Saturday, 20 August 2011


Christian prayer often seems to be a matter of giving good advice to God. God is probably responding: my dearly beloved, I do not need your advice.  I simply want you to listen to the heart-beat of the universe”. 

  I found a little snake in my home today.  It was no more than 2 ½ inches long.  I think that it came in out of the rain.

 I am preaching at the 8:00 and 10:00 Eucharists tomorrow (Aug 21st 2011) at St. Boniface Church.  

When I began to preach (at aged 16 years) I was filled with certainties about God, Jesus and the Bible.

51 years later I have fewer certainties. Maybe my preaching is better.

But it’s much harder to put a sermon together than it used to be.

  I was chatting with a local handyman on Friday last.  I told him that I am 68 years old.    As he drove away I remembered that I am “only” 67!

In a moment of “hurry” I bought a barbecued chicken at my local “Publix” supermarket earlier today.  Boy  -  was it over-cooked and dry. I redeemed a bit of it for my supper, wrapping it in soft tortillas with a bit of sour cream, some excellent chopped up “heritage” tomato, and some delicious Florida avocado. I’ll use the balance to make chicken salad – that should moisten it up enough.

 I am blessed to share my home with a dog called Penne.  She is a mutt: part retriever and part terrier.  She has the sweetest disposition.  Neither thunder nor lightning bother her.  And when I have to give her a pill she opens her jaws quite willingly, and then swallows it down as I massage her throat.

My brother Stephen celebrated his 59th birthday on August 18th 2011. He is a good guy, and we had a nice chat that day. 

Stephen is the third in line of my four younger brothers. 

Friday, 19 August 2011

On the death of a child (4)


My musings on the death of a child or sibling began with the conversation I had with a St. Boniface Church (Siesta Key FL) parishioner. (See PART TWO OF FOUR   - 17th August entry on my blog).

Those musings have been honed by the reading of “The Tender Land – A family love story” by Kathleen Finneran (published by Houghton Mifflin in 2000).

Kathleen tells the story of her family: Mom, Dad and five children and their life together in St. Louis, Missouri.   It is a good, solid and loving Irish Catholic family, as “all-American” as you could imagine.

The children are Michael, Mary, Kathleen (the story teller), Sean and Kelly.

Sean, the fourth child and second son, took his own life at the age of fifteen. (I get teary eyed even as I write these words).

Kathleen Finneran’s book is a powerful tale of family life, and of the tragedy of Sean’s death.

It is not a “preachy book”, nor does it attempt to “answer the questions” which arise from youth suicide or the death of a child.  It simply tells the tale of this good family with honesty, sadness (that’s not the best word), candour and humour.

As I read it I “became” Kathleen the story teller.  And I “became” the beloved Sean.

The power of Kathleen Finneran’s writing is in simply telling the tale.  For she takes us into territory which many people fear - the territory of loving, humorous, and honest truth. For that I am grateful.

I am not a “book recommender”.  I simply “happened” to pick up “The Tender Land – A family love story” from the shelves of the Selby Library in Sarasota FL.  It is a book which spoke to my mind and to my heart.  I tip my hat to Kathleen Finneran for her wonderful and powerful writing.

Thursday, 18 August 2011

On the death of a child (3)


My siblings and I are wont to tell people that we are from a family of nine children.  Then we have to pause for a moment and add “actually there were ten of us”.

For we had a sister who died.  Her name was Sylvia.  She was the third to be born, so her two older sisters (who are of course also my older sisters) have some memories of her birth and death.

Mum or Dad never said much about Sylvia.  They were of the generation who kept many sorrows in their hearts. So what I know is very little. 

 I think that she was born in 1942 (two years before my twin and I were born).  

From what I’ve gleaned I suspect that she was born with spina bifida, and that her life here on earth was very brief.  I think (but I am not certain) that she was buried at the foot of the grave of our paternal grandfather in Greenbank Cemetery, Bristol, U.K.  How odd that I know so little.

This wee child was treasured by our Mum.  And when Mum died (almost ten years ago) our two older sisters voiced the belief that she would see Sylvia in heaven.

2. My youngest sister gave birth to a son in 1987.  She named him Jack Leonard - the names of our father Jack Povey, and our step-father Len Woolcock. I never met this nephew.

Jack Leonard died of what is sometimes called “sudden crib/cot death”.  He was about three months old. 

A dear friend, the Revd. Gwen Sears from Pittsfield MA, had recently visited my family in Bristol, at which time she took a lovely photo’ of my Mum holding her newest grandson.  So both Gwen and I grieved when Jack Leonard died, but our sadness could in no way be compared with the grief of his mother, my youngest sister.

3. Thomas Povey was born on 11th May 1993.  He was the son of my dear brother Martyn and his wife Wendy.  Tom was named for his maternal grand-father Tom Williams.

My nephew Tom was died on day he was born.  By the grace of God, I was in Bristol and I baptised him in the neo-natal intensive care room at St. Michael’s Hospital. I led the prayers at his burial. But that is incidental. 

What is true is that his Mum, Dad and older sister Laura still grieve his loss, and his younger sibling Sam knows that he had a brother who he never met.

Such grief. Such sadness.

And the list goes on.

(a) My friends Ray and Irene (both now deceased) had an adult son named David who was murdered.   They “never got over his death” - why should they?

(b) In August 1983 fifteen year Scott O’Connell decided to run away from his home in Chicopee MA.  He was killed in a road accident as he hitch-hiked on Interstate 91 in Hartford CT.    I did not know Scott or his family.  But I was called upon to say the prayers at his funeral, and to be present to his family in their horrendous grief.

(c) In 1987 nine year old Wayne Suriner III was mowed down by an errant driver as he crossed a street in Pittsfield, MA. I’d never met Wayne, though I knew and admired his aunt who happens to be a priest in the Episcopal Church. 

She and I “did the funeral” and spent endless hours in ministry to his parents Wayne (Jr) and Susan.

(d) In February 2009 Hunter Pope, aged 12, died after contracting flu. Twelve year old children should NOT die of flu.

 I had been his Pastor in Cambridge, MA until my retirement in 2006. I adored Hunter “a blithe spirit” in every sense of those words.  And I loved and cared for his parents Ken and Tess, and his siblings, Ramsey, Connor, and Molly.

It fell to the lot of my successor in Cambridge, the Revd.  Holly Lyman Antolini to minister to the family, and she did it so well.  And she was gracious enough to encourage me to visit with the Pope family when I happened to be in Cambridge a couple of weeks later.

And here is the rub.  Scott, Wayne, and Hunter were twins.

Scott’s twin is Shawn.

Wayne’s twin is Rebecca.

Hunter’s twin is Molly.

God be with Scott, Wayne and Hunter

And I am also a twin. I have a twin sister called Elizabeth.

TWINS OR NOT the grief at the death of a child is all but unbearable.

So I honour my sister Sylvia, and my nephews Jack and Tom, even as I try to enter into the horrendous griefs of those other dear friends whose children have died.

I wish that we could break the barriers of silence and listen to the wails of those whose grand-children, children, and siblings who have died “much too early”.

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

On the death of a child (2)


Five days ago a member of St. Boniface Church asked to talk with me after the mid-week Eucharist.  She had a question “What is heaven like?”

In response I burbled on a bit with vague statements about heaven being a state of being and not a place, or about heaven being the experience of total bliss.  I knew that I was not being helpful.

In spite of my burbling she persisted in conversation until she came to the nub of the matter.  She told me that she had come to terms with the death of her husband, but that she still felt raw, hopeless, even despairing following the death of her (adult) daughter.

“Aye, there’s the rub”.  The death of a son or daughter, (whether a child or an adult) brings with it a burden which parents, siblings and grandparents find all but impossible to bear.

My conversation with that good parishioner has led me to think a great deal about these unbearable losses.  I’ll write some more about this in the next two days.

In days gone by the deaths of infants and children were so common and frequent that they were almost expected or anticipated.   Of course that’s still par for the course in many parts of our world. 

I cannot believe that the grief is any the less in places where infant and child deaths are frequent because of poverty, disease, malnutrition or famine.

But who could imagine that any parent might believe that the death of his or her child could in some senses be desirable as did Abigail Adams?  (see yesterday’s entry)

I use the word “desirable” with great care. 

I can certainly imagine that some parents who have a child whose body is wracked with incurable disease or pain would have a deep sense of grieving relief should that child pass from this life.  

But the grief would be no less, indeed it might be more.

I suspect that at the death of a child a part of her or his parents also dies.  I can only but imagine the heartache.  It is surely deeper than deep.

Tuesday, 16 August 2011

On the death of a child (1)


In 1778 John Adams, (later the second American President 1797-1801), set sail for France as part of a diplomatic commission which was sent by the Continental Congress to seek European support for the American cause versus Great Britain.

He took with him his son, John Quincy Adams (later the sixth American President 1825-1829).

John Quincy Adams (or Johnny as he was called by his family) was ten years old when he set out on this amazing voyage.

His mother, Abigail Smith Adams, was “advanced” in her era in her advocacy for the rights of women and against slavery. 

But she was a tough, demanding, and even manipulative parent.  She never failed to tell her son Johnny of her expectations and his failures.  Writing to him in France (remember - he was only ten years old!) she reminds him “never to disgrace his mother” and to be “worthy of his father”.

“Dear as you are to me”, she wrote, “I had much rather you found your Grave in the ocean you have crossed, or an untimely death crop you in your Infant years, rather than see you as an immoral profligate or a Graceless child”.

That’s quite a trip to lie upon a ten year old.  It’s also (to our ears) a very strange view of the possible death of a child.

(Quotations from the 2002 biography  of John Quincy Adams by Robert V Remini , published in the Times Books series by  Henry Holt and Company, New York)

Monday, 15 August 2011

15th August events.

On 15th August 1984 I began my ministry as Rector at St. Stephen’s Parish, Pittsfield, MA.    Was that truly 27 years ago?

On 15th August 2000 I began my ministry as Rector at St. James’s Episcopal Church, Cambridge, MA.  Was that indeed 11 years ago?

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Name association game

In a spare ten minutes this afternoon I thought about the men who have been President since I moved to the United States.

Then “off the top of my head” I came up with words and phrases which came to my mind for each of them.  This was neither an intellectual nor an analytical exercise. I  did not revise or hone what I had written.

It might be fun if some of my readers did a similar exercise, for U.S. Presidents or for U.K. Prime Ministers.  Please post what you come up with.

Remember please -  this is not for analysis or critique.

If you post directly to my blog I will publish what you submit.  Or you can reply with a “note” on Facebook.

Jimmy Carter: 

A bit of a policy wonk.
Maybe a micro-manager.
Sounded preachy.
Right instincts, wrong sound-bites.
High interest rates.
Iranian hostage crisis.
Successful Panama Canal Treaty.

Ronald Reagan:

Believed his own rhetoric.
Careless with the facts.
Stupid invasion of Grenada.
Cut and run from Lebanon.
Good speechwriters.

George H.W. Bush.

Genuine WWII hero.
A bit “daffy”.
Whiney voice.
Never “got” the mood of the country.

Bill Clinton.

Fast learner.
Very intelligent/smart.
Never a genuine liberal.
Deep empathy for and understanding of minorities.
“Don’t ask, don’t tell” fiasco.
Sexual predator.

George W Bush.

Slick operator.
Puppet for his vice-President Cheney.
Two un-necessary wars.
A rascal and con-artist.

Barack H Obama.

Strangely detached.
Seems devoid of emotions/empathy.
Smart, but few political smarts.
The lesser of other evils.