As we approach Remembrance Sunday next month I am reminded of the first Remembrance service which I conducted after being ordained. I was a recent arrival in a northern town, the new minister of the largest of the “free” churches and soon after the various welcomes were done and boxes unpacked, I had a letter from the Town Mayor inviting me to attend a meeting of all church leaders at the Town Hall. The mayor's idea was that the town should have a civic remembrance service with all churches represented. What he wanted was for a short opening service in the Town Hall after which everyone would walk to the War Memorial to conclude with an act of remembrance. It seemed like a thoroughly good idea to me – though I would now want to bring in non-religious groups as well, but that's another story.
The only ministers who turned up for the meeting were myself (Methodist), the Baptist minister and the Salvation Army Captain. Both the Anglican clergy sent apologies, one to say that because the War Memorial was outside his parish he would not be able to take part. They had their own War Memorial inside the church and so, as always, they would do their own thing. The other Anglican wrote to say that as the Town Hall was outside his parish, he would not be able to be involved – but the War Memorial was inside his parish so he would lead an act of remembrance there along with other members of his church. And anyone else who wished to do so was welcome to join them.
I objected. Surely what we were proposing was unified thing, a single Civic Service beginning in the Town Hall and concluding at the War Memorial. The vicar shouldn't just say he's not going to be involved and then walk in and take over at the end. “Quite right,” said the mayor. “I will write and tell him so.” And so it fell to me, the new guy in town, to organise and lead the whole thing and conduct the Act of Remembrance. And the vicar didn't show up at all.
When we got home that morning, we heard something to put church territorial sensitivities into perspective. A newsflash on the radio said that a bomb had gone off at the War Memorial in Enniskillen...