Address given at the funeral of Audrey Jenkins
I’ve been Vicar here for nearly 17 years now and Audrey and John were here when I arrived. Audrey was a mere 70 then, and with John was in the habit of enjoying bowls, holidays and helping with the Talking Newspaper. All those three dimensions of her life are well-represented here today, and we have heard about them and more from Alison, Chris and Hilary in their eulogy earlier. Some of those holidays I went on too – organised even. The first one was when we sailed around Turkey in the Steps – or rather wake – of St Paul, back in 2004. We had two little boats: the Orpheus and the Olympus, Turkish gulets, they were, and our group as divided in half. I was on the Orpheus, as is right for a musician I suppose, and John and Audrey, with Ian and Sylvia Hennen, Colin and Linda Couch, and John Puddicombe, and my mother Glenice, were on the Olympus. We all had a great time, but it seemed to me, looking over the bow as it were that the gang on the Olympus had the best of times, playing cards and generally getting on like the proverbial house on fire. It was a memorable trip, and indeed a rare one.
Two years later we went to Egypt, cruising down the Nile, again with my mother assisting. More happy memories, more laughs, more pre-prandial – and post-prandial drinkies and much repartee among those, like Audrey and John who were teachers, and who therefore spoke their own language and understood one another so well. And then, in 2012 we went to Jordan, a big group, which as well as Audrey and John included Bob and Alison and Hilary. Again we had a wonderful trip, seeing Petra, Amman, and venturing into the desert where we even bumped into Lawrence of Arabia’s stem train, parked up, as it were. And of course also the trip to Oberammergau, to see the famous Passion Play. Happy days. And some funny memories too, Audrey and John too, mounted on some beast of burden, beit Jordanian donkey or Egyptian camel, shall we say, not quite in control!
All those journeys: We are all on a journey, from cradle to grave. And now, alas, after a long life, Audrey’s journey has come to an end. As St Paul – in whose wake we sailed in 2004 – as he put it, the time for departing has come. Audrey has run the race, fought the good fight, sailed the boat even, and now her reward – the crown of righteousness is prepared for her. Here in church – in this nave, we are in a boat – the ark in which we navigate our Christian journeys, through the storms and calms of life. We gather here for baptisms, weddings, funerals, Sunday services, Easter and Christmas. And as another Christmas approaches – this one unique among many as it will come so close on saying farewell to Audrey, whose empty seat will be keenly felt – this Christmas we remember our family and the greater family of which we are a part.
Life is one big boat journey, made with family and friends, strangers even, who become travelling companions. Audrey has been our companion through life: we have sailed with her, we have eaten bread with her, we have shared the eucharist with her. This means we are not only fellow companions we are fellow pilgrims.
Bishop Brent wrote a fairly famous passage about the final boat journey of life. Entitled ‘What is dying?’ it goes like this:
I am standing on the seashore, a ship sails in the morning breeze and starts for the ocean. She is an object of beauty and I stand watching her till at last she fades on the horizon and someone at my side says: “She is gone.”
Gone! Where? Gone from my sight that is all. She is just as large in the masts, hull and spars as she was when I saw her, and just as able to bear her load of living freight to its destination. The diminished size and total loss of sight is in me, not in her, and just at the moment when someone at my side says, “She is gone” there are others who are watching her coming, and other voices take up a glad shout: “There she comes!” and that is dying.
As well as travelling with Audrey there are other things too. Audrey’s commitment to the talking newspaper is legendary, and some of you here have been on that journey with her too, for many years. In this Advent season we think of light in darkness, and may be reminded of that passage which was only read last Sunday, where Jesus sends a message to John the Baptist that he can tell the Messiah is near because the lame are walking and the blind see. Those of you who read for the Enfield Talking Newspaper are ministers of light in darkness, enabling the blind, if not to see exactly, but to hear the light of the word in print made audible. It is a true gift to those in the darkness of blindness.
More significant still is the years of service, commitment and love that Audrey has given to the teaching profession. Teachers are special people, that rare breed of people who use their hearts and minds and bodies to serve the future. We all know that the teaching profession has had its challenges, politically, socially, financially and emotionally these last few years, but teachers stick with it, driven by their love of learning and desire to see future generations blessed and equipped for the life ahead. It is a true vocation and there is no greater gift to impart than education. We all have had a mother and we all have had teachers, and some of us have been blessed by a person, like Audrey, who is both.
So now it is almost Christmas, and we are here to remember and give thanks for Audrey’s life, for all the things she did, for all that she believed, for all that she was, to each of us and to everyone else. As a teacher, a woman of faith, a mother, a wife, whose commitment to family and to young people was superlative, John and the family felt that the cradle song, ‘Away in a Manger’ would be appropriate. Appropriate particularly for its last verse, in which, in a sense, is much of what I have been saying, as we combine a gratitude for Audrey’s life and work; the upcoming celebration of Christmas, and the hope of heaven in which we and Audrey place our trust.
Be near me, Lord Jesus; I ask thee to stay
Close by me for ever, and love me, I pray.
Bless all the dear children in thy tender care,
And fit us for heaven, to live with thee there.
We shall sing it in a moment. But let me also take you back to the beginning: we began our service with the hymn, ‘Here I am Lord’, which Audrey wanted to be brought into church with.
Here I am, Lord.
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard you calling in the night.
I will go, Lord, if you lead me.
I will hold your people in my heart.
Words almost from Audrey’s own mouth, about her service to education and faith in Christ. And now she is going, going on the last part of that journey to her eternal home – crossing to the other side, fit for heaven, led by Jesus, holding us all in her heart, for ever. So as we bid farewell, we anticipate the day when we too will make that journey, to rise in glory with Audrey and all the saints. Amen.
The Rev’d Dr Gordon Giles, St Mary Magdalene, Enfield,
Thursday 19th December 2019