I was privileged but deeply saddened to participate in the funeral of Archbishop Terry Finlay in March. He was my mentor and friend. Twenty-five years ago to the month, he had surprised me by inviting me to become his executive assistant and later archdeacon, and for a short time, one of his suffragan bishops. For the next 12 years, we worked together on an almost daily basis, and I witnessed firsthand the joys of Terry’s episcopal ministry and his heartaches. The former were much more public than the latter. It was the former that undergirded and sustained his ministry as diocesan bishop. He fully and authentically lived out what another bishop once quipped he was looking for in an ordinand: a person who loved God and loved people.
What a moment it was when he presided as diocesan bishop at the SkyDome for the sesquicentennial celebrations of the diocese! He was as interested in the conversation he had with a street person he met on a morning’s walk to the Synod office through Allan Gardens as he was welcoming the Queen to the cathedral. He read and talked and prayed and laughed in full measure. He had that special capacity to listen carefully and charitably to people who held views diametrically opposed to his, and to bring into helpful conversations people who would not usually speak to each other. He consulted widely before making decisions – too widely in some peoples’ view, but they had not borne the personal scars of times when that had not been done. Terry was immensely likeable because he so liked the people he was with at the moment: it was infectious. His compassion was generous and widely embracing. He lived his life abundantly as a follower of Jesus, and invited others to share in it. Even as he approached his impending death, he was busy living: preaching the Gospel, visiting the sick, advocating for the marginalized, playing with his family, relishing stories, mesmerized by a movie, devoted to the love of his life, Alice Jean.
I also had the rare privilege to witness the dark sides of episcopal life that the Archbishop had to endure. It was in these much more private times of anguish and sorrow that his faith was deepened and his mettle burnished. Those personal moments are not mine to tell but it was here I learned the most important lessons from him – how to live with courage and hope in the ultimate goodness of God’s redemptive love. The burdens of the office did not overwhelm the joy he felt in responding to God and the church’s call. For Terry Finlay, ministry was not so much a sacrificial obligation dutifully embraced but a compelling and life-giving vocation – life-giving to him and life-giving to others. He was embarrassed with his honorific as bishop, “My Lord”, but that for an archbishop fit him entirely: “Your Grace”.
If you were present at the funeral rites – the Friday night visitation, remembrances and vigil, and the Saturday Requiem Eucharist – you know how it was a celebration of Christian hope and confidence in the resurrection. Terry and AJ, with the advice and assistance of family and friends, planned it well. It was tearful and joyful, grief-filled and celebratory.
Following in his example, may I suggest that you think about your own funeral plans – not to be morbid about it or grandiose but realistic? What scripture do you want read, what hymns sung? Who do you want to participate? What service do you want? Where will you be buried? Have you a will? Tell your family, your executor and your parish priest. (If you don’t, how will they know?)
Terry remembered the church and other important charities not only in his will but through an insurance policy purchased for that purpose, a generous act by a generous couple.
My wife and I have our funeral wishes written out. They are stored in the parish files for future reference – hopefully long in the future! We have told our family so they know our wishes and where to find all the relevant documentation. We first made our wills before we brought our first child home from hospital when we had really nothing of value but her, and we have updated them regularly since then as our circumstances changed. We have appointed powers of attorney for personal care if we cannot make our own decisions, and powers of attorney for property if we cannot attend to our affairs. We have told our executor, so there is no confusion about what to do when we die. We have made provision for our family, for the church and for our favorite charities so that others may continue to enjoy the blessings that we most valued in our life.
That is not gloomily fatalistic but part of our personal witness in life as in death to the faith we have in God from whose love nothing will be able to separate us in Christ Jesus. This was Terence Finlay’s witness. “Whether we live, we live unto the Lord; or whether we die, we die unto the Lord; whether we live or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ died, and lived again, that he might be Lord of both the dead and the living” (Romans 14).