On Tuesday I attended the funeral of the Revd (Squadron Leader) Pete Tollerson.
Pete and I were ordained together at Carlisle Cathedral in 2001, and went through Post Ordination Training (commonly referred to as 'Potty' training) together, before Pete joined the RAF as a chaplain in 2004 and I continued in Parish ministry. Pete died from cancer at the age of only 45 on July 10th 2010, and leaves behind a wife and two young children.
Although a sad occasion, Pete's funeral was also a wonderful and inspiring occasion full of Christian hope, in which Christ's victory over death was celebrated. It is for this reason that I love this passage from Paul's letter to the Thessalonians: "My friends, we want you to understand how it will be for those followers who have already died. Then you won't grieve over them and be like people who don't have any hope. We believe that Jesus died and was raised to life. We also believe that when God brings Jesus back again, he will bring with him all who had faith in Jesus before they died…. [Therefore] Encourage each other with these words." (1 Thess 4:13-14, 18)
Pete had great confidence in this message, and wrote the following message which was included in the order of service:
"In the April this year a friend shared with me a picture he'd had during a time of prayer. He saw me walking toward Jesus and the vision of joy that lay behind Him. I looked back and witnessed the sorrow of those I was leaving and for a moment I experienced some conflict about which way to go. But focusing upon Christ I was given strength to keep on my journey toward Him.
My life and ministry have been all about that journey toward Jesus, the One who has been my light, my life and my great joy – He loved me and gave his life for me, He has guided me and granted me so many blessings – He has done me no wrong.
Today, maybe you don't believe in this Jesus; maybe you think 'when you're gone you're gone' – end of story? I would appear to you to think again, to ask your questions and give yourself no rest until you have come to a point of peace about your relationship with God through Christ. The poignant thing about my own death is we simply never know when we are going to be called into God's presence – we all need to be ready for that moment. My prayer for you is that you may come to know His love, His forgiveness and a newness of life that begins in the moment you believe and then lasts forever.
I look forward to meeting you again….. Pete"