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RIP – Tristam SSF

Tristam SSF died on 28th December 2002 in hospital in London and his funeral mass was at Hilfield Friary. He was aged fifty six years and in the thirty second years of his profession in vows.

A sermon preached at his funeral by Brother Samuel SSF.

I think that many of us are still feeling pretty winded by Tristam’s death. Between us we’ve lost a friend, a brother in the community and of the family, a brother-in-law, an uncle, a colleague, a mentor, a god-father. Goodness knows how many god-children Tristam had; he seemed to breed them! He was a strong personality whom one couldn’t easily ignore. He has made a huge impact upon our lives.

He was of course extraordinarily competent in a whole range of activities. In the Society of St Francis we have a C.V. form for each brother giving his dates of joining as a postulant, of novicing, profession and life profession. It also lists the friaries in which he has lived and the work he has been asked to undertake. Tristam’s tells us that he began life as a Franciscan brother at Alnmouth on the 28th August 1967 where he worked in the kitchen and as part-time secretary to the Guardian – a wise use the office skills he had acquired when working at the Electricity Board in Newark. After six months in the North he came south to Hilfield where he worked in the Sacristy; then on to Glasshampton where he was in the garden – somehow I can’t quite imagine that!

The bit I like, though, is when he gets sent to Fiwila, the Mission Hospital in Zambia which we were running at the time. He went out there in 1973 before his life profession. His duties at Fiwila are listed as: ‘Everything – cook, sacristan, parish work, driver, Guardian etc….’ His sister Wendy remembers his first letter home from Africa in which he described delivering a baby and killing a Black Mamba snake with a spade (he chopped it in two – the snake!). Some of Tristam’s interests were remarkable. I could never understand why someone who was colour blind should take up tapestry. He leaves a great gap in our lives as individuals and as a Society.

I want just to point out three significant foci, perhaps the three foci of his life, which motivated him, which drew him and led him, and which were at the heart of his vocation as a brother, as a Christian and as a human being.

The first focus was The Institution. Tristam, then known as Keith Holland, joined the Youth Section of the Newark Labour Party in the early sixties. While still a teenager he became the Secretary of the local party and a member of Labour’s National Executive. One of his references on joining SSF was from the local MP, Ted Bishop. He had a lifelong interest in politics and government. He was a member of the Church from an early age – a choir boy at Christ Church Newark, and then a server at the great St Mary’s Newark. Throughout his life he saw himself as a servant of the Church – how else could he have endured all those interminable debates in the General Synod?

The culture in which we live today tends to be suspicious, critical, dismissive even, of institutions, whether they be of the State, the Church or of any organisation. We are likely to regard them at best as an unfortunate necessity, taking up our time and energy, and at worst as corrupt and stifling of life. But for Tristam there was no question about it; order, sound structures, good government were essential. He could think through the Constitution of SSF – quite an achievement! Clear lines of authority were important. He needed to know who was in charge. And even if he could sometimes give that person quite a rough time he was immensely loyal both to the individual in authority and to the Community of which he was a member.

This concern for the Institution may not seem to be an obviously spiritual matter, but at the heart of Tristam’s concern was the Gospel of the Kingdom: the vision that the structures are to be changed, shaped, transformed into the pattern of God’s purposes for human society. ‘The kingdoms of the world have become the Kingdom of our God and of his Christ.’ To that Kingdom, to which Tristam witnessed, we commend him today.

A second focus for Tristam was clearly Friendship. He had a huge range of friends. Of course, he didn’t always find us easy – and that’s probably true the other way round too. Who among us hasn’t at some point received the edge of his tongue? Perhaps some of us are still carrying the marks – but he was very good at making up afterwards! One of the last things which Tristam did before he became so desperately ill last August was to take Simon and Matthew, to whom he had become a sort of surrogate god-father, on a day trip to Paris on the Eurostar. I have this lovely image in my mind of Tristam going up the Eiffel Tower and swanning down the Champs Elysee, enjoying life with his friends. At the heart of his generous friendship was that friendship which was the source of his Christian life, and which had called him into our Franciscan Community. To a deeper friendship with the Lord Jesus we now commend you, Tristam, our friend and our brother.

Which brings me to a final focus of Tristam’s life. Tristam didn’t display his faith on his sleeve; he didn’t readily or easily talk about it. His sermons were well prepared and delivered; they could be witty and challenging. He had a very keen mind. But the heart of his faith was expressed not in the sermon but in liturgy. The greatest thing that Tristam has done for us and for the Church is that he has helped us to worship God.

The Daily Office SSF and Celebrating Common Prayer, were not solely the work of Tristam – there were many others involved – but Tristam was undoubtedly the person who got it together and who saw through the project. And if not everybody likes every single word, that’s just a sign that the Daily Prayer of the Church is in an on-going process of development. In that development Tristam has been a key figure – for whom we owe to God a huge debt of thanksgiving.
Which is why we commend Tristam to God today in the context of a Eucharist, this great action of Thanksgiving. There is penitence, certainly, the cry for mercy: ‘Kyrie Eleison’ – for death for us all is a terrible stripping away before God of so much that we count dear in this life: ‘All we go down to the dust……’ But we present Tristam and ourselves to God with confidence and even with joy, for God is our Creator, our Redeemer and our Sustainer, who judges every moment of our lives with unfathomable mercy and compassion; who knows and claims every atom of our existence, and who can transform by his unbounded love the very dust of which we are made.

So with you, Tristam, with all our brothers and sisters living and departed, ‘weeping o’er the grave we make our song’ with great love and thankfulness: ‘Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.’ f