In my father’s house are many mansions.
I FIRST MET Chris nearly five years ago in one of these mansion’s-where else you may say? – in Upton Church- one of the churches I look after. The little village church was packed. It had just been “nadfassed”, and we were receiving our report from the group of Church-recorders that Chris led. I rapidly realised that I was in the presence of a competent, efficient and well-organized enthusiast.- and I was to discover later that she was also a woman of strong opinions and exacting standards. The report, as you mostly would expect was beautifully set out, and I knew straight away that I wanted all my other churches recorded by Chris and her team; and I said so at the time. You can imagine my pleasure when Chris rang over three years ago to discuss whether it should be Marholm or Castor next- it was decided that it would be a two year project on Castor. You can also imagine my sadness when I was approached some 4 months ago and asked whether Chris could have her funeral here. And here we are; the final visit to this church by Chris’s team of recorders was to be take place in the seven days between Chris’ death and today.
In my father’s house are many mansions- and we are gathered here in one of them to pay tribute to her life, thank God for it.
But of course her story begins, and the seeds were sown many years before. Her story begins in Berlin, where in 1941 she was born and spent her early childhood. Most of us, living on this island, can have no real concept of the ravages to life caused by a land war in our streets; the wholesale destruction; the struggle for basic survival; and the disruption to and separation of families caused by political and psychological factors beyond all control. For as a growing girl this was to be Chris’ story. She wanted to train as a Graphics designer, but even this remained unfinished- her mother died when she was 16. It was not until she was able to live in West Germany, and she was able to rejoin her father, who was to be Colonel in the refounded German Air Force, that her life assumed some sort of normality that we would take for granted. But by then much had been missed, including the opportunity to satisfy her academic instincts.
It was also at this time, in 1960 she met Michael, And they were married in Butterfield’s Church- St Augustine of Canterbury in Kensington. After their marriage they blazed the trail as prototypical hippies, emigrating forever to India, but returning after 6 months with powerful memories. Michael and Chris assumed a more conventional lifestyle in Barnet, where Min and Lucy were born, before they came up to join an Architects practice in Stamford in 1971. During all this time Chris was to show not only how organised she was, and how efficient but how energetic- She taught at Pboro Regional College where she met David and Rita Bond; she ran a successful 2-man catering business. And all the time she remained a superb home-maker, a brilliant mother. Always available for her children.
Life was to change again about ten years ago. Michael was an architect, Chris had a natural interest in aesthetics; they now had time to visit old churches together, Michael to draw, and Chris to look. In my father’s house are many mansions; and some of them proved a time of peace; a haven for them during a turbulent period.
Chris was taken to a NADFAS meeting by Dorothy Fisher; and something about NADFAS touched her interest, perhaps the answer to an unfulfilled calling as a practical academic, with an interest in the arts, culture, history and design. Chris quickly became a Team Leader for Peterborough and Stamford Church Recorders, and additionally the East Midlands representative, and joined the National Committee. One of the many projects she had on the go when she died was a Training Package to be used nationally for recorders. Churches became a passion for her.
Many of you will know John Betjemann’s introduction to his book “In Praise of Churches”.
“ I know of no greater pleasure than church-crawling. It leads you to the remotest and quietist country. It introduces you to the history of England in stone and wood and glass which is always truer than what you read in books. You meet all sorts of people on your travels”.
This was Chris. This was how I first met her. This is why she and we are here in this place today. In my father’s house are many mansions- and it seems Chris, in the last ten years, had visited most of them
And during all this time she still prepared a home for her family; Chris loved food and cooking, her kitchen was her kingdom where all gathered; home was where she gardened and embroidered; did her crosswords, and as an affectionate and tactile person she was to be a lovely grandmother as well as wife and mother.
But in the last weeks of her life I was to discover something else about her as we prepared for this day. Her courage, her bravery against all odds, and her honesty. At one low point we recalled Our Lord’s last words during the dereliction on the Cross. My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me- the permission God gives us to acknowledge the low points, to doubt, to struggle in our attempts to make sense of life. Her gallant sense of humour, her honesty in accepting her condition, as we gathered with her family for the last rites and last communion, in preparation for this day.
Many here are interested in churches- but take time today to look not at the historical story it tells, but the eternal story- the struggle to make sense of our world. I would like you to look about this church, to look at something Chris and I talked about. Look at the Font at the back near the door; the place we start our journey, in our attempt to see through the glass albeit but darkly; then look up at the High Altar; the symbol of the place we are seek- the presence of God; the place where the Mass has been offered for centuries, and is still offered for the quick and the dead, in Christ’s sacramental presence.
Now look at the Nave Roof.- see the Angels and Archangels in the centre, and in the aisle roofs, the saints, martyrs and ordinary people, the company of heaven. It is a 3-dimensional piece of theology, recalling those famous words said by the priest in the Mass, before the most solemn point: “Therefore with angels and archangels, and the whole company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious name ever-more praising thee and singing Holy, Holy, Holy.” We may feel forsaken but we are not alone. When Jesus was a child, his parents lost him, and found him after three days in the temple. He said, Did you not expect to find me in my Father’s house. In my father’s house are many mansions. This is one of them Chris has been in so many of God’s houses here on earth, with her somewhat Benedictine spirituality: laborare est orare, et orare est laborare- to work is to pray and to pray is to work. She has prepared a place for so many in her home; she now goes to a place prepared for her in her heavenly Father’s house. While we are in this earthly house, she is with the angels, archangels and the whole company of heaven. We have no record of the furnishings and fittings, but we do know about the company; and we do have the promise, of which our Nave Roof reminds us, that we celebrate with the whole company of heaven. In the funeral, the sprinkling with the water of baptism reminds us, not just about our promises, but God’s promise to us of healing, redemption and new life. We honour her with incense, as her body had been a temple of the Holy Spirit while with us; as a symbol our prayers go with her on this final journey.
We are rightly sad at her death; she was so much to so many people; a much-loved wife to Michael, mother to Min and Lucy, grandmother to Laura, James and Rosanna. But we also give thanks to God for her life, a life that gave so much, and for the fact that her body really is at peace, free from discomfort and frustration of illness.
Some-one wrote to Michael, “sic monumentum requiris, circumspice”- the famous words on Wren’s tomb in St Paul’s Cathedral. If you want a monument look about you. The completion of the NADFAS Record for this church means that it is also true of Chris in this place. May she rest in peace. Amen.