1st October 2021

The other week Margaret and I attended a Quaker funeral. Anne had died after two years and more of leukaemia. She and her husband Michael had been friends of ours all our lives from student days – we had been at their wedding in 1966 – so it was with a sense of real loss that we gathered with more than a hundred of her friends and family at Amersham in Buckinghamshire.

The funeral took the usual form for a Quaker service. After a gracious welcome to all, we sat in silence. About six people spoke at intervals as the Spirit led them. As we expected, people spoke in gratitude for Anne: her thoughtful faith, calmness, compassion, creativity as a poet, and as a peacebuilder, working as a teacher and counsellor among the Muslim and refugee communities in the area. It was a beautifully ecumenical occasion. Clergy and lay people from different denominations were there, including a black Pentecostal woman pastor. The local Imam was among those who voiced deep appreciation for her.

Most of the time, though, we were in silence. But the silences were not empty spaces. They were filled with a sense of grace and wonder, that such a treasured life had been given to us, and was now being received into her eternal rest. Just as in music a pause is not an interruption during which nothing happens, but a means of holding the tune in our hearts while waiting for the next bar to be heard, so these silences were eloquent: of love, human and divine. Silence really can be golden.

Keith Clements