Address from Bishop Michael’s funeral

Published: Tuesday May 30, 2017

Bishop MichaelAddress by the Very Revd Dr David Hoyle.

I arrived a bit late.  My first sight of Michael Perham was in April 2004; the day of the Confirmation of his Election as Bishop of Gloucester.  The final hymn was Ye choirs of new Jerusalem.  We will come back to the choirs of new Jerusalem.

I have two abiding memories of that evening in St Mary le Bow.  The first was the sight and sound of the Proctor of the College of Canons using the word porrect and saying Madam, I exhibit my proxy.  The second memory is seeing Michael, stand in front of Archbishop Rowan who spoke to him of what it might be to take risks for God.  Michael was always eager for the task, but as he stood alone that day, I glimpsed the immensity of the burden he carried for us and for God.

One of his admirers calls Michael fab-bishop which is one way of measuring him.  But he wasn’t a very big bishop.  He succeeded David Bentley who was seven foot in a mitre.   Michael told me that, as he left the cathedral on the day his ministry here began, he heard one Gloucestershire matron say to another, we dont get much for our money do we?

She got that wrong.

Another memory of that glorious day when he first came to this cathedral.  I was a member of Chapter, that involved one of those liturgical journeys that were such a feature of his ministry.  With Michael’s liturgies you got notes and a map.  That meant that I was with him when he finally stepped into the choir, where his family was seated.  That was when his four daughters got their first sight of Michael Francis, by divine permission Lord Bishop of Gloucester and, bless them, they took in the mitre and the staff and they giggled.

Which brings me to one of the most important things I need to say.  Most of us here remember a Father in God, a liturgist and so on.  For a privileged few Michael was husband, father, brother.  The ministry we celebrate rested on the foundations that they laid.  Of two things I could be certain, when I was with Michael.  We would talk about church and we would talk about his family.  He was so gently proud of them.  What he did, they made possible.  His confidence came from a home in which he was admired, teased, loved and sustained; a home in which we were all endlessly welcome.  Alison, Rachel, Anna, Sarah, Mary – Michael died in the providence of God, in the hope of Easter and surrounded by your love.  Exactly as he would have had it.  We share only a tiny part of your loss and we thank you, each of you, for what you too have given us.

Now, I got this job, preaching today, on 27 September last year.  Michael had been taken to hospital the night before and heard the diagnosis. Twelve hours later, I tipped up, thinking this would be a pastoral visit.  I should have known better.  We talked a bit about how you say the office if you do not have the books and then he said

We need to talk about my funeral.  I want you to preach.  I want you to preach because you will say something about me and something about God.

Note that.  Michael wants us to give glory not to him, but to God today.

He has helped us.  He has given us our liturgy today.  He chose this and, some of it, he wrote.  Our final blessing is Michael’s voice, so is the Intercession.  It gives glory to God.    Something about me and something about God.

He chose this.  And he yet he left me with a choice of gospel reading.  He told me I must choose between two gospel readings, John 6 (which we heard) or Luke, and the Emmaus Road.

They are both Eucharistic passages.  Michael was what Michael Ramsey called a man of the eucharist.  We are all people of the eucharist.  We have to be.  In all the words and outcomes and agendas and vision statements of the church we must come here and do this because this is what Christ did for us.   Michael knew that.  In his New Handbook of Pastoral Liturgy – after a careful description of Ember Days and Advent wreaths – he went up through all the gears.

In the eucharist… We bring to God his world, and in our communion we taste and see how he satisfies.  In the eucharist we call down the Spirit who touches and transforms, not only bread and wine, but people and relationships… (p.253).

The eucharist is what Christ did and what Christ makes us.  Here we have to die to live.  Here we are made human and become a company.  The liturgy helps that happen.  So, the liturgist in Michael thought, the gospel today should be Emmaus.  Emmaus, in a sense, was always his gospel.

And yet he handed me this choice.

He did that because despite his lifelong commitment to the action of breaking bread and he talked about that so well, he wanted us to remember always that it is not even the liturgy in the end that counts, but the place it takes us.

In a sermon in Oxford, eight years ago, he said this

Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” … We have [our] treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us

This extraordinary power belongs to God.  Eucharist is thanksgiving because it is a gift of God.  That is why John 6 matters.  The crowd on the hill had nothing.  They were fed out of God’s abundance and God’s generosity.  That is the point; we give thanks because we are grateful, indebted.  Meister Eckhart said, ‘If the only prayer you say is thank you it will be enough’.

Michael made the ministry of thanksgiving his own.   He wrote about creation singing the Creator’s praise but did not wnat us to think about how well we are doing when we are praising God.

It is not what they do but what God does.

This funeral had to be a Eucharist, of course it did.  And Michael would have been delighted by our thanksgiving today, but Michael would want all this offered back to God who gave us this, gave us Michael.

How many clergy here, heard him pray over them, as they received the cure of souls?

Receive it confidently.

Serve Christ joyfully.

Put your trust in God.

He is faithful.

We are so fascinated with ourselves and Michael always wanted us to put the book, or the mirror down and lift our eyes to heaven.

And then, there is something else.

John 6 has all those crumbs, all that gathering together

from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets   John 6:13

Twelve baskets, one for each of the tribes of Israel. Not an accident, everyone is gathered in, everyone is included.  God acts, we receive, and our communion creates community.  Surely, that was the great theme of Michaels’ episcopate.  He believed in church; he so wanted us to be church.

Liturgy, he said, was playing at heaven, he wanted us to be the church that longs for and lives the Kingdom.  He wanted us to reconciled with one another and, diverse and inclusive.  He committed to the ministry of women.  He committed to the Franciscans, understood their place in the richness of our life.   He committed to those hard, wonderful conversations with El Camino Real and Western Tanganyika.  There was the commitment to India and to Sweden.  And he swept us along.  I was skeptical, actually I was downright grumpy.  I was sent for three days to Uppsala and came back grinning from ear to ear.  Yet one more person, borne along on the tide of Michael’s good grace.

Let’s not forget, in all our seriousness, today that this good and gracious man bounced through his ministry with energy, enthusiasm and with humour.  He smiled. I must remember that and I must smile more.

On his episcopal ring were the words ut unum sint, that they may be one.  He brought us together for teaching and for pilgrimage, for prayer and praise.  He brought us together in his home, in the cathedral, in deaneries, in synod and in meetings – he was a very good chairman.

And of course, he wanted us to be Church to share the inheritance of the saints.  Michael loved the saints.  All those collects, blessings and intercession a hundred or so contributions to Common Worship.  And always the saints and angels.  My own favourite is the collect for Lancelot Andrewes where you hear both Michael and Bishop Andrewes

perfect in us that which is lacking in your gifts,
of faith, to increase it,
of hope, to establish it,
of love, to kindle it,
that we may live in the light of your grace and glory

No one here needs me to tell them that prayer mattered to Michael.  The last conversation we had, on Good Friday was a conversation about prayer.  It wasn’t just that he prayed, wrote about prayer, led us in prayer… he prayed for us.  He worked his way through a list of names.  And he lived with a list of names, the names of the host of heaven.

He loved the church, he wanted us to be church.  The clergy are not good at loving the church.  I had a brush with my confessor years ago when I grumbled about my parishioners and I got a roasting.  Quite right too.  For years after I had the words of the Common Prayer Ordination service on my desk

Have always therefore printed in your remembrance, how great a treasure is committed to your charge. For they are the sheep of Christ, which he bought with his death…

Michael’s legacy to us is rich in texts, but do not look for him there.  Remember the man, the love of communion, the love of us, the theological legacy that tells us that when we step into church we enter the theatre of redemption.  Here we can be what God would have us be.

In that hope and that joy he lived and died.  That explains the extraordinary grace and resilience we saw in testing times.  That explains the irrepressble enthusiasm, that explains the energy that never left him.

We sang Ye choirs of new Jerusalem that day when his election as bishop of this diocese was confirmed.  I have always been inclined to think heaven is a feast.  Michael knew it was a choir, the concert of praise, the harmony of lives.  To that company, and that choir, we commit him in such bitter sorrow for he was husband, father, friend.  But we are grateful, for he reminds us to be church and sustain one another.  And we are confident, because he knew, and we know, that God will be faithful to him

Something about me, something about God.  We can’t think, or speak, of Michael without speaking of God and of his church.  In gratitude then, we commend Michael in the company of angels and saints and we commit oursleves, once more, to that full communion in which Michael lives and we hope; now and forever.

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