A few thoughts from the Requiem Mass Celebrating the Life of Rt Rev Anthony Palmer. 4th Feb 1966 – 20th July 2014
I attended the requiem of the late Bishop Tony Palmer at St. John the Evangelist Roman Catholic Church in the City of Bath on the 6th August. Canon David Ryan the parish priest at St. John’s ( a truly beautiful and Spirit filled believer) kindly gave me a place to stay in the presbytery so that I didn’t have to rush back home after the funeral or seek more expensive accommodation in the city.
I arrived after a rather long and tedious journey by train from Bexhill-on Sea to Bath, arriving a couple of hours before the funeral. (A special word of sincere thanks goes to my dear friends in the USA, Vivian Ruth Sawyer and Thomas Nolan who helped finance my attendance).
St. John the Evangelist church is situated in the city centre five minutes from the railway station, so I had time to rest and eat some pizza, which the house keeper had kindly prepared, before other guests started arriving. The Requiem was purposefully arranged to be at 4p.m. to enable the funeral cortège to get through the heavily congested city centre roads, many of which had road works in progress.
Bishops and priests from the Communion of Evangelical Episcopal Churches arrived an hour or so before the start of the requiem mass, along with guests from other churches locally and from around the world. Bruno Ierullo and Steve Long the senior Pastor of Catch the Fire Church in Toronto came and represented John and Carol Arnott who had recently been with Bishop Tony and Pope Francis at a meeting in the Vatican of a number of Charismatic Evangelicals from North America.
I felt a little like a lion in a den of Daniels, but my fear diminished as we greeted one another and shared our stories as to why we were there and how Bishop Tony had been influential in all our lives. In one way or another his life and vision had touched each of us individually. I found myself completely at home with these brothers and sisters in Christ who were encourager’s and enablers in so many ways.
(Tony’s family arrived about a twenty minutes before the start of the mass; Emiliana his wife and their two children, Daniele and Gabriella, along with Tony’s sister and other relatives and close friends).
We all shared and discussed different matters and I was able to share the vision of the Companions of Jesus and found all responded favourably. In fact I found again here just as I had done with Tony, that we shared a common vision for unity in the Body of Christ. Bishop David Carr OSL and his brother Bishop Anthony Carr OSL spoke to me about the Order of St. Leonard and were interested in how the Companions of Jesus is a Non-Denominational Order with a very similar vision. (A quote from the OSL website reads, “The primary goal of the OSL was, and is, to bring together all Christians, regardless of differing denominations and streams, without leaving their distinctive groupings, in to a unified fellowship for prayer, mission and to help the disadvantaged.”).
I have forgotten some names of the many who I spoke with, Fr. Steve Hughes, Revd. Esther Squire, Fr.Giles and Bishop James of the CEEC along with a number of local Anglican priests who knew Tony.
Fr. David our wonderful host led us out to greet Tony’s mortal remains as they arrived at the entrance to the Church. Fr. David told us he would like us as ministers to lead the procession up to the sanctuary and for us to remain at the front either side of the altar in the choir stalls. Fr David confessed that he would have loved us to be able to con-celebrate with him, but for now this was impossible. He found he had to remember his vow of obedience to the diocesan bishop and knew we would understand.
Fr. David told us that because Tony was not a Roman Catholic he had to ask his bishops permission to celebrate the requiem and though Tony’ s wife and children are Roman Catholics, permission still had to be given for the requiem. The bishop agreed but said that Tony could not be buried as a bishop as he was not a Roman Catholic bishop. However, Pope Francis said he should and could be buried as a bishop…and so that put an end to that little bit of ecclesiastical nonsense!
The Church was packed and though the Ark Community had wanted to have the funeral to go out live on streamed TV over the internet, there were too many technical problems. The church of St. John the Evangelist is a magnificent building in the centre of Bath, but like so many old monolithic structures it is suffering from age and is in need of a number of repairs. The church this week was full of scaffolding which trellis like covered one side of the church from ground to ceiling, from entrance right up to the sanctuary where the Tony’s Coffin was placed at the foot of the sanctuary in front of the altar.
As I sat with my fellow brother and sister ministers looking down from the choir stalls to the side of the altar, I was struck by the prophetic vision that was before us. I saw Tony’s coffin next to the trellis of iron girders and heard that call to St Francis of Assisi and more recently to Tony Palmer, a call to go and repair the brokenness of The Church. There in this building, in such need of repair, was a picture…of the Body of Christ, The Church of God. There in the coffin lay the remains of a man who like our seraphic father Francis had heeded the call to ‘go and repair my house which as you can see is in ruins’.
Other too heard that call this day and so it is for each of us to continue on this road which The Lord calls us to and which Tony helped re-lay, a road that draws brothers who have been too long divided, together again in Christ Jesus.
The requiem was beautiful, the liturgy fitting for such an occasion, the music was uplifting led by the Vineyard Church Fellowship and the music ministry of St’ Johns church. Daniele and Gabriella both spoke lovingly and passionately of their father. Emiliana read out a letter from Pope Francis that was both touching and profound.
Tony’s mortal remains were taken to the Eyre Chapel Crypt, at Perrymeade Catholic Cemetery, in Bath.
In part of the message Pope Francis sent to the conference of Charismatic Evangelical Christians in the USA through Bishop Tony, Pope Francis said, “ I am speaking to you as a brother. I speak to you in a simple way. With joy and yearning. Let us allow our yearning to grow, because this will propel us to find each other, to embrace one another. And together to worship Jesus Christ as the only Lord of History.”
I pray that we will work and walk together in the power of The Holy Spirit and that the blessing promised in Psalm 133 will be ours.
Pax et Bonum
Michael Daly. CJ
8th August 2014