Kind, per­sonal and Bi­b­li­cal ... why ad­dress at Wil­liam Dun­lop’s fu­neral was per­fect

Belfast Telegraph - - LIFE -

Many thou­sands of words have been writ­ten and spo­ken about the un­timely death of the road racer Wil­liam Dun­lop, but it is some­thing that is un­speak­able, and lit­er­ally be­yond words.

The aw­ful tragedy is that road rac­ing is un­for­giv­ing as well as ex­hil­a­rat­ing, and that death or se­ri­ous in­jury are al­ways in the back­ground.

The other harsh re­al­ity is that when all the trib­utes have been paid, and when the re­porters and tele­vi­sion cam­eras have faded away, it is Wil­liam’s part­ner Ja­nine and lit­tle daugh­ter Ella, and the wider fam­ily, who will have to deal with this numb­ing grief for the rest of their lives. Our hearts go out to them.

Wil­liam’s fu­neral ser­vice this week was mov­ing and dig­ni­fied, and my thoughts were also with the Rev John Kirk­patrick, who of­fi­ci­ated.

He has the unique and un­en­vi­able record of of­fi­ci­at­ing also at the fu­neral ser­vices of those other huge road rac­ing fig­ures, Wil­liam’s fa­ther Robert and un­cle Joey, who also died in sim­i­larly tragic cir­cum­stances.

Mr Kirk­patrick’s fu­neral ad­dress for Wil­liam was a model of its kind.

It was per­sonal, elo­quent, com­pas­sion­ate and deeply Bi­b­li­cal.

At such a time of deep loss and emo­tion, a Chris­tian ser­vice can bring great com­fort in the midst of dark­ness.

How­ever, that is not to de­cry other re­li­gious fu­neral ser­vices. Each per­son has his or her own way of seek­ing com­fort in the midst of grief.

Sadly, how­ever, some Chris­tian fu­neral ser­vices are not in the least com­fort­ing. There are still min­is­ters who use the oc­ca­sion to preach hell-fire ser­mons and to be­rate a cap­tive au­di­ence.

I heard of one such fu­neral which was held re­cently in ru­ral Ul­ster where the preacher glo­ried in his tem­po­rary power to be heard and crit­i­cised ev­ery­one but him­self.

This is the kind of thing which gives the Churches such a bad name, but peo­ple should not put up with it. I am at a stage where I make my views known qui­etly to a preacher af­ter­wards and there is noth­ing wrong with dis­sent ex­pressed in the right way.

Sadly, Ul­ster peo­ple do not speak their mind to the clergy, but even worse they sim­ply vote with their feet by leav­ing the Church com­pletely. No won­der the num­bers are drop­ping, though there are many other rea­sons for this as well.

The delivery of a fu­neral ad­dress is not easy and we of­ten tend to un­der­es­ti­mate what it takes out of the speaker.

I have de­liv­ered sev­eral ad­dresses at the fu­ner­als of fam­ily mem­bers, neigh­bours and friends, and I found it a great challenge and re­spon­si­bil­ity as well as a priv­i­lege to pay per­sonal and col­lec­tive tribute to the per­son who died.

So of­ten at fu­ner­als we dis­cover, to our sur­prise or shame, that we are learn­ing some­thing new that is beau­ti­ful, im­pres­sive and in­spir­ing about the per­son we thought we knew.

I re­call a for­mer mem­ber of my own church called Bert whom I vis­ited reg­u­larly, but it was only at his fu­neral that I heard that he had been one of the first Bri­tish sol­diers to lib­er­ate Belsen con­cen­tra­tion camp. He had never told me about it.

There is also a dark hu­mour about this whole sub­ject. One day I was phoned by a man who had re­cently heard me pay tribute at Roselawn cre­ma­to­rium to a de­ceased friend.

He said: “You spoke very well. My mate died to­day, could you speak for him?” I had to tell my caller gen­tly that it does not work like that. It is bet­ter to have known the per­son well be­fore you speak at his or her fu­neral.

Sadly fu­ner­als, like death and taxes, are among the cer­tain­ties in our lives, and the older you get the more fre­quent they be­come. On such an oc­ca­sion you and I, and the fam­ily in par­tic­u­lar, don’t need to be preached at.

What we need above all is thanks­giv­ing and recog­ni­tion for the life of the de­ceased, as well as com­fort and in­spi­ra­tion from the Scrip­tures, and the deep re­as­sur­ance that death in­deed has no sting, and that the grave has no vic­tory.

Tragic loss: mourn­ers gather as the cof­fin of Wil­liam Dun­lop (left top) is car­ried into Gar­ry­duff Pres­by­te­rian Church. Left bot­tom, his part­ner Ja­nine and mother Louise. Be­low, Rev John Kirk­patrick

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