Welcome + Worship + Witness
Peter Riley

The Rector: Sermon at the Funeral of Peter Riley

Skipton Crematorium, Friday 1st October

I think it is fair to say that Peter was not much of a churchgoer – certainly not whilst I have been Rector of Bolton Abbey

I don’t say this is any disparaging way as all our faith journeys are different

Who knows our relationship with God – Church attender or otherwise?

Peter did however come to church, periodically, with Jill, including Battle of Britain Sunday

And has also been to the Rectory – I am pleased to say

Indeed, we had a very good dinner party with Nigel and Emma Phillips, currently Governor of the Falkland Islands, who was also in the RAF

It is certainly very fitting that Peter died on the eve of Battle of Britain Sunday this year

It goes without saying that flying was the predominant theme of Peter’s life

From the RAF as a young pilot officer, to commercial flying

And fittingly, he was also to marry Jill who also flew as an air hostess for much of her early life

Flying was his whole life

When I found out more about Peter and his life, the passage from Isaiah, which was read a moment ago, came to mind

It is the first time I have chosen this reading for a funeral service but it is fitting in so many ways

As we say good bye today, we inevitably find ourselves looking beyond this earthly realm to eternity

The passage from Isaiah tells us

“Have you not know, have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God”

Although we lament the passing of our time on earth, this passage reminds us all that we are part of something much larger and greater

This is not just a temporal land we inhabit for a short time but part of eternity and a precursor to God’s heavenly Kingdom

As the reading says, God is

“The Creator of the ends of the earth, he does not grow faint or weary….his understanding is unsearchable”

That is the world into which we were all born and through which we all journey to eternity

The next few lines too reminded me of Peter’s early life

“He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless”

As a young man Peter was given a break, a chance

A chance encounter that changed his life

Someone believed in him and pointed him in a direction which was to change his life forever

I saw this time and time again during my life in the army

Young men and women who society might have written off, or never have given the chance in the first place, forging a great career instead

This reminds us all of the need to give opportunity to all men and women in society from whence they come

It also reminds us that the hand of God is at work and can be known more in retrospect than prospect

And perhaps that is clear today

Finally, the wonderful words

“But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength

They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary

They shall walk and not faint”

The words of the funeral service will state in a moment that God will “transform our frail bodies that they may be confirmed to his glorious body”

We will all be restored in God’s kingdom however frail we become

Put another way, we will take flight once again and “mount up with wings like eagles”

And so today when we say goodbye to Peter

We give thanks for his life

For the opportunities he was given

The opportunities he took and multiplied

For the joy and pleasure he gave and received

And we wish him God’s blessing as he ascends into the heavens

And look forward to being re-united once again, on the flight deck, in God’s heavenly kingdom