Today we had the funeral of Graham Hardeman. I first met Graham and his wife Sue when about two and a half years ago we had a phone call at the church office to ask if we could help with a couple who needed their house refurnished from top to bottom after a house fire. Beds, wardrobes, tables, chairs, carpets, white goods, the lot. Ken Bothamley normally dealt with those sort of requests at the time but he was on holiday so the request came to me. I'd only been on staff a couple of months and felt completely baffled as to what to do. Anyway, a "please help" prayer and a bit of research found a furniture warehouse in Reading who could supply all the secondhand furniture we needed to refurnish the house for a few hundred pounds. All we needed to do was get over there and pick it all up! I had no time to do that but then Gareth Phillips who is in my housegroup said he would happily sort hiring the van and he and Keith White then drove over to Reading and brought all the stuff back over to Graham and Sue's house in Wildridings. It took them hours longer than we initially thought to do the job but they did it anyway with genuine joy and enthusiasm - stars.
I honestly thought that was the last we'd ever hear of Graham and Sue so was amazed when they turned up at church the following Sunday. They only really came to say thank you, but were so impressed by the welcome they received and the life in our meetings that they kept coming back. Not long later they both went on an Alpha course, became followers of Jesus Christ and were both baptised in one very memorable Sunday meeting. Keith White was a star in this whole process, regularly giving Graham and Sue lifts to and from church. They also joined two different housegroups, first of all joining up with Steve and Ann Hart who did an amazing job of helping them both practically and in their spiritual growth, and more recently with Matt and Gloria Wicks.
Well in the last few months Graham's health went down hill and he sadly died on the 20th November 2007. I was away in Zambia at the time but Andy Jackson did a magnificent job of being with Sue in hospital during Graham's final hours, and then Ken Bothamley gave amazing support to Sue in all the practical arrangements of planning the funeral. The funeral today was truly a team effort with a number of the church family there to set up the rooms, control the flow of cars in and out, prepare the food after the cremation and generally be there to support Sue and her son Lyndon.
It is just so great to see the church in action. When the church works well there is nothing else like it in all the earth - it's so great to be part of a family like this.
Finally to say how amazingly God has worked in Sue's life. She's a totally transformed person from the lady I first met two and a half years ago. If I ever looked for an example of God taking someones heart of stone and giving them a heart of flesh then Sue would be it - God has truly changed her from the inside out and you'd only have to spend a few minutes with her to see the power of God to change a life.