It was such a privilege to represent the United Reformed Church at the Remembrance Ceremony at the Cenotaph in Whitehall on Sunday. It is the sort of event which has been part of most of our lives in some way ever since we can remember but to be able to be present in person in Whitehall makes a significant impression and a lasting memory.
We gathered in a room in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, 14 faith leaders, 23 politicians, 7 senior forces/civilian services personnel and 47 High Commissioners. There was, as someone remarked, a lot of hanging around and an opportunity for some good conversations. Various processions were lined up and there was more hanging around – eventually it was time to follow the High Commissioners down the stairs and out into Whitehall. We were immediately followed by the Queen and members of the royal family. The minute the Queen was in her place the chimes of Big Ben rang out, on Horse Guards Parade the gun was fired and the two minutes silence began. The precision of this sequence explained the ‘hanging around’ which had gone on beforehand in order that everyone was in place on the dot of eleven o’clock.
After the ceremony we returned inside to a reception with the same people as those who had gathered earlier in the morning. This was another opportunity to speak with a whole variety of interesting people and I particularly enjoyed my conversations with High Commissioners and their wives who were interested in our denomination and eager to speak of their experience of church both here and in their own countries, occasionally linking their remarks to the concerns of their particular situation.
On occasions such as this I am reminded of two things. The first is that we are more alike than we are different from each other. Representatives of seven Christian denominations and representatives of seven other faiths standing together to share in remembrance of the horror which is war, of those who have given their lives or their health or their loved ones, our differences seem insignificant in such situations.
The second is the range of emotions which can be seen on such a day. As we walked through that area of London on Sunday morning there were many groups gathering, greeting each other and sharing news. There was a sense of lively chatter and laughter – the same could be said of those who gathered inside even as we waited in place to begin the procession but for the duration of the ceremony itself there was a depth of solemnity which we rarely experience. Of course there was also pride, grief, care, perseverance and a whole lot more. I think we sometimes forget that our emotions are God-given and his way of helping us to deal with the experiences which make up ‘life’.