Trolleys are for Supermarkets

I had a lovely morning today conducting a funeral service. Oh, I know lots of people don’t get that this can be satisfying but to me I can’t really think of a more lovely way of spending a morning than committing someone who has died at a great age into the love of God. The fact that the person who had died had in large part lived to make the world more beautiful only made it more lovely.

I was struck by a brief conversation with the undertaker before the service went in. This wasn’t a busy funeral – the person who had died had outlived most of those who might once have come to celebrate her life. As the coffin was being taken out of the hearse, I was surprised to see three members of the undertaker’s staff join him in lifting the coffin onto their shoulders.

“Oh, you don’t use a trolley?” I asked in surprise.

The answer that I got was wonderful –

“No, Mr Holdsworth, trolleys are for supermarkets, we always carry the coffin in”.

I cannot tell you how pleased I was to hear this.

So many funerals seem to involve a squeaky and undignified trolley. I even have to insist sometimes that the coffin is lifted onto proper tressels during the funeral itself. There’s many a person in the funeral business who would leave a coffin on the trolley throughout.

Am I alone in thinking that there’s not much dignity in a coffin on wheels?

I know there will be exceptions where a trolley is necessary and I guess that, in an industry that has seen costs soaring, it is going to cost more if one has to pay the pallbearers but I do prefer a coffin to be carried into church rather than pushed.

At some crematoria where I’ve officiated the presumption is so much in favour of wheels that a kind of roll-on, roll-off trolley has become an integral part of the proceedings.

We don’t talk that much about death, though there are some valiant attempts to get us to do so. There’s the death café movement that gathers people to talk about death and I seem to remember an initiative in the Church of England called Grave Talk which was an attempt to build up a conversation.

I know that any undertakers will arrange for pallbearers to carry a coffin in properly if you ask them. That’s what undertakers do – they undertake to make the arrangements for you. I’m someone who mourns the transformation of undertakers into “funeral directors” – the very term seems to imply that the business knows better than either the celebrant who has probably got a bit of experience on how to do things properly, the relatives (who may, if they are feeling particular grief may well feel better for being involved in the funeral planning and service) and indeed the wishes of the person who has died if they did  the sensible thing and left instructions.

The joy today was finding a company which just don’t normally use a trolley as policy. It is a small thing but an important one.

Funeral trolleys always remind me of the wobbly nave altar in St Ninian’s Cathedral in Perth, which itself always looked as though it had been purloined from a hospital porter.

Now where did undertakers’ trolleys come from? And why do people put up with them?

They are hideous. Always hideous.

No. No. Away ye trolley-bearers.

And congratulations to Sim and Son for their trolley-free policy.

(I’m happy to link to any other undertakers in the West of Scotland who never use a trolley)

St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta revisited

I was thinking just this morning that it was about time we paid another visit to our conversation about St Eucalyptus on the Rocks and St Anaglypta by the Skerry. It is some seven years since these two congregations came into being in the glorious imagination of my mind. Seven years is a long time on the internet and I was just musing that it might be worth revisiting the conundrum of their priest, which was how he could provide a Godly Eucharist in these two churches which are situated on adjacent islands which are well supplied with bandwidth but which have no Sunday ferry service.

Then just after thinking that it was worth returning to this question, I came upon, by mere happenchance, an example of someone in the Church of Scotland using the internet to conduct a Communion service.

Let me remind you firstly of the original fantasy conundrum and then I’ll point you something that is actually real and then I’ll ask some questions.

This was how I originally posed the St Eucalyptus/St Anaglypta conundrum:

Now, suppose we have two congregations which are linked in fellowship and love but who live on adjacent islands. Their priest, Father Indulgent wants everyone to have communion each Sunday and they are devout and holy and desirous of weekly communion. However, the person who runs the ferry link between the two blessed islands belongs to the Free Church of God of the Sabbath (continuing) and consequently will not operate any boat on a Sunday, for fear of eternal damnation.

What would we think, if Father set up a system (either closed circuit TV or via the internet) whereby he could stand at the altar in St Anaglypta-of-the-Rocks on one island but be seen and heard in St Eucalyptus-by-the-Skerry on the other island and then proceeded to have one communion service? Could he be deemed to consecrate the elements in both churches whilst remaining in one of them?

We will presume that the devout communities in each, respond with a loud Amen at the end of the Eucharistic prayer.

The thing that I noticed that is actually happening is a Church of Scotland minister near Dumfries who is putting online a 7 minute communion service, asking people to prepare bread and wine in their homes in order to take part in a weekly Eucharist. I’ve not forgotten Fr Madpriest’s longstanding commitment to providing a service like this online. I think that the offering from Dumfries is the first time that I’ve come across this kind of thing on a parish website.

When I first posed the case of St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta online, I was generally sympathetic to experimentation and could fairly easily conceive of the Holy Spirit in her wisdom joining in with the use of technology in order to provide the holy mysteries to the people. It seemed at the time (seven whole years ago) that most feeling amongst those who were commenting on my post were dead against the idea.

I wonder now whether that still holds true.

We now use the internet to connect one person unto another much more routinely than once we did. Clearly some people in some denominations have reached a point where it just seems completely normal to engage in a Eucharistic activity online. I suspect our answers to the questions can tell us much about what we think of community, church and God.

The Church of Scotland congregation that I mentioned above is real  and there communion service can be heard here: http://www.dumfriesnorthwest.org.uk/index.php/online-communion-service-16-march-2017/

The rubric on their website is this:

The intention is that you will participate and not spectate or listen in. You are taking communion in precisely the same way as you would at a church service but in your own home. The church is merely expanding way beyond the walls of one building.

I applaud this attempt to reach out to people – I think it is interesting. It does make me ask a lot of questions, which we’ll come to in a minute.

St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta are fictional but not purely hypothetical. I have to make decisions alongside others about situations which could benefit from this kind of thing all the time. At a time when I see so-called megachurches in the USA rolling out different “campuses” for Sunday worship with everyone connected to hear a preacher preaching from one central place remotely, I can’t help but wonder whether there’s a model here that might be useful in Scotland. Suppose we have St Mary’s, Auchentoshan and St Mary’s, Auchtershuggle – two churches with a glorious heritage of Episcopal worship who are on their uppers. They are 5 miles apart. Would they be better linked to one another in some way (and what way?) or would they be better linked to a larger church at some distance digitally – St Miriam’s Cathedral, Auchterboggan for example which might be some 40 miles distant? To whom should one give the diocesan largesse in order to maintain ministry across a wide area where people are distributed thinly but with commendable devotion?

Now, here’s a few questions.

  1. Should our dioceses in the Scottish Episcopal Church be encouraging some churches to experiment in this area?
  2. Is a communion service more a communion service at a distance if it is shared live and in real time rather than recorded?
  3. Does the Church of England’s recent declaration that “the sacraments of Baptism and the Holy Communion are rightly administered” in the Church of Scotland cover this way of sharing communion in Dumfries. If someone hears it in Carlisle and participates with bread and wine, does the Church of England regard that person as having received communion?
  4. Seven years on, do we think that St Eucalyptus and St Anaglypta should receive a diocesan mission grant to install a screen and closed circuit TV equipment to allow the two congregations to receive communion together with Fr Induglent on one island?
  5. If you were writing a mission development plan for St Miriams or St Mary’s, Auchentoshan  or St Mary’s Auchtershuggle, what would your top three goals for any of them be?
  6. Which sacramental acts do you think might be appropriately imparted via some kind of digital link?