A meaningful remembrance: why I won't be going to church on Remembrance Sunday

By Virginia Moffatt
November 8, 2014

As a cradle Catholic, missing Sunday Mass was never an option, we went every week without fail. And though I am more flexible these days – I will take a break if I’m tired, or there is a one off event I can’t miss – weekly Mass is still central to my life. Most Sundays will find me, sitting with my family, at the 10am service, where I always appreciate coming before God with my faith community.

But I won’t be there tomorrow (9th November). The reason? Tomorrow is Remembrance Sunday. Growing up, I don’t remember this date having special significance for Catholics, nor do I ever remember attending a special service at church. I was, of course, acutely aware of the impact the two world wars had on my family - two great uncles died in World War 1, my father and four uncles all participated in World War 2. Out of respect for them, I used to buy a poppy, and take note of Armistice Day, but it had nothing to do with Church, or my faith.

The first time I came across a remembrance service in Anglican church I was as puzzled by the flags, pomp and circumstance, as an Anglican friend was by the collection of money during Mass. The marching scouts and national anthem seemed out of place then, in a time of relative peace, they feel even more out of place now, after 13 years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq.

So, I was surprised, ten years ago, to turn up to church and find the priest had created a shrine of poppies on the altar, and conducted a full service of remembrance. I put it down to the fact he wasn’t particularly supportive of peace and justice issues, and the congregation included a large contingent from the local US airbase, and was glad we were planning to move on. I didn’t expect that two years later, I would find myself participating in a remembrance service in our new church that became bigger each year. We don’t do scouts and marching, but there have been poppy displays, two minute silences and one year, the National Anthem.

And it began to make me uncomfortable. Until my church started having remembrance services, I had always chosen not to mark Remembrance Day. Not because I don’t want to remember the war dead, but because, I dislike the focus on “our” dead, “our” soldiers, rather than all victims of war. I dislike the military pageantry that Harry Patch described as “show business”. And I couldn’t help noticing the surge in churches participating in remembrance occurred at the same time the government had introduced events such as Armed Forces Day to encourage a war-sceptical public to celebrate the military.

I recognise that the Churches Together in Britain and Ireland have worked on the text of the remembrance service so it is more inclusive than it used to be, with prayers for peace and for all victims of war, being part of the worship. Nonetheless, it still feels part of the establishment view of remembrance which I can’t subscribe to. One Sunday two or three years ago, I found myself getting angry during the two minute silence, that I was being forced to take part in a service that was counter to my beliefs. It felt wrong to be sitting in church with this much anger inside, and disrespectful to all the people I was praying with who wanted to take part. So I left, and I have not gone back since.

I know that tomorrow, good people up and down the country will be taking part in services of remembrance in good faith. I know that many will be approaching it in the spirit of mourning all the dead, praying for reconciliation and an end to perpetual war. I won’t be joining them but that doesn’t mean I won’t be thinking and praying for victims of war. I’ll just be doing it in my own fashion, the way that sits best with my beliefs.

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* More on Remembrance from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/remembrance

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© Virginia Moffatt is chief operating officer of Ekklesia.

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