Vicar's Sermon - Remembrance Day 2015.
Earlier this week I and a dozen or so Governors up the road at Green Lane School attended a WRAP training session. Wrap, spelt with a W is therefore nothing to do with a particular style of music. Nor, despite its spelling is it an attempt to improve the Vicar’s notoriously hopeless wrapping techniques in preparation for helping Santa later this year. WRAP, in this context is an awful acronym which stands for ‘Workshop Raising Awareness of Prevent.’
Perhaps you are no wiser even with this explanation for what on earth is ‘Prevent’ and why should your local school governors be aware of it. ‘Prevent’ is the Government’s strategy for helping communities and organisations address the threats associated with radicalisation and possible terrorism. And yes, the Governors of a school for children aged between 4 (or lower in our Child Care facility) and 11 are expected now to be aware of these things. As our excellent Head Teacher counselled us, in a school context, this is about Safeguarding our children, protecting them from harm and shielding the vulnerable from those who might abuse their vulnerabilities.
There was much in the session that was valuable to hear and important to take in but this one thing struck me – an obvious point but relevant to us as we gather this Remembrance Sunday to honour all those who have died in conflicts since the First World War. The point was this: acts of extremism or terrorism do not come from no-where. They have a back history of feelings of exclusion and difference, of real or perceived wrongs perpetrated by others. Behind them there is a net work of conversations, a process of radicalisation, of fundraising and preparation for some action or other.
As we remember the hundreds of thousands who have given their lives for their country (soldiers, sailors and air crew); as we remember those whose lives were taken from them in the ‘total wars’ of the last century that brought destruction across Europe to the Far East - refugees fleeing the bombing of their cities; starvation and disease; atrocities in the camps of Eastern Germany and Poland and in the heat of Burma - let us be aware that these things too ‘do not come from nowhere’. Warfare also has a ‘back history’ fought over by historians but present none the less: feelings of exclusion and difference, real or perceived wrongs perpetrated against whole nations that provoke violence and stir up hatred. Conversations: the wrong words spoken at the wrong time across the diplomatic table. There is the martial-ing of public opinion and resources: fundraising and the purchase of weaponry all these things take place before the outbreak of war.
It is commonly thought that Europe sleep walked into the First World War. We were not ready for the Second: despite the warnings signalled through the rise of National Socialism in Germany we did not see it coming. In my own lifetime Lord Carrington famously resigned his post as Foreign Secretary for not foreseeing the invasion of the Falkland Islands. Were we really prepared for the ongoing sectarian conflicts that followed the Iraq wars...or that have unleashed so much trouble in Afghanistan or Libya?
This day. This season of the year, this time of Remembrance is given to us all – as a nation – to take time to take stock. Our connection to the events and the people of the First World War a hundred years ago comes through the recovery of some of the stories from that war of individual family members whose names have, for us their descendants been preserved written on the back of old photographs or which appear on our war memorials. The Bowes Museums’ World War I project has enabled some of these stories to come to light alongside the work of individuals whose research has honoured the war dead from that time. As a town we have been reminded of the immense debt of gratitude we owe to those who served in the 2nd World War as The French Government has honoured remaining veterans from D Day with the Legion d’Honneur, amongst them our own Joe Swinbank. Holding onto these stories is vital to us. It is crucial that we remember the cost of conflict: costs borne in injury and bereavement, families divided, the course of life diverted, hopes dashed, property destroyed.
But surely a better way to honour those who have given everything would be to actually learn from the past. We all need our own ‘Workshops to raise awareness of how to prevent’ conflict reaching such colossal scales of destruction. Prevention, as they say, is better than cure, which is why this service purposely and intentionally includes an act of commitment that, in the light of the sacrifice of others asks us to live differently:
Will you strive for all that makes for peace?
Will you seek to heal the wounds of war?
Will you work for a just future for all humanity?
Our bible reading included Jesus’ words known as the Beatitudes. They are words that challenge us to strive for peace, to be active peacemakers in a world that is full of conflict: we have a proud history of peace keeping though our armed forces but, as civilians are we peace makers? Jesus asks us to put aside pride and to live with humility amongst others: to have a right assessment of ourselves: what is our role in the community of nations, on the Security Council of the United Nations? Is it naive to hope that we might conduct our relationships personally and as a nation with purity of heart when we are set in a world of complex international doubletalk and deceit? As refugees flee other conflicts and approach our borders how do we measure up in hungering and thirsting for righteousness? Is righteousness something we want above everything else: does it consume the very way we live?
Our Remembering today must be to a purpose. The past may well be ‘another country’ but we must take from it a ‘useable future’. Today, together in great numbers across the land we honour our war dead by committing to do all in our power to work for a world in which there will be no need to add to their number.