THOMAS REGINALD HARPER
Died 7th March 2016
Aged 85 Years
I`d like to begin by saying that personally I take it as a particular privilege to participate in this worship today. It`s not just that I found Reg` an immensely likeable man whom I respected and valued as part of the family here at St. Mary`s. No, Reg` was Ordained priest in the year before I was born…. And reflecting in recent days I realise that what always attracted me to him was that I recognised in him a pattern, a shape, a way of being a Christian Minister which has inspired and encouraged me for almost thirty years.
You see, Reg` belonged to the generation which trained me …..and he had emerged from a period of training in Durham and embarked on a couple of Curacies in the North East at a time when the Church took very seriously the notion of `formation`. Which basically means that a serious amount of time was taken to encourage disciplines, patterns of living and devotion which it was hoped would sustain a lively and fruitful ministry; in Reg`s case close on fifty seven years in parishes on both sides of the Pennines.
I suppose we`re talking here about the era of `the parson`. And beyond all the stereotypes and humour, which Reg` fully understood and participated in (!); I`d like to suggest that this notion of parson or `person` was something Reg` embodied. We recognise it because it`s undemonstrative… yet principled. Gentle… but no pushover. Faithful… but not dogmatic…. Serious… but good humoured. There`s no uneasy division between faith and life; no split personality … just, in the best sense of the word a deep sense of integrity. And there are two particular words that help illustrate it further. Firstly a deep sense of commitment and secondly a life of companionship.
Commitment? Well at Reg`s funeral last week we heard these words from St. Paul: “Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus”. (Philippians 3 12-14)
This is the heart of a Vocation….This is the heart of Christian living. The energy and momentum comes from being `called`. “I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own”. This is what we have seen I Reg`. It`s what someone called `A long obedience in the same direction` or what we sometimes refer to as stick ability.
And companionship? Well the best I can do is take a leaf out of Reg`s book and tell you a story. Some years ago my wife and I had the privilege of trekking in the Himalayas. We were greatly helped by a Sherpa who carried our large pack and each afternoon he would go on ahead of us and secure some accommodation for the night. I recall one particular occasion when he did this he actually came back for us and insisted on carrying one of our smaller day packs (!)
This picture of the person who goes on ahead to prepare accommodation for the next step of the journey… and then coming back to accompany us is exactly what Christ is saying of himself in the Gospel Reading we heard a moment ago. (John 14) It`s a reading that`s regularly heard at funerals but folk often get caught up in the details of the Accommodation… is it `many rooms` or `many mansions` and all the rest? But that misses the point. It`s the promise that Christ gives of `accompanying us on the journey` which is meant to be our focus….. Preparing a place…. Christ`s companionship.
Reg` was formed at a time when the task of Christian ministry had two things at its heart…. You kept company with Christ… and you sought to keep company with his people…. to lead them into his friendship. So I find myself suggesting that we give thanks today for the years in which Reg` has done precisely this. Faithfully responded to Christ`s call… and brought the companionship of Christ to others. As he well knew, this isn`t an exact science …..he will have done it more often than not in a state of vulnerability than strength ….and (so that he never became smug) it will have happened in ways he will not have appreciated or realised…
But again, I would give thanks for the way Reg` has accompanied and shared the journey of faith with others; been available to them and sought to draw them into friendship with God. And what we learn of this way of forming Christian Ministers is that it stands as a model, a pattern not just for those who find themselves called to be `professionally religious`. No the pattern stands as one for all of us to follow….
One of the best tributes you could offer to Reg` is to use this Holy Week and Easter as an opportunity to listen for Christ`s call on your life; to commit yourself to shaping your life in order to keep company with Christ… and keep company with others in order to draw them into his friendship.
May Reg` Rest in Peace and rise in glory.