THE FAREWELLING OF A HOME: Michael Bartholomew-Biggs considers Jane Simpson’s newly-composed Christian ritual for marking a major life-change
The Farewelling of a Home A liturgy by Jane Simpson Poiema Liturgies www.poiema.co.nz ISBN 9780473543891 21pp
It is rare, if not unprecedented, for London Grip to review liturgy. But what is liturgy, after all, but a form of drama – often with a poetic element? So here we go …
While published rites already exist for blessing a house and for deconsecrating church buildings, there is nothing comparable to mark the leaving of a family home. New Zealand poet Jane Simpson has now composed a ritual The Farewelling of a Home which is intended to fill that gap. This is a ceremony which seems particularly timely – even if it was not conceived with COVID-19 in mind – as a response to the devastations of a global pandemic which have disrupted many lives and family situations.
The Farewelling of a Home seeks to meet the human need to deal with the mixed emotions of loss and gratitude which must arise when a house is left behind after long occupation – for instance, when a younger generation has to relinquish the home in which they grew up because their parents can no longer live there. It could also fit the situation where those parents have to decide for themselves that they must downsize to smaller accommodation. It could be used when a family simply moves on to a new location in pursuit of work or education. And it is appropriate after a natural disaster leaves a home damaged beyond repair, as has happened after quite recent earthquakes in New Zealand.
The liturgy is designed to be led by the householder or any person that the householder chooses – and it is not necessary for this to be an ordained person. It is envisaged that there may be quite a large group of friends and neighbours in attendance besides the householders and immediate family. The service invites group responses to some of the prayers and the whole ritual has a dynamic structure and is intended to take place in all the different rooms of the house. It incorporates – indeed encourages – some flexibility for spontaneous reminiscence by members of the group. It allows for use of music and permits space for child-friendly elements. A form of inclusivity that is particular to New Zealand is that parts of the service are in both Maori and English.
The opening or gathering prayer calmly and reassuringly sets the tone of what is to come
in the midst of the brokenness of our world and our lives. We give thanks for what this home has meant to us. We treasure what was good and acknowledge what was painful,
It then goes on to confront the finality of the moment
O God of beginnings and endings, now it is time (for us) to leave this place,
There follows a choice of apt and empathetic prayers appropriate to various circumstances: death (sudden or otherwise); movement to retirement home; or accidents such as flood or fire (whether resulting from natural or man-made causes – although the distinction between these two is increasingly becoming blurred). After this the liturgy offers sections to be used in each of the main rooms of the house (although of course it provides alternatives for use when some or all of the home may be inaccessible). These prayers sometimes use direct Biblical quotation (as in this borrowing of Psalm 139)
IN A BEDROOM O Lord, you have searched me and known me. You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways
and sometimes they embed scriptural echoes neatly within everyday language.
IN THE KITCHEN
Creator God, we give thanks this day for cooking and conversation, for family and friends, unexpected guests, the fruit of the earth, the work of our hands, for recipes passed down, new ones to test, your kingdom like leaven in a lump of dough, the mustard seed sown that becomes a great tree
After a significant time of looking back and experiencing the home for a last time there are prayers and encouragements for looking ahead. These begin with a formal dialogue
The group says to the householder(s) God of the journey, you are the faithful traveller, the companion on the way,
the courage to meet the future and grace to let go. The householder(s) respond God of comfort, be our rock, shelter us under your eternal wings
And a little later there is the final moving conclusion that seeks to provide both closure and a healthy resolve to go forward rather than look back
The group sends the householder(s) out. Go and carry God’s blessing from this place to the next.
The householder(s) then say Let us go in peace. We will not come here again. The group leaves the house in silence. The householder(s) close the front door for the last time.
Simply to read this liturgy can feel rather artificial as it is plainly designed to be performed (not quite the right word but still …) And the act of reading is inevitably a little sobering. Even if one has no immediate expectation of having to move house or of being part of anyone else’s enforced move we cannot help but be reminded that unforeseen and life-changing events can – and almost certainly will – occur. Jane Simpson’s well-chosen words offer a framework for coming to terms with one particular kind of loss by providing language to help us face such upheavals and suggesting words that encourage us to hope that painful circumstances can – through love – be transformed into fresh futures.
This rite is an allowed rather than authorised rite in the Anglican Church in New Zealand; and I cannot say what its status is in the UK – but it is hard to imagine anyone raising any objections to it! The text is available through the poiema website at the head of this review; and although the liturgy is specifically Christian, its sensitivity and accessibility mean that its structure could be adapted for a ceremony by a secular celebrant – with of course the caveat that it is appropriate to contact the copyright holder before any such adaptation!