“Blessed are dead the indeed, saith the Lord, even so for they rest from their labours.” This quote from the Book of Rev was once one of the most frequently used epitaphs in country graveyards. For me it conjures an image of a country generation for whom life was hard, full of toil, and rarely easy but lived with a quiet faith – a faith that life would be redeemed in the end. And Sid Hensman came from that generation of countrymen, for whom the epitaph seems applicable. Although he was born in1907 at Thornhaugh, he was brought up in a family that was very much in the mould of a patriarchal Victorian family. His father ran the bakery there, but the business included animals, a milk round and eventually the Post Office. While Sid was still very young, he was sent to Stamford  as a boarder, with the instructions from his father to a master, “here’s my son, make a man of him.” Sid was well-educated, and well-read, but perhaps rarely had a chance to use it. He went to work at Thornhaugh in the family business, looking after the cows, milking and fodder, but his work took him to Sacrewell Farm, where George Wade was farm manager. Here he was to meet Theo’s mother Catherine Wade. The Wades took up the tenancy of Village farm here shortly after, and in 1930 Sid married Catherine here in this church and they set up home in Village Farm.


Sid lived the life we would expect in a hard-working country family, and he knew more than his fair share of injury and hardship. His wife Catherine died in tragic circumstances while still a young mother, and one of the most important things in his life became the upbringing of their four young children, Theo, Mary, Ruth and Grace. There was very little spare time in those days on a farm, and vegetable gardening and fruit growing took up what time there was. Sid’s youngest child Grace would be seen in the pram, in the fields round the village beside her father as he worked. Sid took great satisfaction in what he could grow, and even after he retired kept allotments; he was also very good at animal husbandry. - Life was a relentless round of early mornings, feeding the animals, working the fields, and then feeding the animals again.


As a person he did not wear his heart, or his faith on his sleeve, but he made sure there was time to say prayers every night with his children, and was Crucifer here for 10 years, while Grandpa Wade was Churchwarden. He was a devout man, in a private way, and in 1947 after he married Ivy, he also became a regular supporter of the Chapel, for she was a Methodist. Sid was hardworking, but also in many respects a private man, his own man, resourceful, independent, not to say stubborn, who retained his pride in bringing up the children and helping keep the farm going. He loved children, and loved especially dearly his great grandchildren. As he grew older and retired he became known as a village character with a dry sense of humour; enjoying the social life of the village and the pub.


But I think that he also had a philosophical bent, perhaps due to his education, which he kept to himself. On the occasions I visited him in hospital he talked at length about William Blake, and especially the legend behind the hymn Jerusalem. Many of you may know that the hymn is based on a West Country legend that Jesus, the Lamb of God, came to England as a child with his uncle Joseph of Arimathea; that as a child Jesus walked on the hills and fields of England’s green and pleasant land; and that after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Joseph returned here with the Holy Grail, used at the Last Supper. The hymn concludes with a prayer that we should rebuild in the Holy City, amongst the dark satanic mills of the industrial revolution. The hymn is full of deep and rich symbolism, about how life could be different, about striving for an ideal, a different sort of society, that things can be better. The hymn and the legend clearly appealed to something deep inside Sid, but also says something about the Christian message of hope and the Kingdom of God.


Today is the feast of St Benedict of Nursia, founder of the great Benedictine monasteries of Europe; his motto was “to work is to pray and to pray is to work.” Sid Hensman certainly worked and he also prayed. It was the resilience of his faith that kept him going in the face of adversity. It was a faith that believed that the Lord would preserve “him in his going out and his coming in” at the last, at the end of his long life. “Blessed are dead the indeed, saith the Lord, even so for they rest from their labours.” For Sid, the fever of life is over, and his work is done. As we heard in our Gospel, and pray in our prayers, the Lord will grant him now, and us in our turn, a holy rest, peace at the last, in a safe lodging in the home of our Lord’s heavenly mansion, reunited with those we love. Rest not just from work, but also peace of mind; for John Newman’s famous prayer, which his grandson Jonathan, will read, is based on our Gospel reading. And the promise is one of peace, that our hearts should not be troubled nor should we be afraid. It is to this Godin  this heavenly home that we commend Sid Hensman. May he rest in peace. Amen.