Ray Barker RIP
‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.
This saying is one of the most famous of those written down by Mother Julian of Norwich, a fourteenth century nun credited with being the first woman whose writings were published in English. The Church of England commemorates her feast day tomorrow. But these are also the last words I said to Ray, about twelve hours before he died on Saturday 25th April. ‘All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’.
I had also thanked him for everything he had done for so many of us, consoled him in his faith, administered holy oil, and told him we all loved him. It was a sad privilege, and this combined with the knowledge that his was a good life concluded with his unique blend of courage, concern for others, pragmatism, stoicism and faith, has made the loss of so lovely a man slightly easier to bear.
So we are here to mourn his death, of course, but we are also here to offer love and support to Rita and Carrie and Jo and the family. And we are here to cry – a bit – I daresay – but also to smile, even laugh. And we are here to give thanks, to Ray, and to God for all that he has been to us, with us, for us, over 78 years.
And there is so much to consider and celebrate, from loo rolls to Lancastrians in London; from publishing to Probus; from floodlights to football and finance. Ray’s has been a life well-lived, and fully lived, a lifespan neither short nor long, into which he packed so much: so many experiences, so much travel, so many friends, so much success, so much love. Rita has been there for 64 years of that time – 55 years married, but first connected at the age of 14 in those youth club days when she cycled from Tottenham to West Green to snaffle the handsomist lad around. Ray was quite new to London life, having moved down with his parents from Lancashire on an adventure which soon included Rita, and the rest is as they say, history. His life under the roof of this church stretches back 47 years, to the early days of The Glen.
The Glen is still a close knit community, but forty odd years ago with children growing up, there was a real family feel, of which Ray and Rita were and are still very much a part even after moving to Cockfosters. And then, as you know, as Ray’s illness took hold, came the move back to be at the heart of the Enfield Community around this church. It was a wise move, orchestrated by Ray, ever mindful of the future and of the inevitable, all to ensure that his beloved Rita would be close to friends and settled somewhere lovely. On his final day as well as the things I mentioned, I also promised Ray that we would look after Rita. And sure we will.
“All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”
For family was at the heart of Ray’s life and love. Many of us joined with Rita and Ray for their shared birthdays – the 70th party in 2006 was a real festival and the wonderful golden wedding celebrations a few years later. Such memories: as the reading that Jo read put it: “Let memories surround you… and if you do, you will never be apart”. Or as Andy’s poem put it, “we are memories and dreams…”, but most of all, we are love. They say that when you go you take nothing with you. Well it’s not quite true, for Ray takes with him a huge amount of love. And yet, at the very same time, he leaves us with so much too. And much else.
We have heard from Carrie and Andy about Ray’s story, his journey of life and of some of his achievements and successes, all of which you don’t need me to tell you, he was indecently modest about. Trying to get Ray to exalt himself or boast about anything was like trying to persuade the playgroup not to use any loo roll: impossible and unwise. Although a couple of years ago I did persuade him to be the after-dinner speaker at a Parish Dinner at the Golf Club. There and then, he shone, in the self-deprecating copper glow of a life full of events, surprises, funny turns and amazing encounters, Emperors and Presidents among them.
All of us here will know of spheres of life in which Ray excelled, combining good nature with effortless ability and gentlemanly conduct. His first love was the printing trade, through which he maintained involvement as a Liveryman of the Stationer’s Company – with whom he and I had a small connection, I having organized the Ash Wednesday Cakes and Ale Service at St Paul’s Cathedral a few times; and also services for the Guild of Freeman of which he was a keen member. His life in the City was enthusiastic, but although he was Renter Warden of the Worshipful Company of Stationers, his copious travelling meant he had to pass up the opportunity to be elected Master. He had also been Chairman of the Periodical Publishers Association – the port jug he is holding in the photo on the front of the service sheet was an award for that, and it still has pride of place on the sideboard. And of course, with his time at Macmillan’s about which so many of you know far more than I, it was there that he helped Nature regain its significance as a worldwide publishing phenomenon. As I understand it, on average 8 people read each copy, and it therefore has over 400,000 readers today. Ray probably deserved some kind of honour from the Queen for some of his work. It never came, although invitations to Royal Garden Parties did – three times, as we heard already.
Closer to home, Ray served as President of our local Probus Club a few years ago, and there were many achievements and significant contributions to the life of this, his parish church. Encouraged by his dear friend John Sampford, my predecessor here, Ray had several jobs which he undertook with skill, wisdom and enthusiasm in spite of a hectic travel diary. He was Chairman – with Rita – of the Stewardship Committee, and was Churchwarden for a three-year period and served on the PCC, too many times to count, we reckon. Some notable achievements marked the centenary of the church in 1983 – Ray made sure the floodlighting happened, and he was instrumental in the foundation of the Youth Club in the 1970’s. With Rita he was keenly involved in the Brownies and Guides, chairing, I think, the Guides and Brownies Parents’ Association.
All this was before I became Vicar in 2003, and I arrived to find him recently retired, and, in my opinion, in need of a job. I was delighted when he agreed to manage our Church Hall, succeeding the Lyalls and working alongside the late lamented Spencer Brown. His financial acumen – or wizardry even, increased the income seven fold and yet no bones were broken, arms twisted or writs issued… as far as I know. In his inimitable way he engendered success and tried to give others the credit. It is in this capacity that I have worked with him most closely, and indeed it was as Hall Chairman that he acquired a related role of toilet roll supremo. Never before in the field of resource management has so much loo roll been bought by one man. Nor indeed, that many kettles. A man who had achieved so much in life, in business, in publishing, in world-widening travel, was by no means beneath buying a gross of bog roll in Tesco’s and lugging it to the Church Hall for mass consumption by playgroups, parties and parishioners!
This was symptomatic of the Ray we knew and loved. A heart of gold, a gentle man of humility and ability, a gentleman of culture and sport (did I mention Spurs?). But above all, a man of love and of faith.
And it is because of this faith, that I was able to say to him, and he might say to us, echoing those words of Mother Julian, “All shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” Words that resonate down the centuries, founded on a faith in the resurrection hope we have in Jesus Christ. Words that rest on those words of Jesus we heard in our Bible reading, in which we are told not to be afraid. Ray was ready to die, he knew what was coming, and he approached it in an admirable, courageous exemplary way.
Here was a man who knew God and knew he was known by God.
Here was a man for whom the hope of heaven and redemption by Christ were real and relevant.
Here was a man who believed in Jesus Christ, the way the truth and the life.
And so while we honour him for that above all his achievements and accomplishments, we also rejoice with him over the resurrection life to which he has gone. Our Lord promised peace, and told us not to be troubled, nor to be afraid. Now Ray has attained that peace, where cares and fears are swallowed up in the victory of Christ and the love of God. This is the meaning of this funeral service – this thanksgiving for Ray’s life. And indeed, it is the very meaning of his life. On this Election Day – a day in which he would have taken a great deal of interest – on this Election Day he becomes one of God’s elect. And that is why, even in the midst of grief and sorrow, blended with thanksgiving and even celebration, that is why we can leave this place and go to ‘Ray’s Party’, knowing for sure, that all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
So it is that we bid our brother Ray, ‘Go in Peace’, until we meet again – not in flesh and blood – but in the glory of renewed, resurrection, eternal, love-filled life. I look forward to that day, as I hope you do. For all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.
The Rev’d Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield, May 7th 2015.