I grew up with Remembrance Sunday. It doesn’t take much to transport me back to the awful silence and grey November day outside. (Days like today really.)
It felt like the most revered and important Sunday of the year judging by the seriousness that was invested in it and was only maybe only challenged by Good Friday
Now 30 years later a lot has changed in my life. I saw one person wearing a poppy this Sunday at church and the minister made mention that it was Remembrance Sunday before and during prayers. And that was it in our church.
I doubt if the vast majority of our congregation know what Remembrance Sunday means as understood by most Presbyterians in Northern Ireland.
Later than afternoon I was treated to a full on Remembrance ceremony courtesy of the big screen in The Kings Head just before the Arsenal vs Spurs match.
The sound of the ‘Last Post’ could be heard on loudspeakers over the chatter of the pub. Two British servicemen marched across the pitch carrying a wreath of poppies. There was a moment of silence. The stadium announcer could be heard appealing to the crowd about the gravity of the situation that was about to unfold.
I felt awkward for a minute as if I should be showing my respect for the dead in some way. Some traditions and things I grew up with are so important to people that I know and they’re part of me I guess.
I know how important this act of remembering is to some people.You have to take the deaths of millions of people with seriousness. You have to take the murders of people during the Troubles seriously as well. You have to acknowledge the pain in lives that has been caused by war.
But (and here is the thing)….up on the big screen in a pub in Galway it struck me how British the act was. Reading the entry on Wikipedia reminded me:-
‘Remembrance Sunday is held in the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth as a day “to commemorate the contribution of British and Commonwealth military and civilian servicemen and women in the two World Wars and later conflicts”.’
Sitting in a pub in the Republic of Ireland and this act of remembering seems to divide the world up into people who fought for freedoms that ‘we’ enjoy and those who were against the freedom ‘we’ enjoy.
‘We remember those who have given their lives for our freedom’.
But who is ‘we’ to a global audience?
What does we mean to someone like Mauricio Pochettino or Erik Lamela if they come from a country that was at war with Great Britain? Pochettino was wearing a poppy during an interview before the game and I couldn’t help thinking of the Falklands war
And what do the words ‘our’ and ‘we’ mean in a globalized world as a member of a worldwide church?
And what do they mean when you belong to a denomination that has jurisdiction in two different countries?
What does it mean when one part of Ireland is a member of the Commonwealth and the other not?
Who are ‘our’ troops in PCI? Who are ‘our’ troops if there is only one church? What happens when our troops are fighting our troops? That makes no sense to me at all.
When I was kid ‘our’ troops was obvious because everyone in the pews would have considered themselves British.
But now 30 years later I’m sitting in the Republic of Ireland with church members from Chile, Brazil, Trinidad and Tobago, USA, Cameroon, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Congo, India, Madagascar, South Korea, Hong Kong, Dutch, Ireland, British.
If I was in a typical Presbyterian church in Northern Ireland last Sunday morning with some of the people from those countries would the act of Remembrance be inclusive or would in be divisive?
Does it matter? Is it OK to bring our nationality into corporate worship and accept it is part of our identity? What if people are present who don’t belong to that identity?
That is before considering things like how people who considered the British as the oppressor and occupying regime. Next year is the 100 year centenary of the Easter rising. I would be uncomfortable seeing some act of remembrance to men who had sacrificed their lives so that Ireland could be free being marked in a Presbyterian church. I would be uncomfortable as I don’t think it should be part of worship and that it would put barriers and divide people in church into ‘ours’ and ‘theirs’.
I guess when Remembrance Day is marked in church it makes me feel excluded. It feels like you either have to get on board the remembrance ceremony or else people will feel you are being disrespectful.
I didn’t go to church on Remembrance Sunday in Lisburn because nothing about the day made sense.It seems like a day when there is no Good News, only bad news. Suffering, pain, death, destruction, anger, Hitler’s, fascists but little sense of the good news, of peace and things being made new.