United Dioceses of Dublin & Glendalough



Sermon by the Rt Revd Michael Jackson at the Funeral of the Revd Wilbert Gourley

Following is an abridged version of a sermon by the Rt Revd Michael Jackson at the Funeral of the Revd Wilbert Gourley, Rector of Zion Parish, Rathgar, Diocese of Dublin

St John 14:1: Jesus said: Set your troubled hearts at rest. Trust in God always; trust also in me.

Words of encouragement from Jesus to his disciples come at a time when the disciples themselves are very lost and Jesus is about to die and leave them. There is a particular fragility which plays on this very human scene. But some of the most important things come out, some of the most important connections are made - exactly and precisely when people are still feeling their way and unsure of what will happen next. These connections are strong and true in our own tragic circumstances today, as we mark with gratitude and sorrow the life of Wilbert, husband of Gladys, father of Peter, Catherine and Andrew, grandfather of Ethna, Angel, Zac, Lara, Dillon, Charlie and rector of this parish. We remember also the sadness of Fiona, Tina and Peter together with all members of Gladys’s family.

This is a time of tragedy for all of us gathered today in Zion. These moments are also special because memories are raw. I greatly appreciate being here as a friend among friends. It comes through the kind and generous invitation of Gladys to preach at Wilbert’s Funeral Service in the parish church where he has served for twenty-two years and where during two of those years I worked happily and fruitfully alongside him as curate-assistant, as indeed I had done previously alongside his predecessor Bishop Roy Warke. It is always a particularly poignant moment when sheep say: Farewell to their shepherd, when parishioners take leave of their rector in the circumstance of death in service. For Wilbert, Zion was his home for twenty-two years, the longest time he spent ministering in any one place. He was ordained to serve as curate-assistant of Newtownards, a distinction which he shared with his predecessor. Three years in the diocese of Down were followed by three years in the diocese of Clogher, as incumbent of Currin, Drum and Newbliss, where Wilbert is still remembered with affection by people who took both him and Gladys to their hearts, as the people of Clogher do. Seven and a half years in St George’s and St Thomas’s preceded his arrival in Zion in 1988. Peter was born while the Gourleys lived in Newtownards; Catherine and Andrew while they were in Scotshouse Rectory.

Gladys and Wilbert had met over a pair of scissors – it is less dramatic than it sounds! Gladys was the Catering Supervisor in the then Divinity Hostel and Wilbert, an ordinand, needed a pair of scissors to remove a badge from a pair of football trousers. Being of a practical turn of mind, Gladys insisted that he undertake to bring the scissors back – which he duly did. Wearing a pair of football trousers with no badge, all on your own, clearly proved to be a more lonely occupation than Wilbert anticipated, so he and Gladys found themselves not too long after at the cinema. History took its wonted and romantic course, as is the way of cinemas. They were married in Templemore on Easter Monday 1971 and promptly moved to London where Wilbert studied in King’s College for the degree of Bachelor of Divinity.

Working with Wilbert was a fascinating and enriching experience. At all points, I found him open to new concepts and generous in running with you when you had an idea. Even if it were half-formed, as most of the ideas curates have somehow tend to be, he was never patronizing. The day came when Zion would have to find its way in the world without a stipendiary curate, and, as its last stipendiary curate, I say it with the greatest of delight – that may indeed have been the time when, as a parish community, it really began to blossom and flourish. Wilbert was, and remained, scholarly, even bookish, by instinct. Yet he had the capacity, not vouchsafed to all of us who are ordained, to release energies in people, both likely people and unlikely people.

Young and old alike related to Wilbert. We see testimony to this in the many people who rallied to his assistance during his time of tragic illness and, we have to be honest, rapid decline, as the cancer, like the claws of the crab from which it takes its name, took hold and bit deep in him. The capacity of individuals and of the whole community to rally to the Gourley family when the need was greatest deserves to go down in the annals of this parish. It would be possible to name individuals but I should rather leave those who contributed most to consider themselves at the heart of this very broad and sincere thank-you which Gladys has asked me to voice on her behalf.

The good which any one person does, in fact does good for other people. People do good in their own lifetime. That goodness lives on in the lives of those who follow after them. Difficult questions, however painful their context, open up things which matter. They create space in which God speaks to us; and this really does matter. Journeying in faith and living in good faith take us to unexpected places and lead us ever onward to remember with gratitude, to follow in thanksgiving and to give back with love and hope.

John Milton wrote a poem entitled On Time in 1632 which holds together heaven and earth and communicates the biblical hope that God is all in all. Of time itself he says:

…For when as each thing bad thou hast entombed,
And last of all thy greedy self consumed,
Then long eternity shall greet our bliss
With an individual kiss;
And joy shall overtake us as a flood,
When every thing sincerely good
And perfectly divine,
With Truth and Peace, and Love, shall ever shine …

In the pattern of John Milton we move by way, truth and life to truth, peace and love. May God overtake … as a flood Wilbert Robert Joseph, priest, in the peace, the truth and the love of the heavenly places where torment is no more.

St John 14.3 And if I go to prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.

The Revd Wilbert Gourley at Diocesan Synod 2009
The Revd Wilbert Gourley at Diocesan Synod 2009

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