Two Minute Silence
Our service this week will begin with the customary Two Minute Silence, in honour and remembrance of those who have laid down their lives in war.
They shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning,
We will remember them.
Opening Words from Spirit of Time and Place by Cliff Reed
We gather to share our faith in the spirit of freedom,
our doubts, in the spirit of honesty.
We gather to focus our love in prayer,
to send it to those who suffer and grieve –
in our own community, and in the wider world.
We gather to strengthen the good that is in us,
that goodness may be stronger on the earth.
We gather to worship.
Chalice Lighting (you may wish to light a candle in your own home at this point. I will be lighting my chalice for worship at 11.05 am on Sunday morning) (words by Cliff Reed)
Out of the fires of war
let us kindle the chalice of peace.
Out of the fury of battle
let us create a passion for peace.
Out of the turmoil of conscience
let us weave the calm of peace.
In the one Spirit that we share
let us celebrate the vision
of a world made just and free –
and find the strength to build it,
a little at a time.
Spirit of Life and Love,
Be with us as we gather for worship,
each in our own place.
Help us to feel a sense of community,
even though we are physically apart.
Help us to care for each other,
in this world in which Covid has not yet gone away,
and the clouds of war hover.
May we keep in touch however we can,
and help each other however we may.
May we remember that
caution is still needed,
that close contact is still unwise.
Help us to be grateful for the freedoms we have
and to respect the wishes of others.
May we hold in our hearts all those
who are grieving, lost, alone,
victims of violence and war,
suffering in any way.
Reading War and Peace by Cliff Reed, from Sacred Earth
We would turn our backs on war,
but not on the victims of oppression.
We would opt for peace,
but not forget our duty to the weak.
We would seek the peaceful path,
but not if it leads us into self-righteousness.
We would try to love our enemy,
but without betraying our neighbour.
We would cry, ‘Peace, peace’,
but never suppose that crying is enough.
Let us sacrifice our consciences
rather than sacrifice the helpless.
Let us see that war has no glory,
but easy peace no virtue.
Let us hold to the Divine Way,
knowing it can lead through darkness.
Let us turn our backs on war,
but know that sometimes we must face it.
O merciful and compassionate One, in our doubt
and our perplexity, guide us in the right path.
Alternative Lord’s Prayer
Spirit of Life and Love, here and everywhere,
May we be aware of your presence in our lives.
May our world be blessed.
May our daily needs be met,
And may our shortcomings be forgiven,
As we forgive those of others.
Give us the strength to resist wrong-doing,
The inspiration and guidance to do right,
And the wisdom to know the difference.
We are your hands in the world; help us to grow.
May we have compassion for all living beings,
And receive whatever life brings,
With courage and trust.
Reading by Frank Walker, from Voices Speaking Peace (adapted)
We remember at this time especially all those suffering in the fighting in the Ukraine.
We pray for an end to the conflict and for a change in people’s hearts so that
they shall work together for a just and lasting peace.
We remember all those who have lost children, parents, relatives and friends in the fighting, who are full of grief and sorrow.
Give them strength to find the ways that reconcile and heal.
We remember all the victims of war and violence the world over; in the Yemen, in Ethiopia, in Afghanistan, in Burkina Faso, in Libya, in Iran, Iraq and the Persian Gulf, in North Korea and in Kashmir, to name but a few.
We remember all those falsely and unjustly imprisoned on account of their political and religious beliefs, and we pray for their deliverance, that even in their time of suffering, the fruits of the spirit will grow richly within them.
We pray for all those who are working for the comfort and release of prisoners
We remember all who are working in the United Nations and in its specialised agencies for the health and healing of the nations.
Especially we pray for all those working in the United Nations for disarmament
and for the constructive, peaceful use of human talents and the world’s wealth.
We remember all in positions of power and responsibility, those in government who take decisions that affect the lives of millions.
We pray that they shall feel as a great creative force the longing of people everywhere for peace.
We pray that they shall seek not the way of pride and vainglory and purely selfish advantage but seek the ways that reconcile and build up the common good of all peoples.
Prayer For Remembrance Sunday by Chris Goacher
Spirit of Life and Love, known by many names and none.
We gather in thankful remembrance of those
who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others;
but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop
and the actions taken in our name.
Bless those who mourn, and those whose lives are blighted
by such terrible memories, be they military or civilian.
Bless those who carry the scars of war with them
for the rest of their lives, and those who care for them.
Bless those whose safety is currently compromised through war
and violence at this time, no matter where in the world.
May forgiveness be found, personally and nationally,
that all can learn to live in peace.
We acknowledge that death recognises not the colour of uniform,
nor the age or gender of victim.
That death and destruction come because of
our failure – our greed – our indifference.
Let us dedicate ourselves to the greatest remembrance of all –
that war should be no more.
For a future to be possible. May our prayers be heard. Amen
Reading Among the Ruins: Meditation on Isaiah 61:4 by Cliff Reed from Carnival of Lamps
‘Ruins shall be rebuilt…’
The shattered glass and smoking ruins that had been home or workplace, ignited by the raging flames of greed and malice.
‘… and sites long desolate restored…’
The looted shops and burned-out buildings laid waste by crime and violence and the evil of the mob.
‘They shall repair the ruined cities…’
The cities ruined by false and selfish values, by malign subcultures that undermine community and betray us all.
‘… and restore what has long lain desolate.’
The desolation wrought by moral vacuum, the neglect and corruption of young souls that withers humanity in the bud.
Who shall restore? Who will rebuild? Who will give meaning to the sacrifice of those who died?
People united and envisioned. People empowered and awakened. People who are moved by love and a thirst for justice. May we be with them. May we be among them.
Time of Stillness and Reflection Too Many Dates by Cliff Reed, from Carnival of Lamps (adapted)
God of our hearts,
too many dates are etched on our memories
on which we remember acts of violence
and terror committed in the names of faith and right.
We pray not to make of them what our ancestors made of dates
like November the Fifth and the Twelfth of July,
enshrining prejudice, hatred, and division.
We pray that remembrance of horror
will not lead to bitterness and a vengeful spirit,
that those who suffered injury or grievous loss
will be healed and comforted.
We pray that those who would kill and maim
will realise the evil of their false path,
ask forgiveness and find the better way.
We pray not to be tempted into blaming
the innocent for the crimes of the guilty.
We pray for wisdom and the love of neighbour
that the Golden Rule teaches us.
God of our hearts,
we cannot forget those dates,
but may they be to us reminders
of your call to love and stand firm
for true humanity.
Musical Interlude Clouds by Elizabeth Harley
Address For Remembrance Sunday 2022
I’d like to start this Remembrance Sunday address by repeating some of the words of the prayer by Unitarian minister, Chris Goacher, which I used towards the beginning of the service: “We gather in thankful remembrance of those who have sacrificed their lives for the freedom and safety of others, but also in shame at the wars we have failed to stop and the actions taken in our name. … Let us dedicate ourselves to the greatest remembrance of all – that war should be no more.”
These few words really sum up what I want to say this morning: that we should be grateful to, and remember with respect, those who sacrificed their lives that we might have peace, but also in sad reflection on the indifferent use we have made of it. It is a desperate irony that World War One was called “The War to End All Wars”, and yet more than one hundred years on, humankind still seems unable to stop the fighting, the bloodshed, the cruelty, and wars continue to be fought the world over, for reasons of fear, and misunderstanding, the hunger for power, and the despising of the other.
Each year since 1920, the people of this country have paused for two brief minutes on 11th November, and latterly also on the Sunday nearest that date, to remember the fallen. And in 1921, the Royal British Legion started to sell poppies as a symbol of remembrance. This year, I will be representing the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches at the Cenotaph, as part of the national Remembrance Sunday commemoration. Which will be a solemn highlight of my Presidential year.
We held the two minutes’ silence today, over a hundred years after the First World War ended. It was grim – every community was affected – every community lost beloved brothers, sons, nephews, fathers. On the wall of our Meeting House in my home congregation of Northampton is a Roll of Honour of those who served and fell in the Great War, the “war to end all wars”. It includes 55 names. 55 men from that one congregation.
My home town of Northampton has two war memorials, one built by Lutyens in the grounds of All Saints Church, which was unveiled in 1920, but includes no names. The other is the Garden of Remembrance, in Abington Square, which was unveiled in 1937, and now also includes the names of all the dead from World War II as well. 2,864 names are inscribed from World War I, 702 from World War II. So many, from one medium-sized town in the East Midlands.
In total, 956,703 soldiers and sailors from the UK died between 1914 and 1918, and over two and a quarter million were wounded. The global number of military and civilian casualties in World War I was more than 38 million: there were over 17 million deaths and 20 million wounded, ranking it among the deadliest conflicts in human history. The total number of deaths includes about 11 million military personnel and about 7 million civilians.
In the hundred or so years since then, sadly, there has been conflict in the world almost constantly. While the countries of the West have officially been “at peace” since 1945, their governments and armed forces and arms traders have been involved in many wars around the world – Korea in the fifties, Viet Nam in the sixties, Northern Ireland for the decades of the Troubles, the Falklands in the early eighties, the Balkans in the nineties, and the so-called “War on Terror” since 2001, which has included two Iraq wars, the Arab Spring, and the terrible, ongoing conflict in Syria. And of course the entirely unjustified invasion of the Ukraine by Russian forces earlier this year.
And this sad litany does not even include the multiple conflicts that have ground on in the developing world, which the Western media reports only sporadically. It seems that the lust for power and land has not decreased down the years, that ignorance and fear are yet flourishing, which lead to hatred and violence, both within communities, and between them. Just this week, my husband and I watched a programme with Ben Fogle, in which he visited the divided nation of Cyprus, in which fifty years of strife have led to ongoing violence, which is only kept from escalating into all out war by the peacekeeping forces of the United Nations and a war-torn buffer zone. He interviewed ordinary people on both sides of the conflict and it made for sad viewing. Before 1974, Greek and Turkish Cypriots lived together in peace. Many Cypriots from both sides fled to the UK, and when we lived in north London in the 1980s, stories of violence on Green Lanes, where many of them settled, were commonplace.
So how can we dedicate ourselves to that “greatest remembrance of all – that war should be no more”? How can we, as individuals, and as Unitarian communities, witness for peace? How can we ‘do our bit’? How can we make a difference?
It should be about more than dipping into our pockets, sending money to the latest Red Cross appeal. It should be about understanding that these are people just like us, each with a family, each with friends, who cannot be dismissed, cannot be reduced, to news items which we can ignore at our will. Cliff Reed wrote, “Who shall restore? Who will rebuild? Who will give meaning to the sacrifice of those who died? People united and envisioned. People empowered and awakened. People who are moved by love and a thirst for justice. May we be with them. May we be among them.”
I think we have to start where we are. It’s all about compassion – trying to empathise with other people by imagining ourselves in their shoes. Pretty darn difficult, I know. We have access to news about so many tragic situations, the world over. It isn’t easy to find the strength and will to respond to each and every one, and so we come to suffer from what has become known as “compassion fatigue.” We switch channels or scroll past the desperate stories which fill our news. We don’t want to have to think about “the shattered glass and smoking ruins… the looted shops and burned-out buildings… the cities ruined… the desolation wrought by moral vacuum” which Cliff Reed wrote about in our final reading. Is it any surprise that the victims of such atrocities choose to flee their homeland, flee everything they know and try to make a better life for themselves in a foreign land? We are a rich country – we should be welcoming refugees, not making arcane and convoluted rules to keep them out. Or that is what I believe.
I also believe it is the responsibility of the living to make meaningful the sacrifices of the dead. It is the job of anyone who is horrified by the futility and slaughter of war to attempt to influence their government and fellow citizens to work towards a more peaceful, happier world, in which war would not longer be necessary. And I know that faith groups the world over are trying to do this – we just all need to work together, and to keep at it, until humankind finally realises that peace is so much better than war, for everyone.
As people of faith, we have a duty to care for those less well off than ourselves. It is no good saying we care about peace, that we care about the happiness of other human beings, if we are not willing to do anything about it. If we ignore the plight of the thousands upon thousands of refugees who are fleeting from violence and war. I would like you to stop and think for a moment, about how desperate you would have to be to leave everyone and everything you know in the slim hope of a better life in a foreign land. [silence]
I am not naive enough to believe that we can “make it all better” simply by witnessing for peace and compassion. But we can at least try to be compassionate, where we are. I would like to finish by sharing part of the beautiful anonymous poem, which I shared this time last year…
Be gentle with one another
The cry comes out of the hurting heart of humanity.
It comes from the lives of those battered
With thoughtless words and brutal deeds;
It comes from the lips of those who speak them,
And the lives of those who do them.
Be gentle with one another. . .
Who of us can look inside another and know
What is there of hope and hurt, or promise and pain?
Who can know from what far places each has come
Or to what far places each may hope to go?…
Life is too transient to be cruel with one another.
It is too short for thoughtlessness.
Too brief for hurting.
Life is long enough for caring,
It is lasting enough for sharing,
Precious enough for Love.
Be gentle with one another.
May it be so, now and in the days and months ahead. Amen
Benediction by John Philip Carter
Our time together is ended,
we have heard that ancient call to be a people united
in love, in peace, in joy,
to be a people of vision, seeing a world
where peace and justice rule
where all are welcomed and celebrated
where love governs.
We have heard this vision, and now we go forth to make it our reality. Amen
Postlude Lady of Lewesdon Hill by Elizabeth Harley