Tag Archives: Christian Life – Death Grief Bereavement

Review of The Grief Walk by Rev’d Bosco Peters

Delighted with this review by Rev’d Bosco Peters of Alister Hendery’s book The Grief Walk. https://liturgy.co.nz/the-grief-walk

“In 2014, I reviewed the Rev. Alister Hendery’s book, Earthed in Hope. That book was a New Zealand-based reflection on funerals – our context being much enriched by Māori (the indigenous people of Aotearoa New Zealand) very down-to-earth approach to death. I heartily recommended that book.

This book, The Grief Walk, is the sequel and complement of the previous one. While the funeral is a very important part of grief, it is a gateway into the longer walk with grief.

This is a practical, down-to-earth book. It is is for people who are grieving, and for people who want to support them. That includes clergy, church leaders, and others.

Alister’s book is based on his years of experience as a priest, on his particular and open interest in death, funerals, and grieving, and on his studying of quality research in these areas – there is a good bibliography at the back of the book. His is a 40-year journey. Far too often, people present grieving as a one-way process with well-defined stages, concluding with something they call “closure”. I strongly reject such an extremely unhelpful model. Alister does also; he is clear that your grieving is unique to you.

Often, people of faith (and others) can present saccharine ‘solutions’ to grief that deny the searing pain of grieving. Alister’s book also eschews such an approach.

You can see the chapter topics here. Chapter 4, I think is central to Alister’s approach:

4 – Understandings and Misunderstandings about Grief

  • Our Loss and Grief is Unique – so Forget the Rules
  • There’s No ‘One Size Fits All’ – so Forget Stages in Grief
  • We Wax and Wane – so it’s Okay to Retreat from Time to Time
  • A Continual Presence Which can Ambush us – so Forget the Timeline
  • Continuing Bonds – So Forget about Having to Let Go
  • Grief Doesn’t get Closed Off – so Forget about Closure
  • Our Life has Changed – so Forget the idea of Returning to Normal
  • We Grieve in Our Own Way – so Forget the Stereotypes

This is followed by chapters including how we experience grief, how we can accompany a grieving person, God and grief, and the hope for the grieving person’s future.

If you are looking for one book on grief where you can be assured of being in safe hands, I cannot recommend The Grief Walk too highly.”

Order The Grief Walk: Print  or  eBooks


Prayer / Poem of the Week # 22

Prayer / Poem of the Week # 22

Come back each Monday night for a free prayer or poem from one of the books we have published.

106. Rural Hardship

God of the present and future,
bring hope to those facing hardship and loss
in the rural community of …………..

Restore those whose land
has been severely affected by flood/snow/rain/cold/fire/drought.

Encourage those facing big changes
in farm management and lifestyle,
or who face the prospect of having to move off the land
and the challenge of finding new employment.

Have compassion on those
whose marriages or relationships
are under enormous strain
through interpersonal or financial stress.

Resource communities which have lost amenities,
commercial services and farm labour.
Enable people to welcome new settlers and life-stylers,
particularly those unfamiliar
with rural ways of doing things,
and the customs of the local community.

We pray in faith that we shall discover
grace sufficient for each day’s challenges,
in and through the strength of the Holy Spirit.

From The Shepherd’s Call – Te Karanga o te Hēpara:
Prayers and liturgies for rural Aotearoa New Zealand
By Bill Bennett (2018)

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Prayer / Poem of the Week # 4

Prayer / Poem of the Week # 4

Come back each Monday night for a free prayer or poem from one of the books we have published.

33. A Farmer’s Prayer for Daily Work

O God, in the burst of spring growth,
let me rejoice.

In the first plantings of crops,
bring me hope.

In the summer heat,
shade me.

In the dried up hills
water me.

In the harvest work
sustain me.

In the big decisions
guide me.

In the autumn chill
warm me.

In the driving rain
shelter me.

From the howling winds
protect me.

In the slush and mud
encourage me.

In the lonely hours
stand by me.

In the beauty of each dawn,
let me wonder at your creation,
and the peace of the earth.

From The Shepherd’s Call – Te Karanga o te Hēpara:
Prayers and liturgies for rural Aotearoa New Zealand
By Bill Bennett (2018)

Click here to Order Print books and here for eBooks

Prayer / Poem of the Week # 3

Prayer / Poem of the Week # 3

Come back each Monday night for a free prayer or poem from one of the books we have published.

Costly Love

   the busy one
   whose natural way of showing love
was to cook, clean, serve
and she delighted to serve her Lord.

   the quiet one
   whose natural way of showing love
   was to listen, absorb
and she delighted to love her Lord.

Jesus’ friend Lazarus dies
beloved of his sisters – and their Lord away,
meets Martha, first as always, breathless
“Lord, had you been here
    our brother would not have died!”
and Jesus consoles, teaches, explains.

Then Mary –
“Lord, had you been here
   our brother would not have died!”
…and Jesus weeps… and acts
the overwhelming love of Almighty God
leaping forth in resurrection power.

Lord –
take my love
I pour it at your feet
take my tears
   take my busyness
   take my stillness
may I serve you Lord.

(John chapter 11)

From A Celebration of Life by Meg Hartfield (2016)

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Free Sample Chapter – Greens and Greys by Rosalie Sugrue

Dark Encounters

Year two rolled on. Christchurch and College continued to fascinate and educate. Smug in senior superiority we hardened hostellers, swaggered around the first years oozing worldly wisdom, and tempting fate with blind dates, risqué adventures and dabbling in the occult.

To be precise, we organised a couple of dance dates, a set number of girls from our hostel and a boys’ hostel, and lucky-dipped for partners. Esther is still married to the guy she met on one of these dates 50 years ago.

* * *

Two late passes per week were the maximum allocation, an 11 o’clock, and a 1:30. 1:30 seemed pretty liberal but there was a catch, it couldn’t be taken on a Saturday. Being the Sabbath there was a 12:15 curfew. The hostel was locked at 10:30 each night by the ‘duty Deac.’ Then the poor Deac had to stay awake and open the door for those on late passes.

Talking was my downfall. 10:30 creeps quickly during a good discussion. If caught missing the deadline, late passes were suspended.

The three fire escapes were raised five feet from the ground. An ineffectual twist of barbed wire decorated each bottom rung. An apple-box hidden in the hedge provided the initial boost. Life was easier for the girls who lived downstairs, several windows gave easy access, but we upstairs dwellers couldn’t risk creaking up the stairs past Miss P’s room. I could rely on Esther to cover for me, as I did for her. I didn’t do it often. I was uneasy about breaking rules.

That year it was fashionable for boys to prove manhood by bathing in a girls’ hostel and souveniring the plug. Only one plug went missing from our hostel but our lives were spiced by the continuing hope of intercepting some intrepid, naked intruder. At that time only a séance held more fascination.

* * *

Chopsticks belts from the piano, a sure sign Miss P is out. The common room fills. A wireless is plugged in and turned up. Maureen and Vera stop murdering the piano and join the twisters. Bodies gyrate to the end of the hit parade then someone suggests a séance.

Pious Patricia wonders if it is right. “We shouldn’t dabble in witchcraft. You know, it could be evil,” she falters.

“Witchcraft be blowed! All the hostels are doing it,” says Maureen. “My mate Theresa told me the Rosary House girls are really into it. They haven’t made contact with the dead or anything but they sometimes get answers to questions and its super spooky.”

“I don’t know if I’m game,” mutters Twitch.

“Don’t be batty, it is only a game,” says Pam.

“My Welsh Aunt believes in it,” says Jo.

“Ridiculous! Stuff and nonsense for the gullible,” scoffs Esther as we scatter to find torch, glass, pen and paper. Smug Esther deigns to watch.

Gullible eh! An idea sprouts. I move to the telephone in the passage and dial the number for Bishop Julius, the Anglican hostel, a mere five-minute bike-ride away. A brief conversation takes place with Beth Brown, ex-Secret Six member, code number 6.6.

The lights are out when I slip back into the common-room. Jo is pulling faces with a torch under her chin. “I heard you calling from the grave,” she wails. “Ask me what you will.”

“Can you act your age?” asks Esther.

I join the huddle round the alphabet-encircled glass. Pam is adding an opposing yes and no for speedy replies. Jo quits mucking around and directs the torch at the upturned glass. Muffled giggles snuffle to silence. Seven fingers rest lightly on the glass and slowly the glass takes on a life of its own. Questions are suggested. Yes, Maureen will pass the maths test. Vera will to get an A for her art assignment. No, there won’t be ice-cream for pudding tomorrow. Waipuna will win a beauty contest. Jo will have lots of lovers. The questions become more complex. Jo’s lovers will be foreigners. Pam’s boyfriend will propose before the year is out and she will have four children. “Is anything strange going to happen?” ventures Twitch.

The glass gathers momentum and sweeps like a dodgem-car. Yes, indicates the first curve. A dark stranger bearing strange tidings, spells ‘The Force.’

“Does the stranger have a name?” I ask.

B-E-T-H the glass replies.

With the lights on feelings range from spooked to sceptical. I take a philosophical stance and declare, “Anything is possible.”

“And how many flying pigs have you met?” inquires Esther.

Twitch starts to say something as the doorbell sounds.

“Someone for Molly,” calls the duty Deac.

“Who is it?” I call back.

“Someone called Beth.”

The gang crowds into the passage.

“Dark hair,” observes Jo with a direct stare at Esther.

“Dark hair,” echoes Twitch.

“Do you have a message for us, asks Jo, “Any strange tidings?”

“Strange tidings? You lot are totally strange!” Twitch has a fit of nervous giggles but is silenced by an icy look from the Stranger. “It so happens I did see that Matron of yours as I came through The Square. She was going into the picture theatre with a rather distinguished looking older-man.”

Shrieks of amazement are followed by a volley of questions but Beth has nothing more to say on the subject. “I have some special news for Molly, but there is something I would like to know?”

“What?” asks Pam.

“Why the pentacle?” Isn’t the pentacle a symbol of witchcraft?” All eyes follow the visitor’s gaze to a red star on the front door.

“Five points,” says Jo.

“Blood!’ gasps Twitch.”

“Your hostel is weird,” says the visitor. I’m not hanging around here. Molly, can you come for a coffee at The Cauldron?”

A few days later I return the favour, though my pentacle got no closer than the gatepost of Bishop Julius Hostel.

“Why didn’t you put the pentacle on our front door?” Beth asks, tucked away in our favourite corner of The Cauldron.

“I would have but…,” I doodle sugar into my cappuccino. “It has been a sweet week. Everyone is talking about Miss P’s distinguished gent, and even better, Esther pestered me for the news you brought. I told her I am likely to be given two tickets for West Side Story. She is doing everything I suggest – our room has never been so clean. And, she’s taken out a heap of library books on the occult. I skim them when she’s out. She thinks I’m some sort of authority and actually asks my opinion. Had I been caught your Matron would have told our Matron and the game would be up. Besides, I don’t care to incur Miss P’s displeasure – she was hopping mad over the lipstick on our door.”

* * *

Beth and I promoted a rumour that West Coasters are known for being psychic – caused by proximity to many ghost towns, we said. But I lost my appetite for dealings with the ‘other side’ in a major way. For this year too brought trauma – unbelievable and indelible trauma, the death of my father – Ernest Austin Sinclair, in his 54th year, at his home, suddenly, no suspicious circumstances (they might as well have put it in capital letters BY HIS OWN HAND) leaving a wife and three children.

* * *

Dad hasn’t come in for tea. It is a ‘Dad and Dave’ night. Along the Road to Gundagai blares over the airwaves. No one likes missing the favourite serial, especially Dad. He grew up on a farm. I hold the button longer this time. The intercom is Dad’s own two-valve invention that links his shed with the kitchen. It works really well, but not tonight apparently. Nathan runs out to the shack and finds him.

26th of August, the day after Nathan’s 15th birthday, a never to be forgotten date. Dinner the night before had been the traditional family party – cake, candles, presents, followed by board games. Dad had been on a winning streak, winning two out of three games of Cluedo.

Dad didn’t use rope, dagger or candlestick. He used electricity and water. He didn’t leave a note. An accident? He was meticulous to the nth degree. We couldn’t even pretend. The coroner’s report in The Grey River Argus took care of that.

How could anyone do such a thing? How could he? Why did he do it? It was so stupid! So hurtful… so wrong!

My own father, a happily married man; he had no vices, no worries, a good job – supervisor of the telephone exchange. No one can understand it – police, neighbours, workmates, or Labour Party associates.

Why Dad, why? You didn’t have enemies. You didn’t owe money. You didn’t drink, smoke, or gamble. You loved us and we loved you. How could you do this to the people you love. If something was going wrong for you why didn’t you tell us! We would have helped. You know we love you. Didn’t we tell you… maybe we didn’t tell you? If we didn’t tell you it was because we thought you knew.

Something must have been going very wrong. But whatever it was, how could we be better off without you? We need you. Mum needs you. It hurts. If only there was a reason. If only you had left a note or given some clue. If only!

* * *

Dad left everything in order, possessions tidy, bills paid. Luckily it was the start of the holidays, we had time to cope. Luck… or carefully planned? Dad was meticulous by nature and knew the Scriptures. “He set his house in order and hanged himself.” 2 Samuel 17:23.

Is he safe on that Beautiful Shore? The question was never voiced. Everyone was kind, especially the church folk. Mum wrote copious grateful-thanks notes. We kept out of her way knowing she was stressed-out on humiliation. The church had standards. Not that anyone said so but the words sat silent on each blank sheet – ‘Suicide is a sinful and cowardly act.’

We suffered the classic symptoms of grief, since learned from magazine articles – shock, denial, anger, guilt, fear, hostility, plus an extra one – shame. Feelings weren’t named in those days. Our grief was silent, personal and self-blaming. That’s how it was – pain smothered to smoulder, cankering the soul until semi-forgotten.

A decade passed before we shared our silent guilt. Nathan regretted his adolescent indifference, but despite a full-on teenage lifestyle schoolwork and chores usually got done. He was a good all rounder, popular and enterprising – ice-cream boy at the pictures by standard five, a Press paper run at 14. I’m sure Dad was proud of him.

Mum felt she should have spent more time with Dad, but they had different interests. Separate pursuits suited their relationship.

I was convinced I’d brought trouble with the train crash. Rail workers were strong among the party faithful. I had caused a Greymouth man to lose his driver’s job. Even so our railway neighbour gave us a bag of coal and said he was really sorry, Ernie was a good chap, a good worker for the Party.

* * *

We didn’t talk about Dad much. Neither did anyone else. What could they say? The usual platitudes – a blessed release from suffering, the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, a terrible accident, safe in the Lord, his number was up, God calls his own, and so forth, just didn’t apply.

Dreams bother sleep, the old complicated dreams – Deaconess House, miles of passages, lost on a ship below deck, the three-headed dog, the steaming train plunging from grey gorge to grey hospital and always a bell ringing. And new dreams – me causing indiscriminate death or finding Dad sitting zombie-like in his chair, having to tell him he was dead and didn’t belong here; interpreting his hurt as betrayal.

In the absence of reason I searched for memories to hoard – conjuring up his slight figure singing in the garden, hunting for reading glasses, radio tinkering…treasuring special times in his shack – speaking into the microphone, hearing crackling replies from ‘hams’ in faraway places.

When I was ten Dad helped me build a headphone crystal-set, and tried to teach me Morse code. I never mastered it. Mum had though, back in courting days, when he was going for his wireless ticket. Dad told me they went on picnics and sent each other love messages with Morse keys; so romantic, and so unlike them.

Dad was a bit of a loner, being a non-drinker in our neighbourhood. He spent summer evenings in garden or shack, and winter nights listening to the BBC or reading by the fire – wireless magazines and Yates Garden Guide. Truth and Man Magazine stayed in the shack. Mum’s house was not to be sullied. She tolerated his taste in humour with mock despair and head-shaking as he chuckled over cartoons and booklets such as Pigs Is Pigs. His favourite funny was The Specialist, about a man who applied much thought as to the best location and decor for his privy.

I saved memories like shining magazine pictures but couldn’t dignify them with order and theme. I hoped for light but found only shadows, uncomfortable shadows. I recalled his gait, a slight limp – something I hadn’t noticed until a 12-year-old classmate commented, “How come your Dad walks funny?”

On ANZAC Days my father’s poppy bled in solitude on his dark suit. He stood with head inclined as medalled peers paraded. Maybe not drinking helped! My dad could never share the camaraderie of contemporaries embellishing war yarns at the RSA.

I glimpsed the unspoken shame of polio; his hating of sports day at school, compulsory age races, where he always came last, a deliberate tripping, broken arm and weeks of plaster and sling. He told the story lightly saying his big mistake was breaking his left arm, had it been the right he could have got off writing as well as sport.

Nathan appeared to get over it. He was a logical lad, not given to sentimentality. “A great support for your poor mother,” remarked those who had to say something. He wore the responsibility of garden, lawns and firewood as a mantle of maturity. I was proud of him, and didn’t suspect cloaked feelings.

Mum missed Dad but she was a woman of inner strength, not one to weep, or accept ‘pills to help’ rumoured available from the doctor. Devout Christians had to cope. To be seen not coping was a betrayal of faith.

Despite clearly defined co-operative roles my parents were independent souls. Mum learnt how to write cheques and deal with insurances, and lengthened her formidable list of church and community good works.

I returned to Deac House for the final term and every time I looked at my radio I thought of my father and wondered why.

* * *

Years later Danny told me why. On his last visit before emigrating, Dad and Dan had talked as never before. They’d hugged and cried. I’d never seen my father cry, nor hug a son past baby stage. Danny told of his love for Archie and the problems of leading a double life. He shared feelings of rejection and coming to terms with being different. In return, Dad bared his soul, confessing a lifetime of feeling inadequate. He didn’t want to cope with physical problems any longer. Life wasn’t worth it. Inadequate! Physical problems? Dad never complained about anything!

True, Danny agreed, Dad wasn’t inadequate and never complained. He seemed fine but polio left him with deteriorating weaknesses. Nagging arthritis pain wore him down. He gave it a name, CC, Constant Companion.

Then, I remembered Aspro boxes…Dad carefully unwrapping white pills and rolling the waxed-paper strip, just something he did, like shaving.

Danny told me Dad was frustrated with his eyesight – myopic all his life, dealing with additional reading glasses was almost beyond bearing. Surely not! Lots of people need two pairs of glasses. Danny equated increasing disability with loss of self-esteem, said anyone can cope with one problem, multiple problems compound and knock the ego. He reminded me of Dad’s slight hearing loss, not a problem one-to-one, but enough to make him feel foolish in some group situations. Dad feared it might affect his job. However, these inconveniences merely contributed to Dad’s private misery. The real problem was too humiliating to talk about, too humiliating to write about – a bowel condition, prognosis, loss of control. He didn’t want anyone to know.

Danny understood. He had considered taking his own life. He felt he’d been cursed until he met Archie. He’d tried talking Dad out of it but had said goodbye, just in case, and agreed not to tell anyone. Dad told Danny he loved us dearly. We had all brought him joy. Life had been good. He intended it to stay good.

* * *

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“This wise and wonderfully comprehensive book … will benefit many who carry pastoral responsibilities” Review by Anne Priestley of Earthed in Hope.

Doing Funerals Well

Earthed in Hope:
Dying, Death and Funerals – A Pakeha Anglican Perspective

By Alister G. Hendery
Published by Philip Garside Publishing Ltd

EIH_front_cover_20141015_100w_BReview by Anne Priestley, published in Tui Motu InterIslands Oct 2015

“A quick scan of death notices in a newspaper reveals the fading influence of Christian faith in this country. Many funerals now are held at a crematorium or a funeral director’s chapel. Some of these funerals will be taken by a minister of religion; but increasingly funeral directors and celebrants have taken over the traditional roles of a minister of the church. We live in a world where there are multiple views on “what comes next” after death, mostly at variance with the theological witness of scripture. Even church funerals often celebrate the life which has ended, rather than proclaiming Christian hope in the midst of grief and death.

This is the terrain surveyed by Hendery, a Pakeha Anglican priest. His writing is marked deeply by his trust and hope in God’s grace and equally by his long pastoral experience.

He begins with sociology and theology, chapters which are most lively when earthed in contemporary New Zealand practice. The second half of this book has a strong practical bent, as Hendery discusses pastoral and liturgical issues in journeying with the dying person and in the stages before, during and after the funeral service. He includes thoughtful commentary on the rich resources of A New Zealand Prayer Book /He Karakia Mihinare o Aotearoa, the Anglican prayer book (this material, valuable for Anglican ministers, will be less useful to others). Here, as elsewhere, he provides ideas from a wide range of religious and cultural sources.

Hendery pays attention to the complexities arising from a death by suicide and to special questions concerning children and death. He is not afraid to criticise the Church for less than helpful theology and practice, both past and present.

Hendery’s theological commitments and generous pastoral instincts stand in unresolved tension — the tension of God beyond and God within. For me, this reflects a great challenge of funeral ministry: how to speak the language of the bereaved, in our changed and changing world, and also to proclaim faithfully the good news of God.

I also appreciated Hendery’s determination to be blunt. To say the words “die”, “death”, “coffin”. To face the fact of one’s own death. To accept that, facing death, we do not know everything.

This wise and wonderfully comprehensive book about funeral ministry in Aotearoa is not a quick read, but will benefit many who carry pastoral responsibilities.”

Click to order Earthed in Hope eBook or Print book

What should we be offering to Kiwis dealing with death?

Earthed in Hope

Article in Anglican Taonga – Pentecost 2015

Lloyd Ashton asked Alister Hendery what should we be offering to Kiwis dealing with death.


Alister_page_8_Taonga_Pentecost_2015Alister Hendery’s new book Earthed in Hope – Dying, Death and Funerals, a Pakeha Anglican Perspective was launched in Wellington last November. It is the fruit of a life that has specialised in death.

Over the course of 35 years in ministry, Alister has taken more than 1500 funerals – both as a priest and celebrant. He has also worked as a counsellor specialising in grief and loss.

Death is even a feature of Alister’s chosen sport.

A few years ago he took up powerlifting.

The demands of wrestling with a loaded Olympic bar saw him through the more intense periods of writing his book, he says.

He found too, that one of the sport’s three lifts became his favourite:

The deadlift.

“I’m often asked,” he says, “whether I find such a concentration on death depressing.

“On the contrary. It’s life-giving, it adds a sense of immediacy to life, teaching me to measure the present moment and to rely on the grace of God – believing, as I do, that the life I have and the life I will know after death is a gift from the One who created me and loves me.”

If appearances are anything to go by, that’s not mere talk, either.

Because Alister Hendery has an impish grin, a twinkle in his eye, and a ready wit.

Alister decided to write his book because he was appalled by the “acute lack of any serious writing about funeral ministry” in New Zealand.

He wanted to do something about that, to offer resources for funeral ministry – but also to kick-start conversations about death and bereavement.

Because death, he says is a subject we don’t talk about nearly enough.

It has been marginalised, even in the church.

“I go to Anglican funerals,” he says, “where the word ‘death’ is not used.

“The church has been seduced by a societal obsession with the beauty of youth.

“Of course youth matters. But not at the price of ignoring the elderly, and putting things like ministry to the dying and dead into a second tier.”

That lack of deliberate reflection about death and dying is all the more serious, he says, because the Kiwi Zeitgeist has changed.

“How we approach death, how we mark it, what we believe about it, what we do with our dead, has changed radically over the past four decades – and funeral ministry is caught up in this windstorm of cultural change.”

While the church has moved inexorably from the centre to the periphery of our culture, he says we haven’t seen the opportunity that lies at our feet.

“2016 marks the beginning of the demise of the baby boomer generation.

“The funeral industry is positioning itself for this development, but is the church readying itself with as much energy and commitment?”

We haven’t grasped, says Alister, that funeral ministry is “at the edge of our connection with society.

“It’s the place where the gospel and contemporary culture most keenly interact.

“Because it’s the area, as the Prayer Book says, that touches us most deeply.”

Alister began research for his book in 2010.

Within a year, Pike River and the first of the Christchurch quakes had happened.

“Suddenly, with Pike River, you had what one commentator described as the first expression of public grieving on the social networks.

“I was able to download literally thousands of postings, and a picture very quickly emerged.

“And I can tell you that neo-Platonism, the belief in an immortal soul, is alive and well. People are reverting to ancient images of the ferryman crossing the Styx.

“There is no concept of the Judaic-Christian belief in the resurrection of the body. It simply is not out there.”

‘You never find closure’

In the wake of Pike River, Alister got tired of hearing the word closure being bandied around.

It comes, he says, from a 1970s model of grief. “The idea that if you achieve certain goals, people will be able to move on.”

“But human being just don’t work like that. Grief is a time of utter chaos. And we each grieve uniquely. It can’t be stylised in the form that the media present it.

“You never find closure to grief.

“It is always a part of you.

“We look for change. Radical change.

“But that’s not closure. I would go so far as to say that the whole psychological linear model is feeding people a lie.”

“I was watching a movie on day, and suddenly my eyes filled with tears. And it was a grief 30 years old.

“It was almost as though it had tapped me on the shoulder and said: ‘Just pay attention’.

“I didn’t need to go to a therapist. It said: ‘Just notice me. I’m still here in your life.’

Alister is not picking a fight with celebrants. After all, he’s been one himself.

“The church could learn from good celebrants,” he says, “about personalising and expressing the uniqueness of this death.

“What celebrants can’t do, is draw on the richness of the church’s tradition. And the strength of hope that we have, as we look beyond this death.

The celebrant funeral, he says “is often almost entirely retrospective.

“It’s for the living. But the church says” ‘No. It’s not just for the living. It’s for the dead, too.’

We acknowledge the retrospective – but we say there is a prospective dimension. There is a hope.

“That is still the gift the church has. But what the church needs to do, is to learn to speak the language of the people around it.”

Alister Hendery was ordained in 1980.

He’s now 61.

“Because my life on earth is now more memory than future,” he writes, “I am increasingly mindful of my own mortality.”

Having officiated a hundreds of funerals, he now practises a discipline:

“As I leave a funeral, I take a moment to be still, and in that stillness I say to myself:

“One day this will be me.

“One day, I shall not walk away from this place.

“Should I forget this, the liturgies of the church remind me of my mortality and the need to prepare for death – my death.”

And the last words of his book are a quote form what he considers to be an “utterly brilliant resource” – the New Zealand Prayer Book:

There is nothing in death or life,
in the world as it is,
or the world as it shall be,
nothing in all creation,
that can separate us from the love of God
in Jesus Christ our Lord.
(Romans 8:38-39)

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The following review by Rev John Meredith appears in the June 2015 issue of Touchstone – the Methodist Church’s monthly newspaper.

 “Alister G. Hendery,
Earthed in Hope.
Dying, Death and Funerals. A Pakeha Anglican Perspective
Wellington: Philip Garside, 2014, 300 pages.

Hendery remarks that over the past four decades funeral practices in New Zealand have undergone sweeping changes. Celebrants who are not clergy conduct well over half Pakeha funerals and offer a highly personalised, life-centred alternative to churches. Although the church is no longer the chief provider of funeral ceremonies, Christian faith has a realistic approach to death and grief that is grounded in undying hope in God. Writing from an Pakeha Anglican perspective, Hendery addresses significant issues of Christian faith and practice and touches on matters relevant to all who exercise funeral ministry.

A funeral marks the ending of a human life and, as Hendery points out, people today have a wide choice in style and content of a funeral service. When a minister of the church is requested to officiate it cannot be taken for granted that the community for this funeral either understands or accepts the Christian story. Listening is a key part of the minister’s preparation. It is also important for a minister to accept that profound feelings of the loss of a physical presence cannot be assuaged by religious formulae.

At several places in the book the author stresses that whatever form the funeral takes, the most effective feature will be the embodiment of compassion by the minister. While those attending the funeral may forget what was said they will probably remember the attitude of the minister.

While a minister of the church is a spokesperson for the gospel, Hendery stresses this does not mean imposing on people. Ministers must be flexible and willing to offer guidance rather than ruling on matters such as choice of music and form of tribute.

Hendery expresses concern about the way euphemistic language may diminish the reality of someone’s death. Too often a person passes away to become the deceased. Instead, the author prefers unambiguous language. His practice of referring to someone who has died as “the dead person” indicates both respect for the person and an acceptance of reality.

The idea of closure, as it is popularly termed, is addressed thoughtfully. Writing of the pastoral care of people who are grieving, Hendery suggests that while, over time, those who have been bereaved may become reconciled to their loss, this does not mean that closure, is an appropriate end to the experience of grief. Those who are left continue to relate to those who have died through memory and abiding influence.

For those concerned with funeral ministry there is much in this book that will repay careful reflection: how God and Christian hope are presented, the avoidance of euphemisms and idealistic eulogies, ritual at and after the funeral, funerals following suicide, funerals of children and children at funerals. Hendery states: We need to be able to look death in the face and be willing to wrestle with the theological, spiritual and emotional demands that this takes. Earthed in Hope offers significant help for those who are serious about doing this.”

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Another Poem from Mark Gibson’s The In-Between Land

The In-Between Land: Psalms, Poems and Haiku will be released in print and as an eBook on 15 June 2015.

The book will be launched at 2.30pm on Saturday, 13 June 2015 at Wainoni Methodist Church, Avonside Drive, (between Kerrs Road & Wainoni Road.)

Here is a sample of the poems that appear in the book.

Neighbourhood all-year BBQ

fire up the barbecue
gather up again
create a loving island
in this sea of suffering

it’s always simple fare
with sausages and bread
if you’re lucky there are onions
but everyone gets fed

come sun, or cloud or snow
we keep the circle warm
we started in the shingle
now we’re on the lawn

we’re never really sure
who will turn up on the day
the group that forms each Thursday
always seems to change

there’s always lots of talking
laced with a laugh or two
it colours up our week
when feeling grey or blue

sometimes a bellbird sings
from the bottle-brush tree
and dogs like to join the party
hoping for an extra feed

the chef once made a toast
to all our absent friends
Dave and Noel have passed away
but mem’ry never ends

for the Unseen Presence
we raised our glasses too
the Spirit at the heart
calling us on to the new

New Brighton, 2013

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“The dead cannot be allowed to simply cease to exist.”

“Most New Zealanders seem to hold some form of belief in post-mortem existence. Faced with death an existential niggle emerges, prompting a desire for a belief, however rudimentary. The dead cannot be allowed to simply cease to exist. As quoted earlier, Hedtke expressed this very thought: ‘When we are faced with the death of a person that we love, it is a horribly difficult thought for most people that they will never again have this person in their lives.’ What I outline now are patterns of belief that I have observed presented as I have co-created celebrant-led funerals as well as working with families preparing for Church funerals. They also appear in Death and In Memoriam notices as well as tribute pages on the Internet. They do not represent the full spectrum, but indicate how some respond to the question ‘what next?’”

From Chapter 4 — What Comes Next? of Earthed in Hope: Dying, Death and Funerals – A Pakeha Anglican Perspective. By Alister G. Hendery.

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