The Best Funeral Ever – Tom Chapman
John Myhill was deeply moved by a recent funeral for a man with a close walk with God. He gives his insight into that occasion.
I was kept from funerals as a child. I was in my twenties when I attended my first: an atheist aunt who would have hated all the religious talk and lack of knowledge of her inner Light. I have attended many funerals since then; some tragic, some turgid and many heart-warming. I had come to believe that Quakers did good funerals, because we allow anyone to speak about their experience of that of God in the person who has died. This often produces deep, emotional, enlightening testimony. Poetry, music, pictures, circle dancing and hugs (there are never enough hugs), have all been highlights, focusing happy memories.
The funeral for Pastor Tom, at Surrey Street chapel, took Love to a new high. Clearly it is an advantage to be giving thanks for the life of a saint, a charismatic evangelist, with a brilliant mind and inventive imagination; who always put others first even when suffering greatly himself; all wrapped up in a wonderful sense of humour and total humility in Christ. His ministry touched so many (I sat not in the main hall, but in another room, joining in by video link) that allowing everyone to share their experience, would have taken days. But the contributions were well balanced.
His son spoke about Tom the father, and any parent would have shed tears, wondering what it must be like to have a child grow up with such clear love and admiration for them. Tom reminded me of my own father (also a clergyman) both in looks and in his quiet responsiveness, and I was always aware that he was older in Christ, as I was older in years when I accepted Jesus into my life.
An elder spoke movingly about the impact Tom had from his first visit to Surrey Street chapel right through his ministry. A member of the choir spoke of his contribution to the social and outreach life of the church. A fellow minister spoke of working with Tom in his early days, and his inventive sermons. But my favourite had to be the lady deputed to speak about Tom’s funniest moments and brought to life a man so fully human because so filled with love. So much in the teaching of Jesus only makes sense if we catch His sense of humour, His lightness of touch.
The hymns, Bible readings and sermon would have been out of place for my atheist aunt, but they reflected perfectly the Christ-filled life Tom, through God’s Grace, had lived: “to live is Christ, to die is gain”(Philippians 1:21). Forty five years on earth, felt far too short for all who knew him; but it was long enough to establish that it is still possible in our godless times to live a fully Christian life and change lives for the better, to turn many towards the Light. I was left with a profound faith that many people present would grow into the Gospel, becoming daily more like Tom, more like Christ.
I would never have thought twenty years ago, that I might find a funeral the most wonderful, uplifting and joyous occasion; far better than any party, concert, game or holiday; a glimpse into that upper room, where Jesus appeared to the disciples; where the holy spirit descended like flames of fire upon their heads at Pentecost. Thank you to all those present, thank you Tom: thanks be to God.
To read the obituary for Tom Chapman on Network Norfolk, click here.
John Myhill is a Norwich Quaker, retired magistrate and author. His blog is at http://johnmyhill.wordpress.com/
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