Musing Aloud: Courage to remember loss

This is a picture from our annual memorial walk and picnic at the National Memorial Arboretum. It is sunflowers laid by our bereaved families surrounding our earlier activity of making butterflies and dragonflies. We invite families of all beliefs from the last year and those who have been before. Every year between 160-200 family members and their friends come along for this spiritual and pastoral support event.

I never cease to be impressed by the courage of those who come along to meet with complete strangers. Some families do not even know any staff! It seems that the need to honour and remember their children overcome any and all other insecurities.

Respect to all of you who do this, honour, right back at ya.

Honest Christianity: Celebrating brief lives

Many of us have been to funerals and memorial services of those who have died after a reasonably long life. They are sad events but often times of celebrating a life well lived, many achievements, too many memories to mention.

Today I went to our Women’s hospital’s annual new borns memorial service. I am always impressed by the courage of the families that attend such events. What they have in common is the passion, significance in which families refer to the child / ren that have died, sometimes after only a few minutes. The shortness of the time they had with them is a factor but not a limiting one to the affection that their name is said, character recalled, the significant place they hold in their families. Pain has been joined with the joy of affection. We talk about not judging a book by its cover nor can it be judged on its impact by its length. All are loved.

This week we remember baby loss in all its facets, miscarriage, still births, neonatal, many of these no matter where they lived, in or outside the body, the potential to celebrate the brief gift of life cannot and should not be diminished.

This is the gift we can all offer these families, and perhaps ourselves, safe places and people to name names.

Honest Christianity –

Diamond 2

I am writing this after leading another annual memorial service for the hospital. I never cease to be impressed by the generosity and graciousness of bereaved parents. Year after year we see so much beauty come out of brokenness and I am continually humbled by their ability to find a new way of living that honours their child and their grief and pain. These families really are a thing of beauty and treasure. We continually thank them for their inspiration of who they have become.

Friday photo – doing memorials now


We were walking the cliffs at Bude when we came across what seemed to be a memorial for someone called Pete. I don’t know whether they had gathered there and painted the stones and then engaged in some ritual to put them there or if they were made off site and brought there. It connected with something I had read earlier in the i by Poppy Damon which talked about the way younger people want to engage with funerals – you can read it here.  Then Tuesday was our bereavement day in our human development and pastoral care module where we encourage students to reflect on a range of issues and responses to them – this is one activity they may have devised.

Honest Christianity – always loved, never forgotten

Yesterday we held our hospital’s annual memorial walk and picnic. It is held at the National Memorial Arboretum between Lichfield and Burton upon Trent in Staffordshire. It is a beautiful location for such an event and over 200 family members joined us to find a safe and sacred space for them to remember and honour their child, sibling , family member or friend. Some were attending for the first time some returning again and again.

Each year we provide spiritual and pastoral supportive activities for all the family. This year we provided ribbons to make clouties, historically bows left at holy wells. There were pens to write names, and words of love and affection with different types and colours of ribbon with design helps for different types of bows. Yes i found out there was more than one! It was humbling to see the families patiently queuing to come and tie them on the gold netting that hung on the marquee wall, flowing on to the floor.

All this we hope assures our bereaved families the truth of our event strap line for our time together,

“Always loved, never forgotten”. This link is from the BBC 2 series filming – they didn’t include it in any of the programmes but it gives a taste of what happens.

Honest Christianity – what a great slogan


This picture could describe the mandate of being a Christian, a positive self image, because we are a child of the King and the fruit of the Holy Spirit should pour out of us, especially when cut. I saw this is in a shop in
Malvern. It is not quite the beatitudes, but it is a good stab at contextualizing. I encourage students that you can theologically reflect on anything so a pineapple is as good as anything.

Today we had our annual memorial service and the member of our team who was preaching, Margaret, stressed to the families that how they were an inspiration to us because of how they sought to find a hope and trust in God in the light of what had happened to them. Amen Margaret, well said. Over 300 of them representing 60 plus families came to remember, cry and celebrate the gift and love of their children and they’re still sweet in the middle. We honour them as they come to honour their children.

Friday photo – beach memorial

beach memorial

We walked and walked along the beach at Dawlish Warren yesterday, gradually leaving the crowds behind. As we approached the end of the spit of land we saw this and assumed it was there as a sort of memorial. Carefully chosen stones grouped in matching colours were laid around the edge and there was a little lantern nestling towards the middle of this piece of tree.

We had no idea who had created this for, what its purpose was although it had the feel of a memorial to us. I added a stone, carefully choosing one of a complementary size and colour and left it there in the same way I add a stone to a cairn as I walk along another beach…

Honest Christianity – would Jesus go to war

Quaker service memorial

There is a memorial dedicated to the (Quaker) Friends Ambulance Service and Friends
Relief Service who were conscientious objectors in WW2 at the National
Memorial Arboretum. When conscripted some men did felt their beliefs would not allow them to fight. These conscientious objectors were called cowards for refusing to fight, to kill other human beings. Their personal values, religious principles and beliefs stopped them regardless of the consequences. Many were publicly mocked and sentenced to death or long prison sentences.

This poem was read as on this morning’s BBC Radio 4 Sunday Worship highlighting the
reason behind their personal struggle.:

Christ in khaki, out in France thrusting his bayonet into the body of a German workman.
The Son of God with a machine gun, ambushing a column of German infantry, catching themunawares in a lane and mowing them down in their helplessness.
The Man of Sorrows in a cavalry charge, cutting, hacking, thrusting, cheering.
No! No! That picture is an impossible one and we all know it!
Published in the Journal of the Independent Labour Party in September 1914. Written by Dr Alfred Salter who later became a Labour MP:

Whether we would all know this is debatable, but I think the ethical solution of the
government not putting these men In prison and them being willing to serve in the war in a compassionate way, is an inspirational outcome to one of the most complex clashes between personal values and national laws.

Today and every day we honour their stance, example and inspiration for our future ethical dilemmas.

Honest Christianity – singing with integrity


Today is our annual memorial service at Birmingham Children’s Hospital. When we were planning our first service 11 years ago we asked ourselves what can we invite bereaved families to sing that would take their circumstances seriously? We found only a few hymns
that we thought took seriously the families loss and our Christian faith. The severity of their pain, and the power of the comfort of the Holy Spirit we remember on this Pentecost Sunday. Today we will be singing one of the original songs we found and one of the new ones our team wrote for a children’s funeral which we included in our funerals and memorial resource booklet (available from Here are the words to
one of those hymns which is sung to the tune of morning has broken:

Lord of compassion, tender and caring,
Holding our children, hid from our sight,
Starts in the bright sky, angels in heaven,
Gathered around you, maker of light.

These are our loved ones, shining in heaven,
These are our children, held in our hearts,
Candles still burning, softly but safely,
Each light still shining, deep in our hearts.

Lord, may your kindness reach all your people
Give to us mourners help with our tears.
Lord as we travel, hopeful and grieving,
Lighten our journey all of our years. (Written by Nick Ball).

Please pray that these words and other expressions of compassion and love will bring these families some solace, comfort and solidarity on their difficult journey. May they know they don’t travel alone.

Honest Christianity – what is really important?


If you follow football, you could be very happy or sad today. There has been 2 things of note in my life today, our hospital’s annual memorial service and the final day of this year’s premiership.

One of Bill Shankly’s (ex Liverpool FC manager) famous quotes is “Some people believe football is a matter of life and death, I am very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”

As much as I love the cleverness of this quote, in the light of being at a memorial service for 200 bereaved family members, as much as I love my football, this seems at little crass.

An ex Chelsea manager (yes one of many), has recently said “Football is the most important thing of the least important things in life ” Carlo Ancelotti.

This seems a bit more proportionate.

How ever you feel today, may this be your experience to sustain you thoroughly the ups and downs of what life brings bring that a seed of love has been sown in your life.