Kate Gross’s best memorial will be the lives she has changed for the better; her family, in whom all her loving and her gifts are still alive and growing, the friends and colleagues she inspired, and the untold thousands in Africa whose health and livelihood have been so profoundly improved by her work in running AGI. Her other great memorial will be her book Late Fragments: Everything I want to tell you (about this magnificent life), a book that will itself be life-enhancing for all its readers.
I cannot really add to these magnificent memorials but I would like nevertheless to record here what a moving experience it was for me to be her parish priest, to prepare her for baptism, to take her last communion, and to take her funeral. In all those encounters I was as much, if not more, ministered unto than ministering. The best way I can evoke and remember her here is to share with you the poem we read at her Baptism and the sermon I preached at her funeral.
As we began the conversations that led to her Baptism I had begun to write a sonnet for Steve Bell’s beautiful Pilgrimage album, and as it was finished, even before I sent it to Steve I realised that its imagery and shaping had been influenced by my encounters with Kate. I read her the sonnet and she asked to have it read, amongst other poems, at her baptism. She loved swimming, and clear flowing rivers and I think something of the poem’s image of turning upstream to our source was helpful to her. As I worked on the sermon for her funeral I realised that the baptism service had already said the deepest things we needed to say, and so the poem found its way too into the sermon. Here is the text of the poem, which is also printed as part of the Pilgrimage Album. You can hear me read the poem by clicking on the play button or the title. After the poem I have added a link to a recording of the sermon.
Come, dip a scallop shell into the font
For birth and blessings as a child of God.
The living water rises from that fount
Whence all things come, that you may bathe and wade
And find the flow, and learn at last to follow
The course of Love upstream towards your home.
The day is done and all the fields lie fallow
One thing is needful, one voice calls your name.
Take the true compass now, be compassed round
By clouds of witness, chords of love unbound.
Turn to the Son, begin your pilgrimage,
Take time with Him to find your true direction.
He travels with you through this darkened age
And wakes you everyday to resurrection.
Here is a link to the sermon.The recording stops just before the end of the final phrase, which is in full ‘The light that shines in darkness and which the darkness has never put out.’