. Nothing. so I texted him (yes, while driving fast – this was an emergency situation). I actually told Andy to forget it as there was no way he would make it in time and I’d screwed up monumentally. I felt bad for the family and I felt dreadful for Andy who was giving up his time and now getting screwed about by an idiot vicar who can’t read a piece of paper correctly.

    It’s amazing how slowly some people drive isn’t it!? Grrrr

    I got there, with 2 minutes to spare. And I park and dash across the car park to catch the slowly moving hearse as it crawls to the crem. I walk behind it rather than in front as overtaking it would be unseemly. We get to the door of the crem and I bow in time with the funeral director who glanced at me, amazed that I’d made it.

    After such a mad dash it was somewhat ironic that the previous funeral massively overran by more than 20 minutes. Plenty of time for Andy to get there.

    Eventually we go in and begin the service. The eulogy from the lost and then found son was one of the most moving I’ve ever heard. The first hymn was sung and near the end of the service we got to the Jesu hymn. Andy stepped forward, the organ began playing the beautiful lilting Bach composition, and Andy sung.

    It was one of the most powerful moments in any funeral I’ve been to. Quite brilliant.

    Thank you to Andy for dashing across town too. Thank you for the kind offer on your day off. And thank you to the Lord for overcoming my incompetency with divine directions when I needed them!

    For this wonderful lady who had endured such tragedy in her life, it was the most fitting of funerals.

    • Evan,

      I also experienced the panic at Streetly, a full ten minutes behind you. I, on the other hand, asked at the “enquiries” desk where they have printed directions from Streetly to Sutton Coldifled crematoriums. It must happen quite a lot!

      Pleasure to help out, though, and I’m glad you liked the singing.

      Any future “gigs”, you need only say the word!

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