The Rev'd Joe Foreman
The warm and sunny spring day that greeted the many parishioners of St Bartholomew's Church as they gathered to attend the funeral of the much-loved Joe Foreman on Thursday, 10th April, seemed so appropriate for a gentleman cleric whose personal outlook on life was invariably sunny, and warm towards everyone.
The service was conducted by Canon Cliff Bannister, with contributions from Mike Brearly, partner of Joe and Joan's youngest daughter, Jilly, and parishioner, John Reynolds.
Mike's tribute, given on behalf of the family, began by saying how Joe was anxious for this day to be one of gratitude and a celebration of his long and full life. Joe's faith was built on his unshakeable trust in and commitment to God and these values shaped his life. Those who remember Joe's sermons will also recall his delight in words, his profound wisdom and knowledge, and the obvious care with which he prepared them.
His love for Joan, and their marriage of 62 years following their 'meeting at 15 years of age', indicates clearly, a marriage 'made in heaven'. Family was paramount for Joe. He loved his daughters, Jan, Jo and Jilly, and the grandchildren that duly followed. Patient and kind, Joe would love telling them stories he'd make up, almost on the spot, much to their pleasure. Over and above all things, Joe said his life had been infused 'with a sense of blessedness and thankfulness for the people I have been given to cherish and love'.
Indeed, perhaps in some ways Joe, with his sense of fun, didn't grow up himself. Mike told an amusing story how on one occasion Joe entered a restaurant in Winchester, wearing a Groucho Marks mask – and another time, asked an assistant in Boots if they had liquid paraffin, and if so, what about some gelignite to go with it?
Happiness, Mike said, was Joe's enduring legacy to the family; a feeling he so readily invoked. The 'mountain of cards' at home spoke volumes, Mike added, not only offering condolences, but recalling stories about Joe that had touched their senders' lives.
John Reynolds read a poem, Do not stand by my grave and weep by Mary Elizabeth Frye.
In his sermon, Cliff observed that “Joe's active ordained ministry lasted for 23 years at St Bartholomew's – he had actually been a member much longer, probably for at least 30 years or more.
“He was for a time a churchwarden and was gradually discovering a vocation to be a priest and to serve in his home parish. With the support of Joan and his family Joe threw himself in to his studying with the Southern Dioceses Ministerial Training Scheme, and was ordained deacon in 1986 and priest in 1987. As with many who offer themselves for the ordained ministry, Joe gave all his time voluntarily and received no stipend.
“By the time I arrived as incumbent, Joe had decided, as he told me “to hang up his cassock” and retire, so I never actually had the experience of working alongside him as did Amanda, who had come in the midst of her curacy to minister here during the vacancy before me. Many people have told me how much they valued and appreciated Joe’s ministry over the years. As vicars came and went, Joe was the one constant, who provided the continuity and reassuring presence in preaching and leading worship and pastoral care. Quite understandably at the age Joe was and having done a number of interregnums he did not feel up to taking the last one on, but as Amanda told me Joe supported her unstintingly and coped with working with her - a woman and a newcomer - with extraordinary grace. She has fond memories of Joe’s kindness and protection of her as a curate, his modesty and gentle humility, non-judgemental way; that he was a sensitive caring priest who preached well and served the parish with generosity and real affection.
“I am sure many whose lives Joe touched here will echo those words. I was grateful for the way he welcomed and supported me when I came and valued his insights about the parish. I know he struggled with ageing and not being as fit as he wanted to be - and often told me he wished he could still offer to help us out with a service when we needed holiday cover and when he could see we were stretched more when we joined with St Lawrence Parish. He was good humoured and as Amanda reminded me, Joe always managed to find something light-hearted to say - a little quip to avoid complaining or being thought a grumpy old man! I enjoyed the chats we had and in recent weeks it was a privilege to take him and Joan Communion at home when his health became worse. In fact, the last time I did so was just a day before he died.
“Joe chose hymns for us to sing today which proclaim an undying faith in God’s promises through Jesus, whose life, death and resurrection the church remembers and celebrates so fully in Holy Week and on Easter Day. Joe leaves us a reminder of the Easter hope we are called to proclaim and to live as the one re-assuring constant in our lives.
“Although, like Jesus' disciples, we feel today we have troubled hearts as we make our farewells to Joe, and we thank God for Joe, we can nevertheless rejoice with him and for him and pray with confidence that he may take his place in that home to which he has trusted Jesus has been leading him as his way, his truth and his life.
“May he rest in peace and rise in glory”.
As Cliff notes, Joe prepared much of the service himself, so it seems appropriate to finish with the poem printed on the last page of the service booklet:
My life is a tree,
Yoke-fellow of the earth:
By roots too deep for remembrance,
To stand hard against the storm,
To fill my place,
But high in the branches of my green tree
There is a wild bird singing:
Wind-free are the wings of my bird:
For she has built no mortal nest.
Karle Wilson Baker