For me Mo Blake, Dr Maureen McFarland, was a miracle and I kept asking for more miracles but this last Thursday afternoon we found out what length the miracle we were given was. It seems that I should never have known Mo Blake. She should have been gone before I became minister of Fitzroy. I was told this week that a nurse in the ward when Mo was first diagnosed met her recently and could not believe that she was still alive... Mo told the flabbergasted girl, “Blueberries, Termeric and prayer!” We as a Fitzroy family would certainly believe that prayer was what gave us these last thief defying years and a myriad of contributions to a better world.
In Fitzroy we build our vision on 10:10.We aim to be 10:10 in worship, pastoral care and mission. It comes from John 10 verse 10, “I have come that you might have life in all its fullness.” Over these last weeks, as I have feared that today was coming, I have not been able to get away from those words as a description of the too short a life, yet longer than it might have been, of Mo Blake. If ever someone took Jesus invitation to live life and life in all its fullness it was Maureen.
As the week has gone on and I have had the privilege of sitting in an intimate place with the Blakes and McFarlands I have heard more and more tales of ridiculous things that Mo did during these last years while on chemotherapy. For me one of these physical feats is going to be forever my image of Mo. Sadly I wasn’t there to see it. One of my favourite places on earth is Table Mountain and the Lion’s Head in Cape Town. Over years I spent, in different chunks of time, months gazing out at that view from a Guest House, photographing it endlessly. My reason for being in Cape Town was taking students from the Queens Chaplaincy and one year under an adventurous maverick co leader some of the guys climbed that Lion’s Head. After I heard about it I was petrified to think where they’d been. It is steep, a real physical challenge and at times so steep that you climb on dodgy looking ladders. Chris hadn’t the right footwear so Mo wouldn’t let him go on up but in a wee break from another course of chemo Mo was on the peak of the Lion’s Head.
It sums up the life in all its fullness that we give thanks for today. Maureen bossed her illness, eyeballed it, and through it all protected us from it and then walked us through it, right to the end. Intentionally, and at times with some deviousness, she prepared Chris, Richard, Joanna, her family and friends for the farewell and what happens now. Janice and I took her and Chris for lunch just before we went off on holiday, hoping we might be able to minister to her and aware that she just might not be here when our holidays ended. And... she ministered to us in the most powerful and profound way, interestingly almost word for word from the Psalm 95 that we read at the outset. We walked away wondering how that happened. But it was Mo in all her fullness. Precious. Thank you!
The daughter of a Manse, and daughters of the Manse are all special to me a father of daughters of the Manse, Mo grew up in her father’s Church in Castlerock but all of her adult life was spent serving here in Fitzroy. As a flavour of life in all its fullness she served in...
Mums and Tots (in the 90's)
Co-hosted Home Group
Christian Aid collections for a number of years
She instigated or was part of establishing:
Fair Trade stall
119 Senior Citizens lunches
Youth Workers/USA volunteers Friday teas
She had a huge interest in Mission and spent 6 months as volunteer doctor in Malawi, took a trip with Saphara to India, had a support visit to Patricia Drummond in Nepal, support visits to Sheena and Alan Gaston in Pietermaritzburg and when one of our other missionaries, Colin Sims, was on one furlough from Argentina he lodged at 13 University Ave.
Then there was Nightreach. Thursday nights on the street after midnight, giving bacon butties and coffee to those stumbling home from clubs and pubs. Mo was Nightreach for me. Just a matter of weeks ago she stood here at the lectern and commending those involved in Nightreach, with passion and encouraging others to join them. I stood over in the corner in awe and thought she did it again. She gave all the praise to everyone else and sat back from taking any herself. Another recurring trait.
When Roberta phoned the police to tell them we were going to carry Maureen round today the policeman asked is that the lady from Nightreach. He dropped in regularly for a something warm and a chat.
That contact in this area highlights another powerful challenge from her life. Maureen and Chris’s decision to move into the parish was a sacrificial act to serve her God, her Church and her neighbour. It is a missional act that should be a constant challenge and near embrassment to us all when we ask what it really means to follow Jesus. Mo took seriously the idea that “the “Word had to become flesh” as John writes in the prologue to his Gospel. The full verse is “The word became flesh... and moved into the neighbourhood.” Exactly!
That word became flesh too in the vocational work of Dr Maureen McFarland. She acquired an MB BCH BAO at Queens, did a Houseman’s year Ulster Hospital Dundonald, Vocational General Practice Training in Ballymoney. She became a Member of Royal College of General Practitioners, and a Fellow of Faculty of Sexual and Reproductive Healthcare as well as a Member Institute Psycho-Sexual Medicine
Maureen was never content with the status quo always keen to push the boundaries of clinical practice. In addition to the qualifications above, Maureen was renowned for her multitude of practical skills.
Whilst still working part-time in General Practice, Maureen became a Family Planning Doctor, initially working one session each week in Jubilee Maternity Hospital. Her achievements are too many to name and some of the what she did might even make her minister blush, if he read the words that he did know, and looking a bit thick at some of the words he doesn’t.
She was a pioneer in contraceptive implants. She set up the first community medically lead Menopause Clinic, becoming the only Faculty Approved Menopause Trainer in Northern Ireland. In 2000 Maureen became Deputy Lead of the Family Planning Service and incorporated psychosexual counselling into her clinic based in College Street.
Maureen was an excellent teacher to anyone, anywhere. She was selected to be a Faculty of Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare Assessor and continued to lecture and teach on a one to one basis whenever and wherever there was opportunities. Maureen completed two terms as Faculty Deanery Advisor. Until June 2013 Dr McFarland chaired the joint Faculty and Northern Ireland Medical and Dental Training Agency Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare Service committee. Together in February 2013 Maureen and two colleagues were awarded first place in the Northern Ireland Healthcare Awards at a ceremony attended by the Minister of Health and the Chief Executive of the Belfast Trust.
Maureen remained an amazing innovator right throughout her distinguished career, however we will remember her because as a doctor, she remained totally focused on patients.
It doesn’t take much commentary to see that word becoming flesh again and like the Jesus, who was the Word and the one she lived her life for, she had a great passion and ability to reach those that society are perhaps prejudiced against and push to the margins. Another challenge to us all.
This is a remarkable life. However, what I have learned this week is that Maureen lived with doubts and insecurities. As we read from her Bible this week she had underlined in the Psalms “faltering in the dark” and in alongside Psalm 51, a Psalm in which King David realised his transgression and then the amazing redemption of God, Mo shared in the margins her amazement that God could forgive her. She was amazed that Jesus should be born, live, die and be raised from the dead for her. We are back to Psalm 95 again. She believed the facts of God’s salvation though sometimes didn’t feel it.
As I reflected on this life in all its fullness this week I realised that not feeling she could do great things Mo was freed up to do ordinary things with extraordinary grace and humility. She did that which I think might sadly be too rare in people of faith... she held strongly to her beliefs and carried them, wherever she went, in the most gentle of ways. That allowed her to become friends to whoever. I cannot count the times when I used Mo to get advice about someone in a pastoral situation, or how many times she took that pastoral care on. When not so well, in these last months, we wondered about not asking her to help in a scenario and Eileen McGeown rightfully reminded me that it was a joy for her to do it, helping others was who she was and what she lived for. So in the end she did indeed do great things that all of us gathered here, who in the end are all trophies of her grace, will testify to.
But as we testify to, celebrate and give thanks for her contribution in our lives we realise that a life lived in such fullness will leave a void in all its fullness too. We remember particularly Chris... Richard... and Joanna. Last Saturday night, as Janice and I got a very special time with the four Blakes, Mo had been falling asleep mid bite and mid sentence but as we spoke of how it was time to start thinking about the party she added “but not for you guys.” She was preparing us still. Walking us through. Part of life in all its fullness is the grief and heartache that you guys will feel. Mo would not want you to hide from it. Walk into that valley of the shadow and be assured the Lord will be your shepherd through it.
So, we want to assure you and you Mrs McFarland, Irenie, James and Alfred and your families of our prayers as you go into these next days week and years without that love. I want also to assure you of Fitzroy’s support and ask all of us to not see the refreshments afterwards as the end of our condolences. If you want to give Mo back for what she has selflessly given for you then give back to these guys in whatever way you can.
A last word from Mo from her favourite book. The family have found an amazing trail of verses underlined, dates in the margins and little comments. What I read earlier from Psalm 27 was one such. The date was at the time she was first diagnosed: -
“I remain confident of this:
I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord;
be strong and take heart
and wait for the Lord.”
Oh my goodness you did Mo. You have heard the phrase when you meet someone living life to the full, “I want some of what she is drinking.” Well Mo, I want some of what you believed in. You have inspired me to make the word flesh and take hold of Jesus gift of life in all its fullness. For that and so so many other things...Thank you!