Hundreds flock to St Editha’s for return of Tamworth Co-op Christmas Memorial Service

Tamworth Ladies Choir gave several performances during the evening.

Tamworth Ladies Choir gave several performances during the evening.

Hundreds of people attended Tamworth Co-operative Society’s Christmas Memorial Service in St Editha’s Church to remember lost loved ones.

It was the first time since the pandemic that the service had taken place, with young and old coming together to pay tribute to relatives and friends and to join in the singing of carols.

The event, in its eleventh year, was organised in partnership with St Giles Hospice, bringing words of comfort and music to the bereaved.

Tamworth Ladies Choir performed a beautiful rendition of Silent Night during the most moving part of the service when the lights were dimmed and churchgoers held aloft remembrance candles while reflecting on those they had lost.

Two girls holding remembrance candles at Tamworth Co-op Christmas Memorial Service 2023.

Sisters Sophia (9) and Isabelle (7) Walton came to the service to remember their great grandfather Ernest Perry who passed away in 2023 aged 88.

Scottish piper Jonathan Prior then emerged from the shadows to add an atmospheric note to the occasion. He stood before the congregation playing Amazing Grace as the church lights were lifted.

Soloist Tom Clamp, a regular contributor from previous years, gave powerful and uplifting performances of You Raise Me Up and Oh Holy Night.

Tamworth Co-op funeral arrangers contributed to the evening too. Leah Sandford spoke about the emotional and practical realities of her role, saying it was a ‘privilege to support families at

one of the most difficult times of their lives’ – while Jo-Anne Walsh read the poem, Missing You at Christmas.

Welcoming families back after a four-year break, Glen Speak, general manager of Tamworth Co-op’s funeral division, said he and his team had an unofficial motto: “We are here before, during and after a bereavement. This evening demonstrates that.

“Some of you may not have suffered a bereavement and others will be entering Christmas without a loved one. So, tonight is not only to celebrate the start of the Christmas season but also to reflect on past Christmases with many happy memories surrounded by family and friends.”

Simon James, a trustee of St Giles Hospice, which is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, thanked everyone who gave money to support its work. He said it cost £10m a year to run the Whittington-based hospice with only 25 per cent of that amount coming from the NHS. It was, therefore, dependent on donations from the local community.

Congregation holding remembrance candles in dark at Tamworth Co-op Christmas Memorial Service 2023.

Hundreds of people silently reflect on their lost loved ones while holding remembrance candles at the service.

In his message, the Vicar of Tamworth, Reverend Andrew Lythall, who led the prayers, reminded those grieving that they have plenty of memories to treasure, adding: “I’ve only lived here since March but what a wonderful town, what a great sense of community and fellowship we have here in this lovely place today.”

Tamworth Co-op chief executive Julian Coles gave a closing speech in which he also announced his retirement next year.

He said: “I find this to be the most rewarding and meaningful event in our annual calendar. There is something very special and moving about this service. I think that is from having so many people together in this wonderful church as we enter the Christmas period.”

Mr Coles also thanked St Giles Hospice and the Society’s funeral team for arranging the evening and to both groups ‘for being there when we need them,’ as well as St Editha’s Church for again ‘hosting us.’

Scottish piper Jonathan Prior greets churchgoers at the entrance to St Editha’s Church, Tamworth.

Scottish piper Jonathan Prior greets churchgoers at the entrance to St Editha’s Church, Tamworth.

“On a personal note, I retire from the Society next summer and will greatly miss being able to make the closing remarks at this service.”

He concluded by reading David Harkins’ poem, She is Gone, which he had the privilege of being able to read out at a family funeral a few years ago. The poem was chosen by the late Queen for the Queen Mother’s funeral.

Four generations of one family were among those attending. Rita Perry, from Glascote, whose husband Ernest passed away in March, was accompanied by her daughter Denise Perry, granddaughter Jessica Walton and great granddaughters, Sophia (9) and Isabelle (7).

Mrs Perry (84) said: “I got married in St Editha’s Church and we had pipes playing at my husband’s funeral. I met him at Tamworth Castle and he asked me the time, even though he was wearing a watch.”

Ernest served in the RAF and took part in the Queen’s Coronation parade in 1953.

Mrs Perry said the service had brought comfort to all the family. “It was a very special occasion. I loved it.”

Afterwards families enjoyed complimentary hot drinks and mince pies served in St George’s Chapel by funeral staff. There was also a free prize raffle for a seasonal hamper.

Proceeds from a collection on the night will be split between St Giles Hospice and St Editha’s Church.

Tom Clamp in full voice during the service.

Soloist Tom Clamp in full voice at Tamworth Co-op’s Christmas Memorial Service 2023.