I got to know Tom Moralee during my time as Vicar here in the 1980s. He was a stalwart of this church, rarely missing a Sunday, always there to help out in whatever way he could. As a new incumbent, I recall thinking: there’s one of those people you instinctively know belongs to the backbone of a place. He was quietly spoken and didn’t draw attention to himself, yet he was a reliable, strong presence who imparted confidence. You are always glad of such people you know you can trust and whose support and friendship you can count on.
Tom was a native North Easterner, Northumberland-born and bred. He had lived in Alnwick since his father’s work brought him here as a teenager. He, Sheila, Brinley, Clare and her husband Steve were - are - a close family. He was utterly conscientious in his work, whether it involved wearing a boiler-suit or an immaculately laundered collar and tie. He was the kind of man we call “public spirited”. He cared about this place and took his citizenship seriously. As a special he was commended by the Chief Constable for his role in connection with a stabbing in the town. Here at St Michael’s he was a sidesman and member of the Parochial Church Council. But he contributed to the social capital in unseen, unsung ways too. If Bailiffgate looked clean and tidy, the chances are that Tom had been there to pick up litter. If the grass in the churchyard looked well-cared for and the weeds kept down, that too could well have been Tom’s work. When elderly parishioners shared Sunday lunch together, Tom was part of the team that did the hard work. He wouldn’t have thought of any of this as exceptional. It’s what you do if your community matters to you and jobs need doing. But goodness doesn’t mean doing extraordinary things. It means doing ordinary things in an extraordinary way.
He knew a lot of people in and around Alnwick, and it’s not surprising that so many are gathered here today. Whether you are among his family and friends, colleagues or neighbours, you will have your own memories of him. There are many stories told about his kindness and care for people. One elderly woman remembered how at Christmas, he took heating oil round to her home because she had run out of fuel. Someone else said that if you were having a bad day, the one person you would have been glad to bump into was Tom. For a private kind of man with what he would have said were traditional values, he had a wicked sense of humour and was famed for his jokes and stories, though as a vicar I didn’t necessarily get to hear the more risqué ones!
All this speaks of a sociable, well-respected man who, perhaps without realising it, acted as a glue to the society of our town (as someone how once lived here, I can’t help thinking of it even after all these years as our town). He helped bind it together in the bonds of friendship, good neighbourliness and citizenhood. Whether in public roles in church or community, or in the intimacies of family and personal life, such good men and women are a precious gift. It’s when they are gone that we become keenly aware of the debt we owe to them.
Which is why we bring our memories to this place where the people of our town have been named and honoured across the centuries. To remember and pay tribute to someone we have lost reminds us how precious they were to us, and always will be. Not simply because of our treasured memories but because death is not the end of the relationships we cherish. Those whom we have loved and lost are always alive to the God in whom all of human life is gathered up in a Love that is more profound than ours can ever be. Today is a day to remind one another that we are always held by God’s everlasting arms every moment from the cradle to the grave and beyond it.
Our Bible reading reassures us on this point. “Nothing can separate us from the love of God” says St Paul in those marvellous words we heard just now, not even the power we are most afraid of, death itself. How could it when Christianity tells us that Jesus suffered, died and was buried; and in rising again at Easter opened the way to everlasting life? In St John’s Gospel, on the night before he died, Jesus bade farewell to his disciples and comforted them. “In my Father’s house are many mansions. If it were not so I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you.” There is room enough for us all: that’s the promise. So he tells us. “Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
Words like these mean everything in our grief. They bring us strength when we feel lost, confidence when we despair, comfort when fears and doubts assail us, light to see by when we are afraid of stumbling in the dark. We say our goodbyes in tears and sorrow, yet edged with hope because of the promise that God will not abandon us. That makes it possible to release our loved ones, give them back to the God who lent them to us, with hearts full of gratitude for all that they were to us.
When I knew I would be leaving Alnwick more than thirty years ago, I decided I would visit each member of the church council personally to let them know. I don’t know why I’ve retained such a clear memory of Tom walking me to the front door after our conversation and his saying to me, “Michael, thank you for these last few years. We won’t forget you when we’ve gone.” Now it’s my turn to say those same words to him, which I do on behalf of all of us. Tom, thank you for the life that we have lived together in these years that have now come to an end. We shall always remember you. Go in God. Rest in peace, Rise in glory. And may God bring us all to the eternal mansions of his love.
Alnwick, 5 August 2019