By Oswin CR, 15 November 2022
Today we are commending to the Lord our dear brother Crispin Harrison, known to his family as Michael, and saying our farewell to him in this earthly life; a brother who has lived in the hope of the Resurrection.
Crispin was due to preach in this church three weeks ago. As it happened, he had a fall the night before and was lying in hospital. The sermon he had prepared was an account of his recent care by the NHS and an act of thanksgiving, which was to have been a recitation of Psalm 116. That may sound a little thin. But hearing Crispin preach was always an event – and, in truth, there was nothing about Crispin that would be described as thin. His typical preaching method was to recount in his own words the gospel story we had just heard and to comment clearly on one or two aspects of this, drawing out the good news of our salvation in Christ and what we should do about it. He rarely ventured into the speculative. But his presence was commanding, whether standing at the lectern or latterly preaching from his stall. His thought was, and remained, clear. And his voice – well, this is what everyone remembers, the resonance that without seeming effort on his part filled the church, the words falling with weighty solemnity like truth.
Guests to the brethren’s meals will recall that same voice conversing on the topics of the day – wherever you were sitting in the refectory, Crispin’s conversation could hold the whole room, and often did. And the command, which came naturally with his voice and physique, became an habitual address. It could daunt you at first encounter. But you remember the mischievous twinkle of the eye. And for us it has been something familiar and comforting – finding Crispin organising the rest of us, whether to lay tables correctly, or take a dubious short-cut on a journey or, as on the evening of his fall, instructing us what to pack for the hospital.
Crispin found faith in Christ growing, when he was a teenager in the Halifax churches of the 1950s, with their bell-ringing groups, their bands of servers and their parish days out. They combined vision of a sure hope with an orderly and merrily sacred society. And they brought to the fore his notable gift for friendship. He and Michael Brotherton shared these years and adventures, and have never ceased to do so. This very year, Crispin, only able to walk with a rolator, set off intrepidly for London to be at Michael’s 60th anniversary of priesting and then on to stay with his friend Dominic Fenton.
One of those parish days out brought Crispin to Mirfield. He swiftly formed bonds with the brothers and learned ways of disciplined prayer, which served him well as a student in Leeds, here and in Oxford. He became intrigued by philosophy under the rather alarming guidance of Professor Stephen Toulmin, something which never left him. And he studied well enough to become a seminary tutor himself later, Vice-Principal here and Principal in South Africa.
From the prophet Isaiah: “He will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over all peoples … he will swallow up death for ever.”
The prophet holds out hope for a world hungry for righteousness, hungry for life, no less in these days of war and plague than in those early days when Crispin and his sisters first saw the soot-blackened mills of industrial Yorkshire.
It is not our part to save the world, nor to despair when we fail to do so. No, our part is to put our trust in God whose world this is, in God whose work it is to wipe the tears from all faces, to wait for him, to hold fast to him, to live lives shaped by his call and by this hope.
South Africa was where the world of Mirfield led in those days. Crispin joined CR in 1966, together with his fellow curate from All Saints Middlesbrough, Simon Holden (and I might add that another of the familiar pleasures has been to witness Crispin and Simon bickering pleasantly down the years). Soon he found himself in Alice and Johannesburg, African cities with very different needs to the UK places he had known, cities struggling under apartheid. He approached the task with good common sense, real care for the poor, and undergirding faith. Somehow, under grace and with others, Crispin found the imagination to serve St Peter’s College and the non-racial Federal Theological Seminary as it was exiled from Alice – Presbyterians, Methodists, Congregationalists and Anglicans working together in a way that would have been unthinkable back home. Crispin used his wits and energy to help it stay one step ahead of the authorities who feared it and wanted to close it all down.
“the bread that I will give for the life of the world,” says Jesus, “is my flesh. … the one who eats this bread will live for ever.”
So Crispin, and each of us his brothers in CR, has lived to bring before others the presence of Christ, the living hope, known above all in the sacrifice of the Mass, just as we offer it now in sorrow and thanksgiving. We come as sinners who confess, and as those who pray for others, and as servants ready to be sent about the Lord’s work. There is a simplicity in these things, and Crispin held fast to this all his days. It was perhaps in South Africa above all where he saw its import.
Eventually he was elected as Superior of the Community at a time when the brethren longed for the friendship he offered, and he returned from South Africa and took up this responsibility with good cheer.
Crispin has known his share of controversy and of troubles, and he has borne these with remarkable good grace, not least through the frustrations of impaired mobility in his last years.
In the words again of the prophet Isaiah: “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him so that he might save us. This is the Lord for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation.”
We come shortly to commend Crispin to God in the living hope of the resurrection, and to meet Christ Jesus, his God and ours, in the food of the Eucharist.
So in the intermingled joy and pain that this day brings, let’s be encouraged afresh so that we entrust ourselves to Him and to live with hope –
Psalm 116: “I will fulfil my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people, in the courts of the Lord’s house, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem. Hallelujah!”