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RIP – Paul SSF

Brother Paul SSF died on 30 July 2001 and his funeral mass was at Hilfield Friary. He was aged sixty-four years and in the fifteenth year of his profession in vows.
The text of the sermon preached at the funeral requiem by Brother Damian SSF:
On the same day, when the even was come, Jesus saith unto them, Let us pass over unto the other side. (Mark 4.35)
On Tuesday, the day after Paul died, I journeyed across to Canterbury. In the pedestrian area stood a man trying to sell the Big Issue. Spotting me he told me eagerly he knew Hilfield (Frankie was his name.) His first question was, ‘How is Br Paul?’ I had to tell him, of course.

Paul was one of the Community’s characters, and many are going to miss him for, in our Franciscan family, he leaves a genuine gap. And in his immediate family, where he was known as Roy, he was also deeply loved, deeply respected, and particularly as a father to Michelle and brother to Sue.

Royston Grigg was born in Rotherhythe, London, on 16 October 1936. Losing his father in a dockyard accident when he was only four or five put him at a place of disadvantage that was bound to affect his progress in life. For a time he was a choirboy and a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade. He made an early decision to break with home and join the Army and then, indeed, to marry at the age of twenty-six. Michelle, their daughter, was born and Corporal Grigg travelled with 29th Squadron of the 35th Regiment, Royal Engineers, as a bridge-builder. This took him to Germany, to Bahrain and right out to Christmas Island in the Pacific Ocean. Useful and popular as he was with others, sadly his domestic life disintegrated in pain and divorce.

So when Roy came out of the Army with his bridge-building skills, he put these to advantage by working for the National Farmers Union and putting up the structures for the big Shows. However there were still big questions around and, using the advice he would often offer to others in difficulty or confusion, he said, ‘Just knock on the door,’ and repeated to himself, ‘Just knock on the door.’ It was the gentle guidance of a friend that led Roy into a living faith and trust in God his Maker, and in Jesus who is Saviour and Lord. With the help of his local vicar at Shipston on Stour, and later at Holy Trinity, Stratford on Avon, a door opened with SSF, and Paul heard the Lord calling him to cross over into a new vocation.

Taking the name of Brother Saul – a name that almost betrayed his own lack of confidence and self-esteem – he joined the Society in 1984. Vincent made him a postulant and Anselm clothed him in a Franciscan habit and later received his profession on 14 March 1987. Now he was Brother Paul, and in the footsteps of his namesake, the Apostle and tent-maker, Paul shared among us many of his creative talents and gifts, showing his gentle respect for all created things, glorying in the detailed work of a tapestry, or listening profoundly to an ever-expanding collection of classical tapes, growing a new variety of fuchsia, his favourite plant, arranging wild flowers, collecting foreign stamps – all these released in him that reverence for life, and a creative sensitivity, which had somehow got gummed up in childhood. But, like Saint Francis, Paul’s Christian witness was more profound than simply preaching to the birds. His gift of understanding of other people’s failures brought fruits a hundredfold from those whose lives were blighted by the big issues of destitution, experienced by a wayfarer, and particularly among the many seamen who came to the Mission for Seafarers. A rich and rewarding time came when Paul was part of our Friary in Ulster and he was snapped up as Assistant Lay Chaplain at the local Mission to Seamen centre in Belfast. Paul’s work in Northern Ireland was some time ago – 1989-1994, yet even today seamen are regularly enquiring about him, and they are among the many who this week have paid tribute to his canny pastoral gifts amongst the most reluctant and aggrieved.
In 1994 however, the call came again from the Lord to go across to the other side, this time to the other side of the world, to share the life and work of our Brothers in the Pacific Islands. Paul volunteered to help build up the competence of the local brothers in community administration. He served the Islands as Provincial Secretary and taught the able Brother Gilson the craft of Regional Bursar in Papua New Guinea. Though there were always ups and downs, he established an effective system of accounting that continues to serve their Province well – and what a joy it was to Paul in these last weeks to meet again with Brother Oswald, with whom he had worked closely in PNG.

Clearly his time there was costly as he was unable to adjust to the local diet, and so regular visits to the Bird of Paradise in Goroka was identified as the essential weekly supplement to his welfare: a solid plate of chips!

Paul’s faith has remained simple and profound, based on a complete trust in the love of God, to whom he was able to turn in times of trouble. ‘Thank God,’ he wrote to me in 1995 from Goroka, ‘we can turn to him with our problems; he knows what we want before we do. We just have to plod on and do the best we can together, or go under – and that will not happen if we trust in the Lord and his guidance. As for money, brother, you can send some more any time. I can always use it to buy underpants or socks that rot after they’ve been washed a few times.’ But I hope he spent it on chips.

He returned in the summer of 1998, via Brisbane which he adored, and the rest we know. He has remained a loyal working member of Hilfield Friary, putting on some weight but then losing it again in these last months. But from the very moment he knew he had cancer, which may be traced back to those wretched nuclear tests on Christmas Island, he has spoken boldly and humbly about his readiness to meet his Maker face to face. His faith in Jesus, taking his words simply and directly, ‘Ask and you will receive, seek and you will find,’ just knock on the door. That was the essence of his creed. And he witnessed to it valiantly, and bore his cross courageously, because he had without compromise dedicated his life fully, or as he would have said, I’ve done my best.

Through his trips to Poole with Brother Kevin and many others for radiotherapy, and the care of his brothers here, and the visits of his family, and finally the skills of the Joseph Weld Hospice in Dorchester: ‘The golden evening brightened in the west; Soon, soon to faithful warriors cometh rest: Sweet is the calm of Paradise the blest.’ And Paul was again able to hear the familiar voice at the end, when the even was come, and Jesus saith, Let us pass over unto the other side.

Paul, as you travel again with him into the seas of eternity, may you indeed find your contentment, your happiness and your fulfilment in the Lord, whom you have faithfully served. May you rest in peace, and rise in glory. f