Remembering Patricia Michael

Remembering Patricia Michael

A sermon preached at St Mary’s, Iffley at her funeral by David Barton on 13th February 2024

Its just one year short of half a century since Patricia and Stephen, with David and Patrick, came to Oxford and joined this congregation.  The family had been to St Michael’s in the Northgate.  But the vicar of the parish they had just left in East Hanney counselled them to support their Parish Church.  So they came, finding it a bit stuffy at first.  But meeting John and Kathleen Warin changed everything.  They stayed, and from then on Patricia, along with Stephen was at the heart of our life here in St Mary’s.

As you have heard, Patricia was born in Kelso, in North East Scotland.  I often thought that, despite living in the middle of the the shifts and changes of a southern, semi-industrial city, she never really lost the values of neighbourliness and community she had learned as a child in a quiet, steady, Scottish town.  Certainly those were the things that mattered to her.  Not long after she arrived here the monthly House communions her front room in the Iffley Road began.  The bible study group too, both hugely important for that Donnington area of the parish.  And here in the church she will always be remembered for her concern for children, and our proper welcome of them.   On a Sunday morning she would roll out a carpet by the north door as a play area with books and toys – not always popular with clergy and wardens attempting to ferry people in and out.  And the raisins.  She was the never to be forgotten raisin lady, sitting in her pew and handing out the little boxes; the organiser of Easter Egg hunts, after the service on Easter Day, and chocolate coins on other special occasions. That love of children was central to her. 

But besides all that she played her part fully in the organisation of the church. And to list what she did is to measure the depth of our gratitude to her.  She was a PCC member, Churchwarden twice – each time covering an interregnum – Secretary of the Deanery Synod, then its Chair.  And then – really unseen by us here – a member of Bishop’s Council and on the Diocesan Board of Patronage.   And she made a difference.  As Chair of the Deanery Synod she regularly joined the Sunday worship in each of the parishes of this deanery, always encouraging us to work together.  We never saw all of that, but it involved a great deal of time and energy.  And as the years went on there was of course a physical cost too.

Patricia’s diagnosis of MS was made over thirty years ago. And as it gradually took over her body, she met it with an extraordinary courage and resilience.   So much of what we have just been remembering was done in the face of it, making it all the more remarkable.   Stephen’s immense love and care of her is something we also need to record too.  Without him so much would never have been possible.   Heaven only knows the effort it must have been in these latter months to get ready on a Sunday morning and be here by 10.00.    But she was here, faithfully, Sunday by Sunday because it mattered.  Because she loved this place and its people and its worship sustained her.   The slow, inexorable path of deterioration, was met with such grace and uncomplaining courage.   She lived with ever increasing incapacity and pain and yet, she smiled in the face of it.  And she did it because she found in her faith and in her prayers the unfailing resource in God to do so.  The paradox of the Christian faith was played out in Patricia’s life: the strength of God made perfect in weakness.  It was perhaps her greatest gift to us.

And her life was longer than anyone expected.  She was out and about just before Christmas delivering presents.  Then, slowly she moved towards the end.  She rediscovered the holding cross she had been given at her confirmation in Liverpool Cathedral – a cross made from the cathedral’s former processional cross..  and she remembered the words of the hymn by Francis Lyte we will soon sing.  (It pleased her that Lyte himself was also born in Kelso).  Just ten days before she died David flew over from California, and Patrick came across from Wales, and the family had a Sunday meal and a wonderful day together.  She took it as a great and unexpected gift and after that she was ready for her final journey.

Patricia’s death leaves a gap – in the life of her family, and also in the life of the church here.  We will really miss her.  But at a deeper level there is no separation.  We are all one in Christ.  That reading from Romans 8 is a great outpouring of wonder from Paul as he remembers the love he has found in Christ.  At its heart is a very simple truth: nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.  Its a love – Paul knew and Patricia knew – that sustains us in life, whatever we have to face. And it does not fail just because our bodies fail.   These bodies of ours are bound for death.  But the God who Patricia loved and served holds her still in that love and will do always.

In an Orthodox funeral there is a point when the Priest stands by the coffin and calls out “May her name be remembered for evermore”.  More than once.  “May her name be remembered for evermore”.  And we here, bound for death as we all are, will remember her with gratitude for as long as we go on.  But the one whose memory will never fail will hold her in mind for ever.

Good, faithful servant.  Enter into the joy of your Lord.

David Barton