Covenant & Remembrance
This year Remembrance-tide is particularly poignant. We are all deeply aware of the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War and, in the coming five years, we shall be able to reflect on the astonishing sacrifice, loss of life and overall impact of the so-called ‘Great War’. Its power to affect and move us remains: I attended a performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem at this summer’s Promenade Concerts: as the last notes of the unaccompanied chorus faded away, the whole Albert Hall – five thousand people – remained in stunned and reflective silence for two whole minutes, and without prompting.
At General Synod in July, we had a short debate what is called The Armed Forces Covenant, the commitment that exists between the forces, government and nation, where their service is marked by an ongoing commitment by the nation to ensure the ongoing welfare of service people, ex-service people and their families. Service and ex-service personnel live in every community: we have a number of them in our congregation at the moment as well as our long history of relationship with the London Regiment, who sadly have recently relocated from Wandsworth to another part of London. I hope the relationship remains, nevertheless.
In a sermon on Remembrance Sunday a couple of years ago, I talked about remembering rightly and remembering truthfully. I was fortunate enough to be called to speak in the Synod debate, and part of what I said is that “service is complex and returning servicemen remember in complex ways. We must remember rightly when we speak to both our community and the Forces. Right remembering helps us to play a part in reducing the romanticisation of military service which diminishes its importance to society and reduces the humanity of soldiers, sailors and aircrew to mere ciphers.” As an ex-serviceman myself, I know that service personnel are people just like the rest of us – they are not, by nature, more or less heroic, but they are often brave, dedicated and community-minded. There are real dangers in characterising service itself as heroic.
I hope that the Armed Forces Covenant matures over the years to the extent when Britain has as extensive a public commitment to its ex-servicemen and women as the United States does to its veterans. War may be the extension of politics by another means, but essentially it is about people fighting other people. Christian faith never glorifies war (although sometimes history doesn’t seem to look that way) and war is always sinful, even when just. Politics and ethics aside however, in playing our small part in upholding the Armed Forces Covenant, I hope together we can continue to offer hospitality and support to our forces in this parish. But I also hope that such welcome enables us always to speak the truth in love, so that right and truthful remembrance takes place and the mistakes of history don’t get repeated. As the poet, Steve Turner, pithily puts it:
History repeats itself.