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Remembering Lives Cut Short

by Gerry Lynch last modified 25 Jan, 2018 03:53 PM

First remembrance service in the South for those who’ve lost loved ones to homicide

“Since I moved to Bournemouth, I've met some six families bereaved in this way, all by complete chance. It's easy to think that homicide is a problem that doesn't affect places like the Diocese of Salisbury. In fact it happens to people of all ages, in all communities.”

After a quarter of a century in stipendiary ministry in the North West, the Revd David Wheeler is now retired to North Bournemouth. He continues to work on an issue that has been a  focus of his ministry for some years – the care of those who have lost family members at the hands of others. Now, in a first for the southern counties, David, working through Churches Together in Dorset, is organising a Service of Remembrance for ‘those whose lives have been cut short’ at 11 am on Saturday 3 March in St Peter’s Church in Bournemouth Town Centre (Hinton Road, BH1 2EE, map here).

“This is the first such Service of Remembrance in this region”, says David, “There are four others in big cities: all draw people from many miles away; for example, I know people who go to the London service from as far away as Bournemouth and Stoke. It is a lifeline for them. It is a way in which those killed can be remembered; a way in a which the Church can reach out to them, and a way in which they can be ‘at home’: some will tell how they cannot be at ease except with those who have experienced this.

“I think, unusually, I’ve been involved in around eight funerals of those who’ve died at the hands of someone else. That’s included gang-related violence, deaths through careless or dangerous driving, deaths possibly through industrial negligence, and an attack by a group of drunken teenagers.”

David says there are a number of issues to remember for clergy and ministers working in this area. It takes decades for people to move on; don’t expect it all to be better in a year or two. It is important to walk with people where they are. Never use platitudes: ‘your faith will bring you through’ means you’d be better off if you had more faith. Don’t introduce the idea that people have to forgive – “Did the disciples forgive Judas?”, he says bluntly. Support those who can walk with the family more closely than you can. Cope as well as you can, and take care of yourself, not least by accepting that you have limits.

In 2016, David produced a free e-book through Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, Across the Chasm (available here) for those ministering to those bereaved by homicide. A checklist for ministering to victims of homicide from the book is been reproduced on the Diocesan website here.

“This can be exhausting work”, he says, “When I heard of the events before one death. I didn’t sleep for two nights.”

David’s passionate commitment to this work began while a Vicar in South Manchester in the 1990s, when he held the funeral of a young man who had been shot and killed.

“Some time after the funeral”, he recalls, “the lad’s mother said to me, ‘I need to talk with others who’ve been through this.’ I found out that Support after Murder and Manslaughter (SAMM) held a monthly meeting close by and went to it with her. It didn’t work for her, but I kept going month after month and eventually became a committee member, the only one who hadn’t suffered in this way.

“The services at Manchester Cathedral began in 2001, and since then around a hundred people have gathered annually there. They all have one thing in common: someone they love has been killed in an act of murder or manslaughter.

“The service is gentle; a couple of hymns, prose and poetry read by members of the congregation telling not just of the extreme anguish felt, but also of the endurance of the human spirit, such as: Sometimes, when the sun goes down/it seems it will never rise again/but it will.

“The central act, in a darkened church, is the reading of the names of those ‘whose lives have been cut short’. Sometimes no one from the family is there, but when there is, the family stand up, holding lit candles. Some of those remembered are well known –Keith Bennett, a victim of Ian Brady and Myra Hindley, or PCs Nicola Hughes and Fiona Bone. Others are known by just a few. Tears flow. The silence is always remarkable.”

Margaret and Tommy Bates have helped organise the service since it first began. For them, it’s a way of making sure that their daughter, Kelly, is remembered.

Margaret says “It really is your worst nightmare. It is unimaginable, but this service helps so much. Lighting the candle is creating light in the darkness. You have just have to put one step in front of another; somehow you get through. We do the work for Kelly. The service helps so much, not just us, but all who come.”

Some must wonder how David keeps his faith in God while spending so much time dealing with some of the darkest aspects of human nature. David concludes, however, “The Holy Spirit has a way that when you step out of the norm, opportunities for potential healing will happen. We can never know, but we can hope that we help those around us.

“I appreciate that even reading a story like this can take people back to very dark places, and I can be contacted on diwsvmm@btinternet.com.”

SAMM operates a helpline on 0845 872 3440 (local call rates) and their website is available at www.samm.org.uk.

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