All the fun of funeral and festival...
Yesterday we went to a funeral that was also an alumni reunion! Some of our former students many of whom have become dear friends - some now with white hair – and retiring? Surely not!
The funeral was that of our dear friend and colleague, Harry, about whom we wrote a blog a few weeks ago. Mourners had travelled from many places within the UK. A few had flown in from other parts of the world. They came from various generations of students and staff. Of course, it was sad and sombre in places. Some tears flowed. But it was also a lot of fun. We suspect he would have enjoyed it.
The most amazing thing was to see the community of which he, and we, have for so long been a part, re-form for a few all-too-brief hours. Contemporaries who had not seen each other for years, maybe decades, embraced each other warmly. Many more watched the livestream and we got messages from around the world!
The whole occasion was given extra flavour coming, as it did, after various alumni reunions have been cancelled. The college community, like so many others, has been fractured by the pandemic or at least forced online. So, it made us happy to see that so many of those present had taken the spirit of community which they had learned at Newbold College with them when they left and fed it into their own communities - large and small.
When we got home we realised we had spoken to a deputy mayor of a sizeable town in southern England; a leading light in the flower-arranging network in the UK; a music director who takes her various groups into schools and residential care homes; a Green Party activist; a school governor; a village environmental campaigner; a cricket committee member; members of a community choir; a group quilter; a leader of a village gardening club; a local history buff; a food bank volunteer….the list continued....
Three days before the funeral we returned from the Greenbelt Festival - an arts festival which ‘seeks to re-imagine the Christian narrative in the present moment’. Over the weekend there were about 20,000 people on a beautiful greenfield site on the estate of a stately home. There were babes in arms, children and people of all ages with various kinds of disability and Goths and LGBTQ people and teenagers and loud bands and priests and NGO workers and volunteers and more conventional people such as ourselves rubbing shoulders together quite happily. There was plenty of freedom just to be by yourself or chat with the person beside you and get a welcoming and fascinating response. The police ceased providing a presence a decade ago.
Greenbelt is run annually by ten paid employees plus a thousand volunteers - and connected through all sorts of social media. The Newbold alumni community is a network of friendships and working alliances. Communities, large or small, offer us hope at a time when our lives seem to be dominated by large forces beyond our reach. When life’s pressures push us into narrow focus on our own concerns, we are grateful for the inspiration they offer.
We’re grateful to be part of both these communities. But community does not just happen. It has to be forged. It has to be worked at. Supported faithfully by Christine’s fine cooking and indefatigable hospitality, Harry was a good example of one who did that. Organising Christian Aid collections and the village gardening club, chairing the local Churches Together – a life in community – celebrated with fun!