Monday, 30 December 2013

Funeral of Rita Genway

Text from the funeral of Rita Genway, a long standing member of St Martin's Church.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him… Therefore encourage one another with these words.

These words, written in Paul’s 1st letter to the Thessalonians, seem particularly appropriate today, as we gather to celebrate and thank God for the life of a much loved individual, whose faith in God, even in the midst of terrible suffering, remained steadfast right up to the very end of her life. 

Rita was born in Bloxwich on the 4th November 1935, and was one of five children.  Tragically Rita’s parents Harold and Lillian, they lost two of their children in childhood, first Iris who died at the age of 4 from whooping cough, and then Lesley who died at the age of 5.  Rita was incredibly close to her two remaining sisters Betty and June, who were with Rita right up to the very end of her life. 

Rita grew up in a home where the Christian faith played a very important role.  Bot her parents had a very strong faith, and as a family they worshipped together at All Saints Church in Bloxwich. 

Despite the loss of two sibblings, Rita had a very happy childhood.  During the war her father kept pigs in the back yard, and shared everything they had.  If there was anyone in any particular need, Rita’s parents would assist them in any way they could.  This undoubtedly greatly influenced Rita, and the kind, thoughtful and incredibly generous person she herself became.

During the war her parents took in many evacuees, it was therefore not uncommon for Rita or Betty to come home at night and find a stranger sleeping in their bed.

Rita’s parents also fostered lots of children, and so the house was always full and always busy.  Rita used to help run the Sunday School in the local Community Centre, and she would take whatever children were staying in her house at the time to Sunday School. 

Rita attended school in Bloxwich before transferring to Walsall Technical College which specialised in secretarial work.  It was here that she met Ron Gittins who has been a lifelong friend, to both Rita and Ray, and lives only a few doors down from them on Daisy Bank Crescent.

After leaving school she went to do secretarial work in the Walsall Town Clerk's Office.  Here she met Shirley York, who became another lifelong friend, and also godmother to Rita and Ray’s daughters Elaine and Nicola.  Rita left the town clerk's office when expecting Elaine. 

She returned to paid employment some years later, after her friend June invited Rita to accompany her on a catering course that was being run at Walsall College.  As a result of this course, Rita was offered a job as head cook at Park Hall Infant School.  Everything was cooked from scratch, and it was Rita’s responsibility to draw up the menu, and supervise the cooking.  She would often go into school on a Sunday afternoon in order to start preparing the meals for the week ahead.

For the past 51 years Rita has been married to Ray, and throughout that time they have been inseparable.  They met outside the Express & Star Office in Wolverhampton.  Ray was on his way to Queen's Dance Hall with a group of friends, and Rita had been invited by one of the group to join them.  That was in May 1961, and the following year, on the 24th November 1962 they got
married at All Saints Church.

Rita and Ray were incredibly close, and although they’ve faced lots of challenges along the way battling ill health, there love and devotion to one another has been evident for all to see.  Rita was a magnificent wife. 

In 1965 Elaine who was born, followed by Nicola in 1969.  Of the many special memories Elaine and Nicola have of their mother, include the two week annual vacation by the seaside, where Rita would build a sand car which the girls would then pretend to drive. The other abiding memory was the wonderful smells wafting down the street that would greet them as they returned home from school.  When Elaine was young, Rita used to accompany her to many different dance festivals

On the way into Rita and Ray’s house is a sign which reads ‘Grandmas Babysitting Service Little people always welcome, services include, meals, lessons, entertainment and lots of hugs.’  It was an apt sign to have, for Rita’s three grandchildren, Isabell, who called her Grand Moo Moo, a name she came up with as a small child, and Matthew and Nathan, who knew her as Grandma. 

When Nicola went back to work after having Matthew, Rita and Ray looked after Matthew a great deal.

Rita was incredibly creative, and used to come up with wonderful ideas of how to entertain the grandchildren.  She collected endless supplies of boxes for Matthew and Nathan to play with, and out of them Rita would construct boats, ships, and castles.  She also shared her love of baking with them, making cakes together.  And the boys loved Grandma’s spaghetti bolognaise. 

Rita also helped Isabell to make mammoth greetings card, which she could take back with her to America, and also taught Isabell how to make scones. 

No matter how ill she was, Rita, was always delighted to see her grandchildren and would often talk about them. 

Amongst Rita’s other interests, she loved watching football, and supported Liverpool FC.  She only ever visited the city of Liverpool once, but supported the football club because she liked the way they played, and she remained a loyal supporter, even when they weren’t doing so well.  Rita would also go with Ray to watch Walsall play. 

She also liked to visit National Trust properties, and was a keen gardener, and liked to visit garden centers for a cup of tea. 

In 1996 Elaine & Rob emigrated to the United States, and Rita and Ray have visited them on several occasions. 

Rita has suffered a lot of ill health over her life.  But she was a fighter, and no matter how ill she was, would always say, “There are other people worse off than me.” 

Rita drew immense strength from her faith in God, which has been central to her life.  Even in the most difficult of times, Rita knew that God has with her.  In 1963 Ray and Rita moved to Daisy Bank Crescent, and since that time have been members of St Martin’s Church.  St Martin’s was a huge part of her life.  She was involved in the home groups, flower arranging, and the mother and toddler group when her own children were young.  She threw herself into anything that was going on, and she and Ray became much loved members of the church family.  

Of the many cards Ray has received following Rita’s death, they all mention how faithful and good Rita was, this is a testament of Rita’s faith in God, and how she touched so many lives.

One of Rita’s priced possessions was a small holding cross, which she always kept with her.  When in hospital, or really suffering, she would hold on to that cross, both as a form of prayer, but also as a sign of holding on to God, and the knowledge the even in the darkest of times, God holds on to us.

It reminded me of the words of the hymn ‘The Old Rugged Cross’.  ‘So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross, till my trophies at last I lay down; I will cling to the old rugged cross, and exchange it some day for a crown.’

Over the last few months, when we knew Rita’s cancer had spread, and that there was nothing more the doctors could do for her, we talked about the hope that we share in Christ, and the crown that we would inherit. 

This is why our reading from Revelation 21 was chosen, because it talks about the promise of new life to come that is found in Jesus Christ.  Rita in this life suffered a lot, and although she was determined to carry on fighting her illness, so she could spend as much time as possible with her family, she knew that when she died she would be going home to God, going to a place where suffering and pain would be no more. 

Revelation 21 talks about the new heaven and new earth and promises us that God will ‘make his home among his people.  He will wipe all tears from their eyes, and there will be no more death, suffering, crying, or pain. These things of the past are gone forever.

This is possible because of the victory that Christ won for us on the cross.  We have just celebrated the birth of Jesus.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus himself tells us why he came.  For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16).  It is because of Jesus’ death on the cross, and his resurrection that Rita had hope in the face of death, and why we too can also share in that hope. 

That is why for the Christian Death is not extinguishing the light; it is only putting out the lamp because the dawn has come. 

As a child I loved reading the Narnia books by CS Lewis.  In the Last Battle, the final book of the series, CS Lewis has this wonderful description of what heaven is like.  He writes The term is over: the holidays have begun. The dream is ended: this is the morning…. All their life in this world and all their adventures had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” 

It is for this reason, that Paul was able to write ’do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope.’  Because of Jesus, and the victory he has won for us, there is hope, even in the face of death. Hope of the new life to come. 

Today as we celebrate Rita’s life, we celebrate also the victory Christ won for us.  At the end of this service we will sing that great hymn of praise which reminds us of the victory over death that is ours in Christ. 

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;
angels in bright raiment rolled the stone away,
kept the folded grave clothes where thy body lay.

Lo! Jesus meets us, risen from the tomb;
Lovingly he greets us, scatters fear and gloom;
let the Church with gladness, hymns of triumph sing;
for her Lord now liveth, death hath lost its sting. 

No more we doubt thee, glorious Prince of life;
life is naught without thee; aid us in our strife;
make us more than conquerors, through thy deathless love:
bring us safe through Jordan to thy home above. 

Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son;
endless is the victory, thou o'er death hast won;

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