Sybil’s Funeral

Sybil Clutton's funeralThe Funeral of Mrs Sybil Clutton, Churchwarden Emeritus, took place at St Mary Magdalene’s on Friday 20th January 2012 at 11.30am.

Sybil Clutton RIP

Her name, Sybil, means ‘prophetess’, and she rightly predicted – but only just – that she would not live to a hundred. And it has to be admitted that this is a day that we have anticipated for a while. It is a day that Sybil herself anticipated, and we might even say looked forward to. During her last years she often spoke of wanting to be with Harold, of being ready to go. Sybil’s faith, and her fortitude almost competed – she was ready to go to be with her Lord, but longevity was hers, and to some extent what was, in her a blessing for us, was perhaps also some small burden for her.

The Funeral of Mrs Sybil Clutton, Churchwarden Emeritus, took place at St Mary Magdalene’s on Friday 20th January 2012 at 11.30am.

And yet, even though Sybil’s passing has come as no surprise to most of us, there are two dimensions that we would never have predicted. For we, and Sybil, have a God of surprises. Firstly, dear Sybil passed away one day before her hundredth birthday. The card from Her Majesty and the telegram from Ian Duncan Smith – Minister for Work and Pensions – had arrived on the 29th, one day ready for the big day. I have them here.

But the big day never came, and Sybil went to be with Harold on the day they arrived. I had visited her in hospital late the previous evening, and Stephen Taylor, Vicar of next door parish St Michaels and formerly curate here, was the first to arrive after she died. As she passed through death to life, her falling asleep was flanked by the prayers of the church. And she would have wished for that – for that is the proper way, and Sybil was nothing if not proper – in faith, life and friendship.

Her funeral – this day – this moment, was carefully planned – she wrote on a service sheet what hymns and readings she wanted, and of course we honour her choices as we honour her today. Psalm 23, yes, but also the lovely and rarely sung ‘Like a mighty river flowing’. The words are worth paying attention to. And the tune, of course: an ancient German Christmas Carol.

Fitting, as Sybil was a Christmastide baby. A hundred years ago today, when the Ridgeway was a dirt track and the M25 an inconceivable pipedream, a hundred years ago her mother nursed her, and probably wondered what kind of life Sybil would have and perhaps even how long it would be. I bet she did not expect her daughter to live to a hundred. Nor would she, nor Sybil herself, as she grew up, have expected that her funeral, aged a hundred, would be attended by a hundred people. Nor indeed, that it would be surrounded by the scaffolding of restorers cleaning what were then the recently installed paintings at St Mary Magdalene’s. These wall paintings behind me, which you can’t see, are less than twenty years older than Sybil. So the other surprise, which we could hardly have predicted, is that we would have to surround Sybil with scaffolding on her last journey.

But then, how appropriate is that? Sybil has propped us up enough times during her long life. Her devotion to Harold – and his memory – and her devotion to the people and fabric of St Mary Magdalene’s were the purpose of her adult life. Sybil was part of the foundations, the scaffolding of this parish church, for fifty years. Part of the reason we gather here today is to express gratitude for that – not so much to her, but to God, for all that he did in her, for us, our predecessors and our successors. The debt that we owe to Sybil is incalculable, not leastly because there are so few of us who have been around long enough to actually know and appreciate the impact of her long presence here. The Fellowship met on Wednesday and we remembered Sybil especially and reflected upon her extensive contribution to that group, and recalled days when meetings were regularly attended by seventy people.

Nevertheless the person who would be able to speak best about Sybil’s legacy is sadly, unable to join us. When Sybil was Churchwarden, and after the Reverend Cyril Witts retired, Sybil, and Richard Shone, were charged with finding a successor. Assisted by the Bishop of Edmonton – her friend Bill Westwood – whom I’m told also referred to her as Auntie Sybil – they found John Sampford, my beloved predecessor. John,and Mary, and Sybil became very close, and it was a great sadness to her when John retired in 2001 and moved away. I came in early early 2003, and I remember meeting Sybil for the first time, only to be told in no uncertain terms – ‘well, you’re not John, are you?’. For this I apologized, and we got on fine thereafter. But it was clearly her intention and her hope, that when the day came, John should be the officiant, at this, her funeral.

Sadly, that cannot be, indeed, dear John cannot even be here with us. Yet he and Mary are thinking of us all now, just as we are thinking of them. Knowing this, I asked him to write something, and I shall now read it verbatim, on his behalf, as tribute to Sybil from her Vicar of 22 years, who became, if truth be told, something of a son to her.


Mary and I would want you to know, on this special day that we are with you in our thoughts and prayers. Verna, Robert, Rosemary, all members of the family, and all of Sybil’s friends who share with us such wonderful memories.

Sybil never wanted to be 100 years old and she was not, but she was very old, the generations have rolled away and the memories have gone with them. Memories of the child who walked along the Ridgeway to school in Enfield every day, who grew up on the farm with a loving family around her, the Bride who married her Harold, who made their home on the Ridgeway, a welcoming home always and in WW2 a home from home for the young Canadian airmen who became lifelong friends. Motor racing, Chelsea FC and St Mary Magdalene were important in a lifestyle tragically changed by the untimely death of Harold in 1972.

Just three things directed the rest of Sybil’s life, her love for the Lord Jesus, her undying love for Harold and her love for The Church of St Mary Magdalene. She took on and continued and Harold’s work as Churchwarden until, after 8 years she stepped down and took over the leadership of a small parish group The Women’s Fellowship. It was swiftly renamed The Fellowship and an empire was born. Membership doubled and doubled again, they met monthly with speakers, they supported the Thursday morning service, maintained a memorial book, remembered birthdays, made cakes on a massive scale, ran the raffles large and small, made coach trips and visits all over the place. It was done with the telephone, with the powerful personality of Sybil and above all with her astonishing memory for people and everything about them. Sybil Clutton was a mobile database for family and parish. But above all that The Fellowship became a pastoral network which touched the lives of many people. It was Sybil’s gift to her church.

For more than 30 years, with help from her friend Paul, 63 The Ridgeway and its garden were kept as Harold had arranged things long ago. Sybil lived alone but her beloved extended family were always in her thoughts: a vital part of her telephone network. There were many friends who also lived alone, some housebound, some very ill and those near to the end of their lives, Sybil and her Volvo brought them help and the assurance they were not forgotten. It is a cause for thanksgiving that in her last years she received from David and Christine, family and friends the same loving care.

Sybil died peaceful at the last, full of faith, her expectation of being with her beloved Harold undimmed and full of memories of those who had crossed her path or shared a part of her long journey.

Peace, Sybil.

John Sampford 1/12

You will know that in Sybil’s last years at 63 The Ridgeway, she became increasingly fragile, and having sold her car in her mid nineties, was eventually unable to get here for worship. It’s hard to pinpoint when her last service here was – but her cushion with her name on remains – and will continue to do so. So as is right and customary, we went to her, and for a few years we would celebrate communion in her lounge or dining room, usually about 10 of us. Then came the move to Bullsmoor Lodge, and now after two years there, it is all over. An era has ended. Sybil takes with her, much history, many stories, her mobile database, and her wise counsel.

And yet, it is not all over. It is not over for Sybil herself and it isn’t really all over for us either. For Sybil the new life she anticipated and looked forward to – new life in Christ, with Harold and with all those whom she loved for so long but got used to seeing no longer. For Sybil this is all over, but a new creation is all just beginning in a better, resurrection light. Her faith, her hope and her love are now transformed. Just as the scaffolding behind me foretells a revealing of beauty and delight to come, so too does Sybil’s passing point us and her towards a greater light and joy of resurrection life and eternal hope and divine love.

And even for us who remain, for us, none of whom were her exact contemporaries, it is not over for us either. For we can and will hold and cherish something of the person, the character, the spirit of Sybil. The spirit of the remarkable, faithful, beloved Christian saint and prophet who was and who will always be to us, our dear departed, and fondly remembered Sybil.

Until we meet again, she now rests in peace, and will surely rise in glory. Amen.

Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield 20/1/12