As Christians we are programmed to remember. The very central act of our faith, the Eucharist, has at its hearts the words of Jesus to ‘do this in remembrance of me’. As this edition of New Directions goes to the presses, around the world people are remembering the victims of the Holocaust, as we commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz Concentration Camp, and the annual keeping of Holocaust Memorial Day. As those who saw first-hand the unimaginable horrors of the camps, and indeed those who survived the camps, begin to die; we remember, because to fail to do so will fail them and the millions who did not survive the camps. When the first photographs from the camps appeared in newspapers and in newsreels the world was quick to send up the cry ‘never again!’ And yet humanity is not very good at remembering, and in the last 75 years there have been more genocides, more mass killings, and more brutality. In Britain today we have seen a sharp rise in anti-Semitism, and as Christians we need to be willing to speak out against this evil ideology, and any ideology that would threaten human life and the freedom of others. Just as we cannot allow people to deny the Holocaust, we also cannot allow people to ignore when history repeats itself in other places through the genocide and mass murder of people. The Holocaust shows us how a series of events and attitudes can erode an entire society’s democratic attitudes and lead to unspeakable horror and we must guard against this and continue to challenge anti-Semitism in every place. The universality of our faith, the fact we believe all people are created in the image of God means we cannot turn a blind eye simply because it is not we who are being persecuted or harmed but someone else who is ‘other’ or ‘elsewhere’. The church we must remember is a divine creation, given by God to humanity in order that we might be part of His work of reconciling love. As part of the church each Christian has a role to play in this work in their own communities and in the world at large. The work of reconciliation is not about forgetting about the past but rather holding in tension the need to remember the past and to look to the future. The church is ideally placed to help society do this as we remember an event in history which changed the world forever, that is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Turning to a more localised question, the issue of parochial fees has reared its head in recent weeks with a fee payable to the Parochial Church Council for funeral services taking place at the crematorium being removed and the whole fee now going to the diocese. Whilst this part of the fee was only introduced in 2013 priests and parishes have rightly questioned whether this will not only see parishes out of pocket (paying the travel expenses of the priest to do the pastoral visit for example) and indeed whether it will result in even fewer funeral services being taken by Church of England clergy. A more radical step might be to simply remove the fees altogether and to ask families to give what they can afford, or a percentage of the overall costs of the funeral. This would allow some scope for the pastoral need of waiving fees where a family or person simply cannot afford the high cost of a funeral. It is good to see that amongst the things to be discussed at the February session of the General Synod is a proposal made by Sam Margrave, and supported by many in the Synod, which states that the Church of England should work with councils and funeral companies ‘to find ways at an affordable price to deliver a more compassionate send-off for the departed and to meet the spiritual and emotional needs of those left behind.’ By doing this, and we hope by looking into ways in which the church fees might be waived, the spiritual and emotional needs of grieving families can be better supported and we can ensure that all people have access to a Christian funeral should they desire one.