The Dean’s Reflection column with John Dobson

The Cathedral's remembrance service will be on Sunday 12 November at 11.40am.
The Cathedral's remembrance service will be on Sunday 12 November at 11.40am.

“I’m sorry, I’m a funeral director,” he said, by way of introduction. Well, he didn’t have to apologise, and he proved to be a wonderfully engaging companion at dinner. I’m referring to Robert Morphet, the Rotary District Governor.

Nicola, my wife, and I found ourselves sitting next to him at the recent Charter Night of Ripon Rotary Club at the Ripon Spa Hotel. Coincidentally, I had been in that same room earlier in the day talking to a regional gathering of the WI.

They wanted to hear about my career. I joked that they didn’t look that desperate!

Like the Rotary Club, the WI brings people together in fellowship and galvanises them to make a positive difference.

So, in what was a busy day for the Spa Hotel, there was much celebration of outward-looking service, and that was especially the case with the evening when ninety years of Rotary in Ripon were being marked in a celebration presided over by Rotary President, Chris Tunnard. Having been a Rotarian myself for over twenty years, I have been encouraged and inspired by the Rotary motto “Service above self”.

So, I found myself learning about how the Rotary District Governor enjoys serving others through his professional role in Bradford. His commitment to meeting the needs of people at moments of great sadness and emotional turmoil is commendable.

Actually, I have found this to be the case with most funeral directors with whom I have worked. I suspect they represent one of those professions that we too-easily forget about until we need them.

Thinking about support for the bereaved is timely as November approaches.

November provides several opportunities for us to reflect and give thanks for those whom we have loved and who have died. The ‘big’ event, of course, is Remembrance Sunday, coming near to the anniversary of the 1918 armistice on 11 November.

After 99 years and far-too-many other conflicts, the words of the poem For the Fallen by Laurence Binyon still ring true, “With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, England mourns for her dead across the sea.” It is a reminder that for those who mourn, whether individuals, families, or whole communities, the impact of loss and separation continue to be felt for years. The Cathedral’s service is on Sunday 12 November at 11.40am – everyone is very welcome to join church, civic, military, and community representatives.

Like many churches, the Cathedral also holds an annual memorial service – Sunday 5 November, 3.30pm – when people can light a candle and have the names of loved ones included in the prayers. Everyone is welcome, whether their loved one’s funeral took place at the Cathedral or not, whether it took place months or decades ago.

Ripon Cathedral is keen to support those who are bereaved, and to remind them (whether they believe or not) of the foundation of the Christian faith – the belief that God’s gift of life and love to everyone cannot be destroyed by death.

Robert Morphet commented that many people assume they cannot request a church funeral, or a service led by a church minister, because they don’t attend church or are not sure what they believe.

He thinks this is a shame because they cut themselves off from the on-going support of the church. He is right! The Church of England especially exists to serve the whole nation – that is our role.

But all churches would want people to know that God’s love is for everyone and that people can turn to them for support, not least at times of bereavement.