by Josie Smith.
I have just celebrated – or endured – my ninety-third birthday, in faith and in constant pain. I am in the mood to share a few thoughts, both frivolous and serious, before the surgeon’s scalpel or the Grim Reaper’s scythe get me. I await events with interest.
As my late husband said as he (a mere 85 at the time) endured the final stages of colorectal cancer ‘Dying doesn’t worry me – it’s just that getting there is so difficult.’
The first Thought is frivolous. I realised when I became ninety-two that had I been the Biblical Sarah I would now have been living with a small boy in the Terrible Twos, without my mother to guide me in coping with his ever-changing needs, moods and demands. That thought alone would be enough to cure biblical literalism.
But as a cradle Methodist I never had much time for frivolity. We were brought up in a sound Wesleyan tradition of church twice every Sunday, plus Sunday School in the afternoon. There followed the then traditional pattern – Youth Club, teenage conversion, Church Membership with the very grown-up permission to receive Holy Communion, Sunday School teaching. By the age of thirty I was Superintendent of a Sunday School with twenty-five teachers and a hundred and twenty-five children. My family included a Circuit Steward (one of whose friends was an ex-Vice-President of Conference, no less) a Mission Secretary in one of the big city missions, a couple of church organists, a Women’s Meeting president – though I was the first in my family to be a regular member of Methodist Conference. It would have taken courage to opt out of all that. But I never wanted to…….
In the fifth church I attended, counting the one in which I was baptised, I became aware of the ecumenical element, when we lived in a small rural village and attended the too-large and crumbling Methodist church and the venerable village C.of E. alternately, and the vicar drafted us in (I married a local preacher, naturally, and son of the manse, inevitably!!) to run the combined Sunday School in our house.
And now, in the tenth church (you can get through a lot of churches in ninety-odd years and in a few house moves around the country) I am a member of both the Methodist Church and the Anglican Church in an ecumenical partnership. And where I live now we work together with other local faith communities. Leading prayers recently (I no longer take services but this is something I can still do) I said something like this:
‘Enable us to respect the faith of others and to be strong in our own. We try to put our faith into words, creeds, expressions of belief – and we fail, because language is not rich enough, words are not big enough, to say what we mean. But we can speak our faith by what we do and how much we love. Help us.’
I have had a full and fulfilled life, one way and another. I ought to have reached the years of wisdom, and be uttering profound theological statements wrought during years of wrestling (with angels, Superintendent Ministers and others) but all I want to do today is to send you Love and Peace (I sign off my emails that way now) and my prayer that you find the love of God and your faith in God to be your motivation, and become the saint you were designed to be.
Meanwhile I await the surgeon, or the chap with the scythe, and of course death, which is the culmination of earthly life for all of us. My final experience. Bring it on!