More change…

Remembrance Sunday 2014It’s a couple of years since I ruminated here upon the Poppy and Remembrance Sunday. A lot has changed since then for me. Here in my new context, I have, bluntly, been dreading Remembrance Sunday ever since I knew I was coming here. I’ve had eleven months to worry about it. Why so worried?

I’d been told a fair bit about what to expect – a full church, and a big village turn out at the Memorial at 11 am straight after the service. You might reasonably think that I’m troubled by a large crowd, but no. I worry about details before large services, but the number of people doesn’t bother me in the slightest. It might be the logistics that are keeping me awake, but again no. There are a group of people who each know their rôle exactly, which means that clock and bells chime and ring appropriately, wreaths are laid, bugle sounds and “We will remember them” is repeated heartily. Voice projection? No, that’s fine too. There is a sound system, and if there weren’t, I can be heard across a field if I am feeling determined. No, all of that went, as I expected, with military precision.

Ah. You’ve spotted it then. The source of several sleepless nights. Here, in this place, everyone (except the Rev’d Claire clan) has military connections. This is exaggeration, but only slightly so. Most people here have either been  in the army, worked for the MOD, worked in the local garrisons, or have relatives who have or still are. In this place, deployment is a normal part of life. Having loved ones away on exercise or in “theatre” (one of the odder euphemisms for a dangerous place I’ve heard) is normal. Having loved ones killed or injured is less normal, but still more common that anyone would wish. Names on the war memorial are more than names, they are family. Remembrance Sunday, for this place, is one of the most significant days of the year.

In case I hadn’t grasped that, our local regiment, 26 Engineers, always muster, and this year mustered in some numbers. We had 180 soldiers actually forming ranks, together with their NCOs and Officers. I had a meeting with the Regimental Sergeant Major as well as the Padre and a (Staff?) Sergeant Major to go through the expected service and subsequent manoeuvres.

I am not, per se, scared of soldiers. But I am aware that they inhabit a very different world from mine, and even spending time with them only reminds me of how very different their life experience is to mine. If preaching is meeting people where they are, looking at life through the lens of scripture and seeing what God is doing, then I am in some difficulty, because I cannot quite meet them where they are. I had a brainwave, and invited the Padre to preach. He, bless his heart, accepted, and so I became less worried.

All went off according to plan, the newer service I put in place seemed perfectly accepted by all. In church we had representatives from the Army, Cadets, Baden-Power Scouts Cubs and Beavers, not to mention the County Council, Town Council and doubtless others I’ve missed.  There was standing room only. We finished on time, we got ourselves to the War Memorial, and part two went according to plan as well, with soldiers being applauded as they marched away, and the motor bikers doing an impressive drive by.  By being slightly freer to observe everyone this year, I hope as a result I will preach a sermon next year that does what God, and the people hearing it, need it to do.

Armistice Day was slightly different. I had asked our lovely Tower Captain to come and toll a bell at 1102, to signal the end of two minutes. In the event, we had a funeral in church, so incorporated the 1100 silence into it. It worked out well from a funeral service point of view, and also news got out fast The fact that church had noticed and marked the silence seems to be appreciated by the wider community. And next year, if my ringing improves sufficiently, I may even be able to save the Tower Captain a trip to church!

So should my lovely parish panic about their Rector? I don’t think so.

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6 responses to “More change…

  1. That sounds great. And as a bunch, we’re not at all intimidating (Ex-Soldier of the old school speaking) but of course, we’re not soft and fluffy or cuddly either. it doesn’t go with the territory, although I suspect that People like the RSM (I was one, once upon a time) were quietly determined to get it right, because the occasion deserves it.

    And, there’d have been nerves among those military people on parade as well, not just the Rector. 🙂

    In the past 5 years or so, I’d had the privilege of attending services on a Sunday in Uniform (even retired hang onto some if permitted, and I have the Queen’s permission, via the Military Secretary in writing to don Uniform on occasions such a Remembrance, and other suitable military occasions) and than leading an actual service on Armistice day, the 11th of the 11th. When I moved parish, I was assured that I’d be welcome back to continue to do so, but for some reason the new Vicar changed his mind and the invitation was withdrawn.

    That was fortunate, because for this year new things were planned in my new parish and frankly, they were a much more viable option for me. I was to preach at the BCP Service and than participate in the actual act of Remembrance after the 10 am All Age Family service.

    On the day, preaching went so well, that the Vicar invited me to deliver it again at the 6.30 pm Eucharist. The 10 am service saw over 300 men, women and children, including the Uniformed organisations, and quite an impressive contingent of over 25 from St John’s Ambulance crammed into a church where space is restricted due to the presence of ongoing work on our lighting, which has currently taken out the 4 read side pews, making for a very cosy seat for all who were there.

    The service at the war memorial went well, with just a slight hiccup when the CD playing the Last Post and Reveille decided to replay the Last post instead of the Reveille (1st world technical hitch) we know what went wrong and were able to avoid that later.

    Than, yesterday, Armistice Day, Our curate led an act of Remembrance on the 11th hour of the 11th, which was attended by the year 6 classes of our local, National Primary school, whose children produced some lovely Poppy wreaths, with ceramic poppies, made by the children in craft lessons, based on the tower model. They all came into church afterwards for refreshments and talks about the church history and about the research that had been done over the past year on all of the war dead from WW1, WW2, particularly the civilian’s, who were killed in the blitz and in the later period of V1 & V2 attacks in 1944. Surprisingly, many of the children were looking for their ancestors who’d died! So much for a mobile community, many old families have been in the area for five or six generations.

    I loved this part, seeing the interest that they took and was asked some inevitable questions (I was again in Uniform) like ‘What are those medals for? (they didn’t believe 43 years of undetected crime), Or, how many people have you killed? and one enterprising lad asked could he borrow my Rocket Launcher? I avoided the inevitable laughter and explained that I was now retired and that we were not permitted to take them home as trophies.

    Our experience is different here from yours. Most of the local service unit go to the formal, civic services in the borough, I think that our smaller, local commemorations are actually vitally important to our local community cohesion, evidenced by the 300 in church, and the number of others who gathered around the walls outside the church to take part both on Sunday and yesterday (83 children and 46 adults).

    All in all, memorable for a number of reasons, most importantly that I really felt a feeling of belonging and unity with those people that I live among and worship with from week to week. The hankering for my last parish is now a lovingly held, but distant memory.

  2. Sounds as if you did exactly what was needed of you. My personal trainer is ex Army and I know that these things mean a huge amount ot her. As she was leaving my house with her baby she said “Oh, it’s nearly time for the two minutes’ silence” and she no doubt observed it on her own. She and partner (also ex army) and baby also went to the Tower to see the poppies even though she hates going to London! I can’t understand from first hand experience how she feels, but I can respect it, that’s all anyone can ask or needs I think.

  3. It was a fantastic and lovely service. It was lovely to see so many in the church and fantastic to see so many at the cenotaph. It was fantastic to have so many people take part in the service and representing there country . I couldnt believe how packed it was unlike the past years. This was far from the best in my eyes. You done a fantastic job on rememerbance sunday and you could also hear you clearly when you spoke at the cenotaph. Its brilliant to have a great rev’d in Ludgershall. 🙂

  4. far from panicking, I think they should be rejoicing in their new Rector… knowing one’s limits, looking and learning – all wonderful gifts often lacking in leadership. 🙂
    We are also military here – at school assembly, when children asked to raise their hands if they had family or friends in the military, almost every hand of the 360 children went up.
    Makes you think…

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