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Letter from the Dean – November 2015

Remembering our departed loved ones – thoughts for November – the month of ‘remembering’.

When Chaplains returned from the Front in the First World War, they came relating the most terrible experiences. They came also, perplexed that the Church offered them very little official encouragement to pray for those who had died. Relatives and friends of those whose lives had been so cruelly taken away in war desperately needed – in their confusion and perplexity – such re-assurance as prayer could give. Yet the Church seemed bound by its loyalty to the Reformation and was reluctant to acknowledge that the departed might be prayed for – death was final and prayers of those remaining on earth –however fervent – could be of no avail. Small wonder that many people, in their grief and confusion turned to Spiritualism. Eventually, in the 1928 revision of the Prayer Book the church did offer some modest prayers but it seemed a case of ‘too little, too late’. Attitudes have changed and we so often find it the most natural thing to pray for our departed loved ones – and pray we most certainly can and should.

Many pilgrims to Hereford Cathedral leave prayers at the Shrine of St Thomas and last year we conducted a survey of some of these prayers. An analysis makes for interesting reading – of a wide selection of prayers noted, 24% were prayers to departed loved ones – ‘Dear Dad, I miss you and always remember your smile’. A further 18% were prayers for departed loved ones – ‘Lord, give rest to Jane, a dear friend, now at peace’. In other words, a very high proportion of the prayers left were for the dead – many more than for the sick and those in need – many more than for peace and justice.

I can understand this – what goes on at the shrine these days, isn’t that far removed from what pilgrims did in the Middle Ages – then as now, people placed before the shrine their puzzlement and uncertainties – they placed these all before God. And surely, death and what happens to us after death is one of those great mysteries – something we naturally wonder about and can only place in God’s hands.

So, do pray for your departed loved ones at this All Souls and Remembrance-tide – pray for those ‘who rejoice with us, but on another shore and in a greater light’. For you know, heaven and earth are not that far apart!

Michael Tavinor, Dean

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