Thursday, 22 September 2011

In Memory of Father Laurence Wood

The Address at the Requiem Mass for Fr Laurence Henry Wood, 12th September 2011, All Saints, Elland - Fr David Burrows

Mary has particularly asked that this occasion should be one of thanksgiving; when I met with Fr Laurence a few weeks ago to plan these Funeral Rites, his specific instruction was, that if there has to be a sermon, it should be brief and uplifting – I will endeavour to achieve both.

We give thanks today for a husband and father, a grand-father and brother, and for our friend’s faithfulness and loyalty, for his humour and good companionship, for his gentle sense of mischievousness, and for 58 years of priestly ministry.

Knowing where you come from was very important to Laurence; Laurence Henry Wood, was born on 17th January 1927, third son of four boys, Frank, Thomas, and the late James, to Hanson and Edith Harriet Wood.

He was named after 2 Uncles who had died in the Great War, and baptized at St John’s, West Vale. Eventually the whole family were in the Choir there. Laurence was confirmed at Halifax Parish Church, and won a scholarship to Elland Grammar School, after his early education at West Vale.

By now he and the family knew the dark days of the War, of blackouts and rationing, and despite being in the Air Training Corps, Laurence’s Service was as a Bevin Boy, serving in 1945 in Pontefract and Barnsley. He needed to grow up fast, and learn a whole new language. He was rightly proud of his Service, not least when the Bevin Boys were finally given something of the recognition they deserved, just a few years ago.

Laurence spent 5 years at the Theological College at Kelham, under the patronage of the Holy Angels, which was very significant for him. He was made Deacon in June 1952 at Wakefield Cathedral, and his ordination to the priesthood being delayed by the Coronation, as the Bishops had to travel to London for rehearsals in those pre-M1 days, was ordained Priest on 14th June, 1953. He served his Title at St Saviour, Ravensthorpe, and subsequently worked in Parishes as Curate of Almondbury, in charge of St Michael and St Helen, and then as Vicar of Linthwaite, at Bonsall & Cromford in the Diocese of Derby, before returning to this Diocese to Longwood, with Outlane, and also as part time Chaplain of St Luke’s Hospital, before 16 years at Liversedge took him to retirement- on paper at least. He helped in some 60 Churches during that retirement, as well as being Hon Asst back at Linthwaite, before filling a similar role for us here in Elland. I know I am not the only Rural Dean to be grateful for his readiness to travel, and help out, often at short notice.

But a list of Churches can only tell us so much – for we need to go back to Ravensthorpe for the most significant event of his life; there he met Mary, and they were married by Bishop Roger Wilson in 1956, at 9.30am in the morning, as the Bishop had to get back to entertain a visiting Colonial Bishop. They had a family, Mark, John and Ruth, who married Richard, giving them 2 grand-daughters, Harriet and Victoria.

If it was important to Laurence to know where he had come from, it was equally important to know where he was headed, and what he was looking for. He showed always a great spirit of service, and a great devotion to the task. In nearly 60 years of ministry, just think how many Baptisms and Weddings that has involved, how many visits to weep with those who weep, to rejoice with those who rejoice; so many Funerals. A lifetime of memories which he was pleased to share, and, perhaps most significant of all, week by week, Sunday by Sunday, the grace and mercy of God in the Holy Eucharist of the Altar, and the faithful reciting every day of the Church’s prayers, Morning and Evening. Laurence remained faithful to the patterns of prayer and devotion formed within him a lifetime ago. It was this foundation, together with Mary’s loving support, that enabled him to help so many others to see something of God’s love. On his Coffin, as he faces his people for the final time, lie the symbols he especially requested, his Ordination Stole, the Bible given to him at his Priesting, and a small chalice and paten from his Home Communion set. Signs of Laurence’s faithfulness, signs also of the love of God in Christ Jesus, crucified and risen, who meets us here at the Altar, who will wipe away every tear from our eyes, despite the sadness and pain we know today. For Christ is the bread of life, whoever comes to me, he says, will never be hungry, whoever believes in me will never thirst.

There were difficult and sad times for Laurence, of course, not least in the death of James, his youngest brother. There were the inevitable struggles of priestly ministry. One of the pieces of music Laurence has chosen today for Park Wood, is ‘The War March of the Priests’, a piece of significance for the Bevin Boys I understand, but also, I think, tipping the hat to the other side of a priest’s life. Yet Laurence faced these struggles, as he faced the news of his illness, knowing God’s faithfulness and strength. His last days, lovingly cared for at home by Mary and the family, were indeed grace-filled, and largely, mercifully, pain-free, and I’m grateful that I was able to see a little of him in those days, as we shared Holy Communion, and as Laurence made his plans for his Funeral.

There was a little phrase Laurence would use – ‘God Willing.’ Will we see you at Mass on Sunday, Father? - ‘God Willing.’ In his last days, his faithful prayer for a quiet and peaceful death, God Willing, was answered. Today we say goodbye to our friend. Today we surround him with our love and our prayers, as we commend him to God’s sure keeping, and we trust that Mary and all his family, will know that same love, and be supported by our prayers, in their loss.

The Holy Angels remained very important to Laurence. He slipped away a little sooner than we were expecting, late on the evening of Friday 2nd. Once we had prayed for him, it was after Midnight when I left the house. Almost without thinking, I turned on the radio, only to hear, fittingly, Faure’s ‘In Paradisum’, a setting of the Latin words of the Requiem Mass. ‘May the Angels lead you into paradise, may saints and martyrs receive you, and lead you to the Holy City, the New Jerusalem.’ May that be our prayer for him today. May he rest in peace, and Rise in Glory.