Funeral Service for Marion Marples

  • Preacher

    Sub Dean - Revd Canon Michael Rawson

The Camino has been described as a journey of truth, an invitation to rediscover yourself through introspection and new encounters; changing habits that make you unhappy and building friendships. The Camino poses a single question to each of us. ‘Who are you?’

From her first steps, pilgrimage and St James have been a recurring thread running through Marion’s life.

She was born with her brother Philip in the 15th century pilgrim port of Poole. Marion’s school badge bore the town’s 3 scallop shells of St James. She went on to read geography at Bristol, another pilgrim port, where she began to learn about the Camino through signing up to a course on Gothic architecture, making her first pilgrimage through France in 1972. She eventually had the opportunity of five weeks to walk the full Camino in 1998. From there she became involved in the Confraternity of St James, and over 25 years has met and encouraged literally hundreds of pilgrims. If Marion had made it to Santiago on that first pilgrimage in 1972 she would have been pilgrim number 7, for only 6 Compostelas were issued that year. Last year 300,000 were issued and that in part is due to the enormous impact she has had on so many people. Marion is a much respected and loved woman both locally and in the international pilgrim community. She is held in such love and high esteem that a Mass of Thanksgiving for Marion is being offered at this time in Santiago by members of the Camino chaplaincy.

It is the Camino which truly defines Marion, the lens through which to see and honour her, for it was through her experience of pilgrimage that she learned to travel lightly through life and with hope. When talking with potential pilgrims she would tell them to be open to the Camino transforming their lives and their outlook. She spoke from the heart, from her own experience. Walking the pilgrim way enabled Marion to leave the teaching career she loved so much at Wandsworth and to take up a new role with the Confraternity, and eventually to train as a pastoral auxiliary here at the Cathedral. Marion’s passion for pilgrimage was not something she kept to herself, for she was a real evangelist for the Camino, encouraging so many of us to buy a pair of walking boots and to step out in hope and faith, being open to how the pilgrim way might speak to us and change us. Many of us here today will have been recipients of Marion’s small bags of wool to prevent blisters. So typical of Marion’s practical care of others.  She also had the great gift of being able to reach out to the curious, those confused by faith and those of no faith. Not only did Marion promote the Camino, she also helped revive the St James’ Way from Reading to Southampton, and the pilgrims’ route from Southwark to Canterbury, co-writing the definitive book with Leigh and producing the pilgrim passport and prayer pack. At the time of her death she was working on the Becket 2020 celebrations next year.

Marion and Leigh worshipped at St Alban’s Holborn in the 1980s and 90s, with Marion heading up their ministry among families and children, developing their parish centre and serving as a church warden. At the end of the 1990s they made the journey across the Thames here to Southwark where with James they soon felt at home and have been an integral and much loved part of the cathedral community. Marion explored her vocation and trained as a Southwark Pastoral Auxiliary. As well as her valued ministry of pastoral care, the focus of Marion’s work was inevitably of a very practical nature. She was key to the establishment of the Robes winter night shelter for the homeless of South East London; she organised a weekly tea party at the Lucy Brown sheltered housing scheme; and spearheaded the Cathedral’s involvement in the Waterloo Foodbank. Marion has always had a deep commitment to Church unity and was a key member of the Cathedral Unity Group and local Unity Forum working with our link cathedrals of Bergen and Rouen, together with our local partners at St Olav’s Norwegian Church at Rotherhithe and St George’s Cathedral Southwark. She was secretary of Southbank Churches and was instrumental in organising the Good Friday walk of witness and annual Unity walks. A member of the Cathedral Mothers’ Union, Marion sought to promote mental well-being through the Recovery Friendly Church and producing a pilgrim leaflet on well-being.

Marion’s faith was always outward-facing, grounded in practical reality. She helped to set up the Community Film Group at Tate Modern and was secretary of the local community action group Living Bankside, working hard to improve the lives of local residents, especially older people. With Leigh she set up the annual St George in Southwark Festival, seeking to celebrate St George’s Day as an inclusive and multicultural event and she was keen to promote the Southwark Grand Iftar and other ways of working closely with different faith communities. With Leigh and James she founded what is now the SE1 community website,  the go to place for finding out quickly what is going on in our locality. Marion’s contribution to the life of this borough was immense and was recognised in 2018 when she received the Honorary Liberty of the Old Metropolitan Borough of Southwark. For a woman of great modesty who never sought the limelight nor pushed herself forward, she really treasured this award.

Marion was a wonderful colleague whose wisdom and encouragement I valued greatly, as we all did. She had the knack of saying just the right thing at an opportune time, and even when I had forgotten to do something she would tell me off with both love and encouragement. Marion was a woman who sought to include others, to encourage others to discover gifts they never imagined they possessed. With a characteristic twinkle in her eye and her smile, she had a way of getting you to agree to things. Few, if any of us, could say no to Marion. At a Remembrance Sunday commemoration at St Alban’s church, pointing to Marion’s lapel with a red and white poppy, a bishop asked her if it is possible to be a Christian and a member of CND? Her reaction isn’t recorded but her wry smile said it all.  Today we surround Leigh, James and Philip with our love and prayers in your grief and sorrow. With grateful and thankful hearts we thank each of you for sharing the gift of Marion with us.

In our first reading, we heard of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – pilgrims here on earth, who lived by faith and looked forward to a city and homeland prepared for them. Marion too looked for and longed for that heavenly city, Jerusalem,  where God’s kingdom would finally be realised. Yet in her earthly pilgrimage she sought to cherish this world through her passion for ecology and responding to the climate crisis, beautifying this neighbourhood through community art and gardening projects and challenging air quality, the axing of the RV1 bus route and high-end building projects.

It has been so hard for us all to process the news of Marion’s death. It feels like we have so much in common with the two disciples in the gospel reading, walking towards Emmaus on the first Easter Day, distraught with grief at the death of their friend. Like them we have a treasury of wonderful memories of Marion who brought life and light, hope and encouragement to everyone she encountered. Marion, like those first disciples, recognised her Lord in the breaking of bread. Her life was centred on her love of Jesus in the Eucharist, bread broken for a new world, food for our earthly pilgrimage home to God and a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Marion pointed others towards her Creator and Redeemer and that is where her legacy leads us today. In encouraging us and others as pilgrims she would say that the Camino always provides, helping us to answer that question, ‘Who are you?’  

May we tread lightly in Marion’s footsteps, towards our homeland in heaven; to the God who is both companion on our pilgrimage and the goal of our journey.

May God now give Marion a pilgrim’s rest and a share in the resurrection of Christ.

Rest in peace, Marion. Buon Camino!