'It was so painful'
As the minister of Trinity Church in Rawdon, Leeds, Helen Lambert normally conducts around four to five funerals a year. 2020 has proved to be very different
At the start of lockdown Helen sensed a clear call to offer to lead a short service for the sadly growing number of people dying at that time. It came about when she led a funeral for a man who had unexpectedly died in her community. Family members from a different part of the country had taken a wrong turn and missed the service, leaving just the widow, her niece and Helen. This was in Harrogate Crematorium, where in contrast to Helen’s nearest crematorium in Leeds, mourners were allowed.
“There were just three of us in this large crematorium. And God really spoke to me then, and said nobody should leave without someone saying a name, a prayer and a blessing.”
Helen (pictured) duly contacted different undertakers in Leeds, offering to do a short service, as well as sharing a notice on a local Facebook group. At the time, the coffins for any deaths relating to Covid-19 were simply brought into the crematorium with neither service nor mourners. Provided she was a safe distance from the coffin, Helen could conduct a short service.
The response was instant. “Undertakers were ringing me throughout April,” says Helen. “They said I was the only person prepared to do that.” She led short services most days throughout the month. She offered to do this free of charge, as “a gift of love to the community”, so strongly did she sense God’s call.
“It was so painful that somebody could be taken into the crematorium with no words, no prayer, no nothing. And their family had seen their loved ones go into hospital – and never seen them again. They couldn’t say goodbye. By me doing that, they had some sense of a service for that person.”
The service would feature a time for prayer, scripture and a committal. The services were filmed and sent to each family.
Only afterwards did Helen realise how much it had taken out of her. “It has a heavy thing to carry. You hold people’s grief. Grief that’s just overwhelming. Beforehand I’d pray that each service would honour that person. I’d go and sit in my car and cry afterwards.”
When the regulations began to change in May, Helen’s services were no longer required. She received “the biggest bouquet of flowers I’ve ever seen - huge lillies, roses, hydrangeas,” from the undertakers, who told her of people’s gratitude. She believes that responding to God’s clear call has deepened her faith.
“It was just awful to see so much pain. But even when it was hard I knew that that’s what God wanted me to do. At that time I wasn’t thinking about how much that would take out of me.
“I was so blessed to be able to do that for his beloved. We are his hands and feet. God’s asked me to do some crazy things. I am always prepared to be a fool for Jesus.
If just one person has had a glimpse of God’s love for them, through this service it was all worthwhile.”
Flower image | keesluising | Pixabay
This article appears in the Autumn 2020 edition of Baptists Together magazine