Funeral Address for Carole Birkbeck (1941-2020), delivered 15 July 2020 by Revd Ian Tattum

Elephants are not mentioned anywhere in the Bible.  As you all know, they were pretty important to Carole.  I will come back to elephants in a moment.

Love is mentioned very many times in the Bible, and that was also very important to Carole – love of family, love of children and love of God.

Carole was part of the interview panel when I was chosen to come to minister here, and one of the questions that she and the rest of the interview team had to ask me was which verse or segment of Scripture summed up my own faith best.  I won’t say what my reply was, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Carole would light on 1 Corinthians 13 as her favourite, if anyone asked her the same question.

She certainly tried to live it out.  Faith, hope and love were all key to her life.  Her faith was deep; she always looked for the good outcome and the good in others, and we all know how many lives she touched – how full this church would be if all could come!

But back to elephants.

It is very easy to get elephants all wrong.  It is the male of the species that too often gets all the attention.  Wandering about trumpeting all over the place.  But we now know that in the elephant world the mothers are in charge.  I was talking with Janice yesterday about Carole’s affinity with elephants.  Carole denied that she had their legendarily long-lived memory, but of course, she actually did remember things very well.  We didn’t discuss their timekeeping or any other foibles.  But, above all, the female elephants are the protectors and nurturers of the young.  When a young one goes astray, it is the older females who are the ones that go and look for the calf to bring it home.  As with a lot of other intelligent and long-lived animals, elephant childhoods are long, and the older females take a leading role in loving and nurturing all the little ones.

Carole ran the toddler group here.  She still helped with Sunday school.  She put in decades of dedicated service for St John Ambulance.  Then there were all the children that she looked after at nursery.  And her own family.  And those of us here at St Barnabas that she treated as part of her wider family, or maybe I mean herd!  All with kindness and with heart.

I once asked a parishioner what they thought a Christian should be like.  Without hesitation, he replied, ‘Like Carole’, which I think is as good an accolade you are ever likely to get.

Carole was an altar server here for a long time before I ever came on the scene.  She carried a candle but particularly liked wielding the thurible, the incense burner.  One part of her duty was to cense – to wave the incense at the priests taking the service and then the congregation.  This is meant to be a sign of God’s blessing and presence and of our prayers rising to Him.  Someone in the church recently observed that, with Carole, it was also an act of reverence and pure love, which I don’t think is over-stating it.

And, for me, these all hold together.  Carole had a God-centred reverence for life, which included all of us and which we all experienced.

‘And now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.’

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