Today we are offering Canon Stanley’s soul to the mercy of God and his body to Mother Earth. And so he makes his final journey. And we accompany him with our prayers. An enigmatic man in some ways, something of a loner, eccentric, prey to depression at times, a great radio ham, famous for his motorbikes and scooters and ponytail. Most of all, for 58 years, he just steadily served the Lord and his people as a priest, preaching, celebrating sacraments, taking care, attracting affection and in his last years at Northcote Lodge becoming patriarchal in dignity, with his long, white, whispy beard and a benign peacefulness.
After Canon Bill Anderson, Canon Bernard McDonald and Fr Peter Macdonald, he is the fourth of our priests to go to God this year. I would like to thank all those at Nazareth House and Northcote who cared for him, visited him and helped him to celebrate Mass. I would like to thank those who were close to him in his last days. Fr Gabor anointed him. He was absolved and received the Apostolic Pardon. Deacon Tony prayed beside his bed. Two members of the Community of St Andrew were with him when he died at 3am last Saturday, the 21st of July. He would have been 85 on the 6th August.
Born and brought up in England, he was sent north to do National Service in the RAF, discovered his vocation and attached himself to this diocese. On the back of the booklet is a list of the parishes he served and of some of the other roles he fulfilled, both in the diocese and for the Church in Scotland as a whole. Around 1988 he drew up an accurate map of the parish boundaries, not a small feat. It’s still a guide. It is to him that our diocese owes its own Calendar of Saints; the other Scottish dioceses are still catching up. Curiously enough, last Monday, when I was looking for something else on a bookshelf out fell that Calendar. And it is as a liturgist and Master of Ceremonies that we might best remember him. He followed the revised rites as they appeared, studied them closely and knew them thoroughly. He had high standards and a most keen grasp of the practicalities. He wrote but never published a book called Worship in Spirit and Truth, and followed it up with notes on Celebrating with Style. In his last years, even when rather disengaged, he could always be roused by mention of something liturgical. Paradoxically perhaps, he only left one instruction for his funeral and that was for the singing of the Ave Maria. It’s strange what you remember: in one of his booklets on the Mass he pointed out the semantic connection between the Greek word for mercy, eleos – hence Kyrie eleison – and the word for oil, elaion. To say Lord, have mercy was to ask for the oil of God to be poured out to soften and soothe a wounded world. And how it’s his turn to receive it.
Liturgy on earth, as we know, looks forward to the Liturgy of Heaven. And today’s readings point that way too: on the mountain of the Lord, the Lord will prepare a feast for all peoples, the wedding feast of the Lamb. And on that mountain of praise, the mourning veil will be lifted and death destroyed for ever. It’s this every Eucharist Canon Charles celebrated looked to. ‘In the Lord’s own house shall I dwell for ever and ever.’ Baptised into Christ’s death, buried with him in baptism, he is assured of Resurrection. Jesus too ends his earthly life with a prayer from the Psalms of Israel, ‘Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.’
In the Rite of Ordination, the candidate for priesthood is asked: ‘Do you resolve to celebrate faithfully and reverently, in accord with the Church’s tradition, the mysteries of Christ, especially the Sacrifice of the Eucharist and the Sacrament of Reconciliation, for the glory of God and the sanctification of the Christian people?’ The answer is, ‘I do.’ And for as long as he could, Canon Charles did. Again, ‘Do you resolve to implore God’s mercy upon the people entrusted to your care by observing the command to pray without ceasing?’ The answer is, ‘I do’. And for as long as he could Canon Charles did. And every year in the Chrism Mass, for as long as he could, Canon Charles would have renewed those promises. When I think back on my own mother and father, I am just grateful that they stuck it out, and together, till the end. And I’m grateful to Canon Stanley for doing the same as a priest. There is something there to hearten all of us.
‘He who perseveres to the end will be saved’. May our Lady of Aberdeen and the saints of our diocesan calendar – Nathalan, Duthac, Gilbert, Magnus, Maelrubbha, Drostan, Machar and Fergus, and John Ogilvie – pray for him! May he rest in peace! Amen.
(St Mary’s Cathedral Aberdeen, 27 July 2018)