I recently attended a Memorial Service for Ernest Hall, a very dear friend of mine, which was held at a Friend's Meeting House to which he had belonged for most of his life. He decided to become a Quaker on returning to this country following the end of WWII. He'd seen active service in the deserts of North Africa, and was captured and transferred to Germany as a prisoner of War. It was while living among people in the local town where the camp was based, that he discovered they were no different to the people back home, who equally had no say in the conflict between their nations. He learnt what German and Russian he could to help him communicate with those around him - he was known throughout his life as a great communicator and pacifist!
Years later he returned to the town to which he had been held captive, having discovered a press article saying they had failed in their attempts to locate important artefacts that had been removed during the War. He made contact to say that he'd been one of the prisoners of war that had been used to transport these items to a cave which had subsequently been sealed. He returned and took them to the location, where there was much rejoicing especially in the discovery of important tapestries from the local church. He made many friends and visited often, as a sign of reconciliation and peace between our great nations.
Although embracing and appreciating the silence that Quaker worship offered, Ernest would also attend the morning mass at the local Anglican church ('high Anglican' at that); attend mid-week Celtic Prayers at the URC, as well as lead worship on a Sunday morning - introducing silence within the hymns, readings and prayers. He not only engaged in conversations with those of other traditions, but participated fully within the diverse expressions gathered around. He developed such strong ties that local clergy would often make their way to the Friends Meeting House if they had a Sunday off! (ecumenism at its best!)
We all knew that he was a person of amazing faith and commitment, with the ability to live his life by reflecting the example of His Lord, but doing so with a quiet humble presence, accepting and affirming every person he met with the same respect and value irrespective of background, colour, kind or circumstance.
The service was conducted, as you would expect, in silence along the Quaker tradition, but those attending were encouraged to stand and speak if so moved by the Spirit to offer a word. Many did to confirm what everyone else present knew: how fortunate we all were to have known and been blessed by his love and friendship.
One lady stood up, and holding back tears, recalled that she had grown up within the local Quakers having been taken by her mother from the earliest of years. She recalled how the family hit on extremely hard times with the loss of their father, and she and the family experienced a depth of poverty that others would find hard to imagine. One particularly difficult week, she found her mother in a desperate state, because she had not the means to feed her children, only years later discovering that mum had contemplated suicide. The children encouraged mum to approach Ernest and his wife, as they knew them to be caring and kind, and would surely help her put a meal on the table. Mum was persuaded to swallow her pride and so wrote a note and posted it through their door explaining their desperate circumstances and asking for their help. An hour later an envelope was popped through their letterbox with no note, but containing a large amount of money to help them in their stricken state. Some time later, when their circumstances improved, mother took an envelope with money enclosed - again with no note - and popped it through their letterbox to repay what she saw as a debt owed.
That expression of generosity, 52 years previous, she knew, had been the saving of their family - but no words of acknowledgement had ever passed between them. But the daughter thought now was the time to say publically what had been known privately throughout their lives as a testimony to a couple who constantly put their faith into practice and were sensitive to the needs of others. Such quiet generosity had made an indelible mark upon her life, and she had endeavoured to live her life following this incredible example.
As she spoke I couldn't help bringing to mind the words of Jesus from His Sermon on the Mount: "So, when you give to others, do not announce it with a flourish of trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the streets to win the praise of others. Truly I tell you: they have their reward already. But when you give, do not let your left hand know what your right is doing; your good deed must be secret, and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you." (Matthew 6: 2 - 4).