At the beginning of June, over 120 clergy and lay leaders were joined by people working to support the bereaved at “Circles of Impact: funerals, bereavement and the community”.
The Bishop of Portsmouth, the Rt Revd Christopher Foster, opened the conference in prayer for God’s blessing on us all as we walk with people who have lost someone they knew and loved. Bishop Christopher was warmly welcomed by Revd Canon Dr Sandra Millar, Head of Life Events, who challenged conference delegates to think about how we can continue to be relevant and meet the needs of people who are grieving, in a space where commercial forces are stronger than ever and death is ever-present in the media.
Over the two days we heard from ministers who supported people through almost unthinkable situations; the Soham murders, how the murder of a local teacher affected that community and beyond and the aftermath of the Manchester bombings. We also heard from people who bring God’s compassion and care into situations like the death of a child, the repatriation of fallen service men and women, or the death of someone who has no-one to mourn them and no money to pay for even the most basic funeral. There was a chance to think about the biblical significance of death, the solace of graveyards and to look at how people are being remembered digitally.
It wasn’t by coincidence that the conference was held on site with the National Funeral Exhibition (NFE), the biannual trade show for the funeral industry. Conference delegates had passes into the NFE and were able to see an extraordinary range of services and products – everything from a living coffin, made from willow that grows up from the burial plot, to a Trotters Trading Co hearse.
There were lots of questions and observations from a very engaged group of delegates. We were all keen to explore how the Church of England can make the message of hope and God’s love heard in every community, amidst an increasing presence of conversation and debate about death, dying and bereavement across the national media.
To have a more detailed insight into this conference, follow this link to listen to audio files of some of the talks, read transcripts, view powerpoint slides and more.