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  • Stuart Holley

Anna Chaplain conducts a funeral with a difference

Updated: Sep 1, 2021

End of life, funeral care and bereavement support are important elements of ministry in Anna Chaplaincy. Helping the older person prepare for the end of their life and exploring wishes for their funeral are familiar roles, and in this, as with all aspects of our ministry, being person-centred and getting to know the individual is key, as Anna Chaplain Sue Trowbridge discovered recently. In arranging a funeral in her parish of St John’s in Hildenborough, near Tonbridge, Kent, she responded to an unusual funeral request from a local farming family for the deceased to be buried in one of their fields.

After a service in church at St John’s, Sue conducted the burial in a field, the grave having been registered with the relevant authorities. The deceased’s son-in-law dug a grave in the corner of a field on the farm. Logistics needed to convey the coffin to the graveside were challenging, with Sue leading mourners on a walk down a rough unmade path following the bearers who carried the coffin quite a distance.

It was a funeral that involved much prayer and preparation, but Sue was delighted she could help the family in this way. She told us about the experience:

Everything worked like clockwork; even when the music on CD failed halfway through, the brilliant organist just picked it up and played from memory Fields of Gold.

I walked successfully with my stick to the plot of land where the grave had been dug, which was cordoned off by a wooden fence and a metal gate. The grave was situated beneath very old trees, presented beautifully by our local family firm of undertakers, Abbey Funeral Services. It looked just lovely. The deceased’s 30-year-old Shetland pony was there at the graveside, with chickens and hens in the coup behind the hedge.

Grandsons carried the coffin to the grave. I asked the Lord to bless the plot before the coffin was lowered into it. I then led the commendation and interment following the guidelines in the additional Church of England service book for burials (Common Worship).

All present added their own handful of earth with great dignity, about 20 in all. I told them that this used to be the practice when people in ancient times dug a grave for a family member. I asked the farmer beforehand not to fill the grave until all the family had left.

Everyone was speaking to each other; it was amazing, a true answer to prayer in every way. The daughter who is a much-loved member of our church said that old family squabbles had been healed at the graveside, and that family and friends loved the reverence and dignity of the funeral, that her mother would have been really pleased. Her widowed husband was certainly most appreciative.

As you can imagine, the relief on my part was enormous, showing the power of prayer. It was certainly a first for me and also for the undertakers. It was truly beautiful, and the sun shone throughout. (I just cooked in my black cassock, surplus and stole!)

Anna Chaplains do many things, I wonder if I’m the first to have done that!



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