|1:00pm||Doors open for sightseeing|
|4:00pm||Last entry for sightseeing|
Address given at the Funeral Service for Maurice Sills (11 July 2017) by the Right Reverend Christopher Chessun, Bishop of Southwark
The Bishop of Southwark remembers Maurice Sills RIP, a man 'full of faith, hope and love...and unfailing cheerfulness'.
I wish to begin with a snapshot, more accurately the last letter I received from Maurice at the beginning of Advent; and as I read it I hope you, like me, will hear his unmistakable voice:
‘The past year has made me “a museum piece”, with its gift of Maundy Money, the Mellitus Medal award from the Bishop of London, a St Paul’s party, as well as lunches and appearances on TV and various websites.
Over my life I have been influenced by so many Sunday and Day school teachers, staff colleagues, ex-pupils as well as the present ones at the Cathedral School, and by the care and guidance of a period of 40+ years of a wonderful wife. Contacts by mail, phone, and meetings of so many long-standing friends.
My sporting activities are failing, but those, both team-mates and opponents of the past, are still spectators with me at Lord’s or the Oval, but no longer do I visit Norwich for football.
It is still possible to go regularly to work at St Paul’s Cathedral and its school three days weekly.
Life is slowing up; how much longer are the pains of old-age to last? My attempts to wear myself out seem unsuccessful, but I cheerfully look forward to the promise of the life to come.’
The final paragraph of the main letter said simply:
‘So should my correspondence slow down you will understand why.’
Overleaf, however, with a whole page not to be wasted, there was a rather long Post Script in which Maurice spoke from the heart concluding as follows:
‘In this home…the staff admonish me for saying that I am ready to die … But I have much to be thankful for.
I am very grateful to the Dean for inviting me to give this address. 20 years ago Maurice invited me to preach at Ellen’s funeral which was held at St James’, Friern Barnet, and expressed the wish then that when the time came I might do likewise for him. Maurice regarded his partnership with Ellen as the great blessing of his life. They were married in 1954 at Immanuel Streatham Common, where he had also been baptised and confirmed, near the family home in West Norwood where Maurice and his five younger brothers, including triplets, were each born and where John still lives.
Maurice and Ellen devoted their working lives to their distinguished teaching careers and then the years that followed to St Paul’s as volunteers, but on Sundays worshipping always in a parish church, latterly St Michael’s Camden Town where Maurice much admired the zeal and dedication of a succession of parish priests, commenting in one of his letters, ‘a parish priest doing a good job is like gold dust’. Maurice admired what he saw in Ellen as her selflessness. He described her to me as a ‘practical Christian, far removed from outward show, but a quiet example to me, and to so many’. They - and particularly Ellen - hated waste and exchanged the same birthday cards year after year throughout their marriage. And when her life was ebbing away, with Ellen becoming increasingly distressed that she was unable to attend to her practical ministry of encouragement and support to others, Maurice simply drew deeply from the wellsprings of his strong faith and for days he comforted Ellen saying gently to her the words, ‘Breathe on us, Breath of God, Fill us with life anew’. Finally, when Ellen had found the peace for which she had been searching, she breathed her last. Three years later, when Maurice and his brother John came with me on pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he kept saying that in Jerusalem and Galilee he felt close to his Lord and close to Ellen and it was a blessing that he would continue to do so when he returned home to his daily life. This sprang from a deep and abiding trust in God. Maurice took to heart the words of our Lord in our Gospel reading: ‘Do not let you hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.’ (Jn 14. 1-2)
At the heart of our Christian faith lies the certain hope that we are all drawn into the eternity of God’s love as reflected in the joy of human love and as revealed most fully in the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are drawn through our faith into the great mystery that God shares in our humanity, and therefore in our joys and sorrows, in our relationships, in all the blessings and sufferings of this life. Christians believe this through the love of Jesus Christ who lived among us and died for us on the Cross and who raises us to share in his eternal life, that we might always be people with hope in our hearts.
Moreover each human life is a unique act of God’s love in creation and we are each unique and precious in his sight, each valued and loved by the Creator and each of us given the capacity and potential to reflect that love in the course of our journey through life. Whether the death of someone we love is sudden or expected, we are left coming to terms with physical loss and separation.
We shall all miss Maurice greatly: today we remember him and all he meant to us. In recent days there has been an outpouring of gratitude and affection among those wanting to express sorrow and sympathy and simply exchange memories. Fr Nicholas Wheeler, who quietly and faithfully ministered to Maurice in his final weeks, told me that in the first twenty-four hours following his death, 760 people had made some response to the news and the numbers have kept growing. Maurice died peacefully in the late afternoon of Sunday 25 June at Baxendale Care Home in Whetstone which he sampled for six weeks three years ago and when he decided to stay, he wrote to tell me he was only on probation but his one precondition was that he should be allowed out unaccompanied every weekday to come to St Paul’s. St Paul’s was the place Maurice kept returning to, for well over forty years as a volunteer, where he knew that as long as there was breath in his body he could be active and cheerful in the Lord’s service. He simply tried to be useful and helpful whether in the School, Chapter House, Library, Archives, or in proof reading final drafts of Orders of Service; but his first love was being among young people, whether encouraging the Choristers or facilitating school visits.
Maurice himself had a very youthful spirit and therefore was on the same wave length as his young audience. His final flourish for a visiting school party would often be at the foot of Holman Hunt’s great masterpiece, The Light of the World, describing the gentle depiction of Christ, holding a lamp and knocking at the door, then the Evangelist in him would take over and he would conclude that Jesus is at this very moment knocking on the door of our hearts. There is powerful symbolism in Maurice returning home to St Paul’s Cathedral for the last time and you will each have fond memories of Maurice. I encourage you to cherish these memories as we remember him today and the ways in which he lived his life well into his 102nd year, as the Dean was saying, full of faith, hope and love, to which I wish to add a fourth virtue which was so evident, his unfailing cheerfulness.
Maurice knew that the Christian faith rests on the unshakeable belief that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, and that although death comes to us all, it is not the end of the story, because in the fullness of God’s love life is changed not taken away. So my prayer, as we remember Maurice, with a smile on our faces and love in our hearts and deep thankfulness to God, is that the light of Christ may help us to turn to him in trust as we encounter the great mystery at the centre of our existence and that we may be renewed in faith, hope and love as we journey on.
Rest eternal grant to our brother Maurice, your good and faithful servant, O Lord at this his homecoming; and let light perpetual shine upon him. May he rest in peace.