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Sermon: Funeral of David Tribe - Address

Thursday 8th January 2015
Funeral of David Tribe

You shall be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of our God.
Isaiah 62, verse 3.

The Book of Revelation is such a strange book, full of dream-like sequences, and feverish episodes worthy of Hollywood at its most outrageous, but it also contains word-pictures of exquisite beauty.  And, perhaps surprisingly it is to that Biblical book that I turned when I came to write this sermon in memory of David. Why surprise? Well, David’s loving-kindness, his down-to-earthness, his utter dependability, his courteous and good-tempered friendship and what Tom Kitson, a former Diocesan Secretary called his “staunch unflappability” seem a million miles from the Book of Revelation. Yet it is to one of the word-pictures in that book that I was drawn.

Let me read it to you. It’s a vivid description of the heavenly Jerusalem.

The wall was built of diamond, and the city of pure gold, like clear glass. The foundations of the city wall were faced with all kinds of precious stone: the first with diamond, the second lapis lazuli, the third turquoise, the fourth crystal, the fifth agate, the sixth ruby, the seventh gold quartz, the eighth malachite, the ninth topaz, the tenth emerald, the eleventh sapphire and the twelfth amethyst. The twelve gates were twelve pearls, each gate being made of a single pearl, and the main street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass.

Now why that series of verses for David? Simply because David was a gem. I do not use the word casually. He was a man whose faith sparkled from his deep inner beliefs about God. He did not need to speak much about it. Not for him the all-too-glib stuff about gossiping the Gospel. He did not boast or shout. He was simply a quiet Christian gentleman, as many of the friends who have written to Renie, have said. His inner brilliance was like that of a precious jewel, full of integrity and reticent beauty.

At which point I can see him putting his head down, saying “Phaw…”

Much is often made of those who, like St Paul, come to their faith in a moment of blinding certainty. David was not like that, for him the Christian faith was a truth into which he was born. He was brought up in it here in Guildford, and it was expressed in his earlier years via the church of St Francis. It was there at the age of 13 that he first began reading the Lessons, at 15 he became a sidesman; it was there where he  met Renie who was helping in the Sunday School, and there where his family worshipped and where he himself became churchwarden.  In later years, following in his father’s footsteps, he became a Steward in this cathedral, and latterly Senior Steward as well as serving on the Cathedral Council and on the Chapter. Before he began to work directly for the diocese he had served on the Diocesan Pastoral committee and was asked by Bishop George Reindorp to become a Selector of potential new clergy. He was a Governor and then Chair of Send C of E Primary School for many years and in retirement took over from Peter Hogben as Clergy Widows’ officer.  As Renie said of him: “He didn’t like spare time…” and I haven’t mentioned his love of horses and racing…

He was a churchman through and through but one who wore his faith with deep and humble courtesy. You only had to watch David welcoming people to this building to realise that he was a big-hearted man whose faith included all without fear or favour. And his support of the clergy here and throughout the diocese was unwavering.

I had the enormous privilege of working with David when I was the A/d Dorking. They were great times, because apart from his meticulous administrative skills what I loved to watch was his handling of tricky church situations. We would be visiting a church, complete with expert architects, not all of whom, it has to be said, agreed wholeheartedly with each other. We would be discussing the proposals being put forward. David would say not a word, but if you looked at his eyes,,,ah! they told you everything. His eyes glistened with wise and mischievous good humour. And, having written down the findings, he would then ask either the Chairman or the A/d’s what they thought the answers might be, knowing all along what he himself thought. And invariably we agreed with him, without a word being spoken. All this was done not with a determination to get his own way, but as a means of genuinely trying to get the problem sorted. He was a wise, good-humoured diplomat.  And we loved him; simple as that.

One further brief story.

As an Incumbent in the diocese I sometimes had to phone him for advice. He answered the phone by saying: “David Tribe. How can I help you?” It was not PR, it was how he was, and for a Vicar to have someone offering to help was bliss.

When he eventually retired, Kristina Ingate, then the Diocesan Secretary chose a Biblical text for her farewell speech. It comes from the Book of Proverbs, chapter 35: and the verses, originally written about wives, Kristina adapted liberally to fit David:

David, a man of noble character who can find?
He is worth far more than rubies.
The Parsonages Board have confidence in him and in his care for clergy housing.....
He brings good, not harm, all his working days.....
he gets up early to ensure repairs are organised and roofs repaired
he considers a field and buys it on behalf of a parish.
he is respected at the city gate and by the DAC ....
He speaks with wisdom and faithful instruction is on his lips.
He watches over the affairs of Diocesan House and does not eat the bread of idleness. ......
Give David the reward he deserves and let his works bring him praise at the city gate.

Note the reference to gems.

You see, I chose the verses from the Book of Revelation at the beginning of this sermon because it paints a picture of heaven as being like a city made from gems and gold and the purest glass. And now, one more courteous English saint, by faith and the grace of God, has become part of that heavenly city.

But I cannot end there, because on behalf of all of us here I want to thank those people whom he most loved and of whom he was most proud: Renie, the family, the grandchildren and great grandchildren: thank you for allowing the rest of us to have the privilege of knowing David. His generous faithfulness, which partly has come from you, has helped each of us to understand more clearly what the true values of life are. We owe you Renie, and the family, more than we can express.

But I shall end now not by looking backwards to a past which David served with high Christian integrity but with a note of hope about our eternal future. And my text for this comes from Isaiah 62, verses 1-3.

You shall be a crown of glory in the hand of the Lord, a royal diadem in the hand of our God.

David Tribe, as we all know, was a gem on earth and through Christ he is now a diadem in the hand of God: may he, with all the saints, rest in peace and rise in glory ...