Sunday, November 12, 2006

Rememberance Sunday

At Wesleys Chapel we have a variety of memorials around the building. One that I always appreciate is the one erected to the Wesleyans who fell in the first, and then re-dedicated to the Methodists (as we had unified) who fell in the second world war. The reason I appreciate this one is it has numbers on it. 285,000 Wesleyan Methodists went to the first world war and around 28,000 died. That number (285,000) is likely to be the result of the annual returns of Methodist Church membership around the country. Therefore it is like mobilising every current card-carrying Methodist but knowing that one in ten will be killed. Imagine what that would do to your congregation... This is a sobering thought and today's service was never going to be easy. The minister does a grand job of trying to placate pacifists like myself with those who are proud of the military past and choose the more "traditional" approach to remembrance. That said I did feel rather excluded from some of todays service and had to stop singing a particular hymn. The hymn in question I can't find reference to bar our handout so shall reproduce the first verse.Though we were informed that it was the official Boys Brigade Hymn and is riddled with the militant Christianity that Victorian hymn-writers had!
O God of Love our prayer we raise For Unity and peace, That all mankind may give Thee praise. And war for ever cease
Nothing too controversial there (bar the "all mankind may give" line... but then we go to such classics as...
"Lord, grant us peace, but also give A great and holy pride In men who showed us how to live. And, as their Master, died
It then goes through a hero-worship style description of "hero brothers" who should "make us worthy" to also claim to be Brothers The finishing finale (V6!) is
Lord, from our hearts, to Thee we give Thanks for their life-blood shed: We pray for grace that we may live True to our glorious dead
Besides repelling and annoying me greatly it really got me thinking about my underlying anger at the Christian services which "celebrate" remembrance Sunday and the whole imagery thing that comes with it. I think that alot of it is a generational thing, but through this we are allowing previous generations perceptions and styles hold back and prevent our new way of looking at things. During the run up to the second Iraq war I was heavily involved in Edinburgh Youth Against War. We managed to mobilise around 3,000 young people out onto the streets to argue for a peaceful solution rather than warfare. I think that , due to our upbringings and also our attitude to violence has changed over the intervening generations between the second world war and now. This attitude does not take away from the respect and awe for the experiences that those in previous generations went through. Awe and horror at things such as gassing and trenches but also knowing that we shouldn't allow this situations to start in the first place. Therefore I look forward to this years' debate beginning to move the nation forward to new ways of remembering those who died, whilst remembering we are part of a global world where millions died for the whim of politicians and that "never again" is possible if only we let it. Indeed I would have to herald a quality sermon being delivered in Swansea recently, click here to see what Revd Richard Hall preached (wish I'd heard it as it reads wonderfully). Take care y'all john

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