For our holiday to Italy we travelled by train. We went Eurostar from London to Marseilles. Stayed overnight and then went on via the Riviera coast to Genoa. Then we went just a few more stops on the coastal route to Recco. A week later we travelled via Genoa again to Turin. There the first thing we saw on the outside of the station was a memorial plaque to George and Robert Stevenson. We returned home from Turin to Paris and then back to London. Thanks to all those who made journeys by train possible.

Since returning life has been busy. We had a choir rehearsal followed two days later by an all day recording session when we sang twelve of our favourite pieces, including, ‘Why we sing’, ‘Hallelujah’ (by Leonard Cohen), ‘The Waters of Tyne’, ‘Rhythm of Life’, ‘World in Union’. I think the titles themselves give a good flavour of the kind of community choir we are, and why I enjoy it so much. I am looking forward to hearing what the choir sounds like when we have the CD. The purpose of the day was, first of all, for us to have fun, then to produce a CD, and then hopefully to raise money for our charities that we support through sales of the CD.

On half of the days since returning I have been on the allotment. Trying to recover the ground from the weeds which have grown tall again! But also to harvest. It is courgette season, or should I say ‘marrow’ time? Actually there were only two courgettes large enough to be described as marrows. The rest were a delightful size, I have both green and yellow varieties. I also collected lots of broad beans, some beetroot, and dug up enough new potatoes to supply the Church Anniversary lunch.

One morning we went at seven o’clock in the morning to try to beat the hottest time of the day. We harvested soft fruit, fifteen punnets in all, comprising gooseberries (some green some red), red currants, black currants and raspberries. On another day I filled the wheelbarrow with five loads of weeds, to add the wall alongside the plot, and in the process found shallots and more beetroot.

There have also been a couple of days this week devoted to Quaker business. On one I was present to receive an item of new furniture and took the opportunity to re-arrange some of the other furniture. On the other it was Meeting for Worship, which was totally in silence. This was followed by a short business meeting and then I went to the Area Meeting in the afternoon. One of the things I appreciate about my Quaker experience is the opportunity to be part of a local meeting, to share in fellowship in the Area and to have an involvement in Britain Yearly Meeting. The residential week-long Gathering is happening this year at Warwick University at the end of the month and I have to give serious attention to preparing for it in the next couple of weeks.

If this sound a full week, I have still one more day to share. This was one of the days when I spent three hours on the allotment, but then I went to a funeral service for Nan, one of the members of the United Reformed Church in Dunstable. She had turned ninety earlier this year, and had for some time lived with very little sight. But she was an amazing character, full of jokes and stories of people she knew, determined to enjoy life and very much a part of the Church family. Her church life was formed in the Church of Scotland and I had conversations with her about her experiences in the Kirk. We shared a knowledge of Ian Fraser who was special to us both. She was always appreciative of the worship and I felt honoured if she said to me that the service had been ‘excellent’.

The service was very appropriate for Nan and the Church, a ‘main stream’ URC service but crafted well from the minister’s personal knowledge of Nan and her family. The hymns were those that Nan loved, ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd’, ‘In heavenly love abiding’ and ‘O Love that wilt not let me go’. These have been hymns that I have sung often over the years. The last has often struck a chord with me, especially the phrase, “I lay in dust, life’s glory dead, and from the ground there blossoms red, life that shall endless be.”

On this occasion I felt very remote from the language and theology that has been second nature to me in the past. I have moved a long way from where I used to be. This goes way beyond the avoidance of words like ‘Lord’ and ‘Kingdom’. I struggle to accept even the poetry of some of the images and metaphors used, such as “underneath are the everlasting arms’ or ‘in my Father’s house there are many rooms’. What I could relate to and found helpful were the stories of Nan’s life, the way she related to others, the values and standards that she lived by, and the the reading ‘She is gone’ which invites us to look ahead whilst being thankful for what we have known and enjoyed in the past. This was such a contrast to the Quaker Memorial Meeting for Worship for John Punshon a few weeks ago. That I found much more inspiring. But I am glad that for Nan’s family and friends this service was helpful and appropriate. And we were together in our feelings around the ending of Nan’s life, and in thanksgiving for her.

We cannot erect plaques on walls for everyone or every experience but this week has provided lots of memorable moments that I will cherish. What more could I ask for?


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