A Guild of All Souls initiative

Julie died just before Christmas. She was in her twenties and suffered from a neurological disease, which ultimately claimed her life. Her husband is now responsible for bringing up their two small children. I had never met her, but was told about her death by one of her friends, who now spends the time in which he would have visited Julie to be with her mother instead. Tania died in October from a sudden heart attack. Her mother is now coping to bring up her seven year old daughter, whose father had left home three years ago. John died recently after a long fight against cancer. His widow is now attempting to rebuild her life alone.

This is the kind of tragic situation which can and does occur anywhere, at any time, to any of us. Unless it grabs news headlines, it is likely to go unnoticed by the world-at-large, but will probably prove devastating, not only to the family, but to friends as well. Equally overwhelming can be the loss of a husband, wife, child, elderly parent or good friend. Public outpourings of grief may have changed from the grandiose Victorian obsequies, but there is something equally poignant about torrential-rain pummelled, tattered shreds of faded damp plastic, strung to lampposts near recent road-massacres and enclosing brown remnants of chrysanthemum or tulip. The bereaved yearn to express their love for the person who has died, and this is often the only way they know, yet how quickly this visible sign of their sorrow becomes a pathetic symbol of decay.

Bereavement can last for years, and take many forms. The more introverted may take refuge in their homes, cutting off contact with the living. Others seek somewhat dubious counselling, contact with their dead through mediums or self-help therapies. Parish priests well know the hours which can be spent with the bereaved – hours in which other equally pressing concerns can clamour for attention. Where good pastoral initiatives are at work, lay members of the congregation will regularly visit the bereaved, but this ideal is not always achieved. What can we do?

The Guild of All Souls has recently published sixteen different cards, all designed with the sick, dying, departed and bereaved in mind. Some contain prayers, some biblical passages and others meditations, and all point in some way to the Christian message of resurrection. Obviously differing circumstances will dictate which card is most appropriate for a particular person, but already they have proved highly beneficial. I was able to give some to Julie’s friend, who told me today how helpful he and his wife have found them. I was also able to tell him that we pray for Julie and her family each day in church. The fact that they live 40 miles away is immaterial. Tania’s mother, John’s widow and other bereaved families in our parish have also found the cards useful.

Founded over 130 years ago, the Guild of All Souls has as its twin aims:

Intercessory prayer for the dying and for the repose of the souls of the departed, and:

To promote the two great doctrines of the Christian Creed: ‘The Communion of Saints’ and ‘The Resurrection of the Dead’.

At a time when New Age ‘mysticism’, spiritualist mediums, crystal gazing and occultism is rife, it is imperative that we proclaim our faith ever more firmly. Yet so often we make it hard or impossible for people; on a recent visit to York, I went to several bookshops for a suitable book for a bereaved child, and found only one available – in SPCK. I did not even try the Minster bookshop – sadly now inaccessible without paying the entrance fee.

To pray must also mean to care, and these cards are a tangible way of showing this. Not only are the cards beautifully produced, but they are FREE. Both priests and laity are encouraged to give or send them. They may only be small, but they are signs that others care, that there is hope beyond death and that Our Lord’s love encompasses everyone.

To make them even more widely available, why not place them on your church bookstall? If people don’t like taking cards from church without a donation, why not ask for a nominal 10p each, and send as a contribution to the Guild to cover postage?

For cards, in sets of 16, or any other information about the Guild please contact:

Mr D G Ll Morgan,
The Guild of All Souls,
St Katharine Cree Church,
86 Leadenhall Street,
London EC3A 3DH
Tel (020) 7621 0098