It’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.