Funeral address for James Walters
Tuesday, 31 May, 2005
The Right Rev'd R David Farrer
Bishop of Wangaratta
Preached at the funeral mass for James Walters, St Peter's Church, Eastern Hill
Here we are, friends of James Walters, sharing the great burden of grief at his death and yet we are rejoicing, yes, rejoicing, that James is in the nearer presence of God and celebrating what he shared with us here.
Death is so often surrounded with cliché's and stereotyped words, euphemisms and equivocations: James deserves better. He was a man of opinions and views who was unafraid, within the bounds of his elegant Welsh politeness, to tell it as he saw it.
He has died. He would have liked more time for his friends and his beloved St Peter's, but he had that great faith and trust which did not fear death itself.
James is living the resurrection alleluias we have so recently been singing at our Sunday liturgies. His was a resurrection faith. A faith based upon the enjoyment of God.
His was a faith that revelled in the hospitality of God. He knew well the fact that the human body is heir to decay: his years of nursing, including the nursing of the elderly and dying, gave clarity to that understanding. He knew, too, the hope of the new creation in Christ. He knew well the renewal of the waters of baptism, the feeding on the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. He knew about the body of clay meant for the earth and the body of glory meant for eternity.
What is to be said of James? Most is to be left out because time does not allow, memory does not allow and he, James, who approves of what we are doing would be embarrassed by extensive eulogising.
James was 'religious' from the age of ten. His mother, for whom he had a great love, encouraged his faith, as did his maternal grandfather.
On his coffin lie the Prayer Book and the Rosaryapt symbols. But, like the great Apostle and disciple of Christ to whose resting place in Spain I made pilgrimage on foot less than two years ago, the symbol of James Walters is no more these things than the scallop shell is the true symbol of St James.
The heart of the faith of James Walters which held these things close is better remembered this waythe tea-towel over the shoulder. Service of others is at the heart of James' faiththat a man would so rejoice in working himself to utter tiredness time and time again for the sheer pleasure of seeing God honoured in the joy and delight of other people's pleasure.
He was born in the County of Monmouth in Wales on 27 February 1928 (the same year as his favourite Prayer Book!which we are using at this service), James left home when he was eighteen. He went into nursing training in London, then worked in the Royal Air Force. He also worked in Cardiff. He went to India and Ceylon (as Sri Lanka was then known). In the late 1950s he moved to Hong Kong, spending twelve years there. He returned to England (Epsom) where he lived for three years before coming to Australia in 1974. Here he worked in aged care at the Caulfield Rehabilitation Hospital and at Clarence Court until retirement in the early 1990s.
James' nursing career was quietly distinguished as the following commendation indicates:
From the Colonial Secretary in Hong Kong, Mr M D Irving Gass. 1 June 1967.
Mr J Walters,
Senior Male Nurse (Psych)
Dear Mr Walters,
I am particularly pleased to express my appreciation of the way in which you, through your devotion to duty, have been steadfastly carrying out Government's service to the public during the recent disturbances. This maintenance of normal service is contributing greatly to the calmness of the public at large.
The performance of your duties and your example are going far to restoring the normal times which we all enjoy.
James loved Hong Kong but, typically, did not speak about this recognition of outstanding service during very difficult times.
Psychiatric nursing is difficult at any time and requires a particular temperament. It may be that these skills were helpful in dealing with some of the oddities of life he met amongst those of us he knew in this congregation and some of the interesting characters who frequent this part of town.
While James had strong views and a good deal more knowledge in a range of areas than many people ever knew, he never ever paraded his knowledge. When people, especially 'experts', became boorish and pontifical on subjects such as his great love, opera, he could quietly demolish them with his references to how Callas had sung that particular aria in his presence at Covent Garden in 1958. His CD collection contains a significant collection of opera.
James as a loyal friend. We were privileged to have his company in Wangaratta a number of times, especially when there was a job to be done. He also loved his visits first to Bendigo and later to Castlemaine to say a few days at a time with John Jones and Doug Neale. He loved festal and party times and was hugely appreciative of the care shown to him by so many at St Peter's. It would be wrong of me to start naming those people who have been so kind and important to James. You all know who you are. He told me recently of the care he has been shown by so many, especially in these last months of illness. there are, too, those who have driven him from place to place, to and from hospital.
Mention must be made of the very special week by week friendship and hospitality shown to him by Allan and Margaret Lugg. The Catering Group will always be that very special community within this parish community where James really knew he belonged.
There are many not here who would love to have been present, and James is being remembered at this time in many placesnot least in his beloved Walsingham where a requiem has been offered at the Shrine.
We offer our prayerful support to all who mourn, especially his family:
- his brother Hayden,
his two nieces and two nephews,
and all those who counted James as a friend.
In the 1960s my favourite Christian writer was Teilhard de Chardin. His most popular book was Le Milieu Divin. In that there is a passage that helps us with the pain we feel as we farewell James. The passage also helps us to reflect on our own letting-go in order for God to possess us totally.
"When the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me . . . above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is you . . . who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within yourself . . . It is not enough that I should die while making my communion. Teach me to make my communion in dying."
(Teilhard de Chardin, Le Milieuse Divin, Harford Bros, 1960)
We have here in this requiem Mass, in this Eucharist, our act of communion with the Lord and, as with the Lord, so too with James.
What we have is so much more than words.
Let us rejoice as we take the Bread of Life and the Cup of Salvation and celebrate life: life, which for James is now being lived to the full, and for us, in the continuing pilgrimage. As we travel our own journey we thank God for the privilege of sharing companionship with James on a significant and grace-filled part of that journey.