Strong and deep and joyous faith: a tribute to the late Canon Peter Seal

Mary Copping, 12 February 2023

Romans 8: 18–25; Matthew 6: 25–34

We are all shocked and saddened at the sudden death of our dear friend Peter Seal, who meant so much to so many of us over his 20 years of ministry at St Paul’s and St Matthew’s. And of course meant so much to so many more people over his many more years of ministry since he was a young man.

I came to St Paul’s at the end of Cliff Wright’s time here and just before Peter joined, so Peter and I worked closely together for 20 years – a wonderful working relationship which stood the test of time. I began here as a trainee Reader, then in the last few years started ordained ministry. All through that time Peter was such a huge support and help and such an example of a man living to serve God, and from him was such a wonderful sense of a strong and deep and joyous faith.

He was a man of prayer. His commitment to the Daily Offices was amazing and such a good example to me and to others. He based his life on prayer and service of God and love of family, friends and others. He was the most inclusive man I know and always described the churches as having ‘soft edges’ so that anyone can come in or go out.

When I was training for ordination, Peter was such a great teacher, showing me how to do things in just the right way, doing things beautiful for God – to such an extent that when I watch others presiding in churches and cathedrals I spot things that are not done quite right. Why on earth have they put the corporal cloth the wrong way round; why are they holding the chalice that way? I blame Peter for this and I thank him for it!

Once we went on a day as curate and training incumbent to look at personality traits, with the Myers-Briggs indicator. At one point we all had to get in a line according to whether we felt we were extrovert or introvert. I was near the extrovert end and Peter was further up, nearer the introvert end. I thought, ‘Ah, now I understand’. When I would suggest things to him – ‘Peter I’ve got a great idea, let’s just do it’ – Peter would say, ‘Let’s just think about it for a while and pray about it’. ‘But, can’t we just get on with it now?’ ‘No let’s wait and pray.’ And he was always right: he slowed me down a lot which was good for me … but I think I speeded him up occasionally as well!

We are so grateful to him for all that he did for us spiritually. His sermons were deep and very moving and his dedication to God so firm and sure. His prayerfulness was felt throughout both churches. He was inspirational and taught us so much about the Christian faith and about how to live as God’s people.

We are in this beautiful building of St Paul’s Church because of the vision that God gave Peter all those years ago. He introduced the vision of this refurbishment at many meetings, stressing that we would be doing this not only for people now but for many generations to come. He gathered a wonderful team around him and was determined to see it through no matter how difficult it was – and sometimes things did become hard, with fund-raising and with dealing with builders, etc. He was determined; he knew God was calling him to do it and he saw it right through to the end, even through the difficult times during the pandemic. This building is his legacy to us.

My family loved Peter even though they didn’t come to church. He was liked by them and by so many people outside the Church. When my husband Pete was dying and we knew he was near the end my daughter Tara said, ‘Mum, can you ask Peter to come and say some prayers for dad?’ I called Peter and he came straight away. As he came in he said to my husband, ‘Pete, I’ve just left a glass of beer to come and see you’. We all laughed, including Pete; it was just the right thing to say. He always had just the right word for everyone.

I spoke to Julia Seal on Thursday afternoon, a few hours after Peter died. She told me (and gave permission for me to share this) that the whole family of eight was around his bed as he was dying. They sang his favourite song, which we will sing later in the service: ‘I, the Lord of sea and sky’. And in his last few minutes they all sang ‘Lord, for the years’, a hymn by Timothy Dudley-Smith. Some words from that are so suited to Peter: ‘Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided, urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way, sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided: Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today’.

Lord, for the years your love has kept and guided,
urged and inspired us, cheered us on our way,
sought us and saved us, pardoned and provided:
Lord of the years, we bring our thanks today.

Julia said that when Peter retired a dear friend of theirs wrote in her card to Peter, ‘Well done, thou good and faithful servant’. And we say this now to our dearest friend.

Julia spoke movingly about the family trying to think how Peter would have responded in such a terrible situation as this, and they feel he would have said (as he has said so often to others going through painful times), ‘You have to go on trusting in the love of God and be loving and kind and thankful’. Julia and I both agreed that this is a very difficult thing to do in these circumstances, but it is something to try and aim for in this sad, sad time for us all.

Peter’s words again: ‘You have to go on trusting in the love of God and be loving and kind and thankful’.

Peter, may you rest in peace and rise with Christ in glory. Amen.