The poppy. The two-minute silence. The Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month. These are words and images familiar to anyone from, or living in, the UK.
I, however, live in Germany. Yesterday, with less than a week’s notice, as church warden, I had to step in and lead our church’s Remembrance Day service.
Here we also call it Peace Sunday, because we in our church need to emphasise the service is not about celebrating victory, but about remembering those who gave their lives in conflict, and also about praying for peace between nations.
As warden, my usual task in this service is just to:
- Lay a wreath
- Find a German/young person/woman to lay the other
For yesterday I had to:
- Look through the service sheet
- Liaise with the preacher
- Do a dry run
- Check timings
- Explain to the wreath layer the context of the service and wreath laying
- Find a replacement for me to sit in Sunday school
- Much, much more
In the days before the service, I practise my lines.
Sunday turns up. I stand at the lectern. I have been to the loo three times with pre-lectern nerves.
10:45 on the dot. We start. I read verbatim from my notes. I want to get it right.
10:54 We reach the point where we lay the wreaths. We are meant to start the silence at 11:00. No way can I pad out the service till 11:00. I make a decision on the ground. I signal that we start tne 2-minute silence.
The silence seems to last two hours. Everyone keeps the silence immaculately. My blood pressure is lowered.
I thank my wreath layer and return to the lectern to continue the service.
More hymns. More prayers. I introduce the preacher, a USAF veteran. He preaches. And preaches. It’s a hum-dinger, forty minutes long, but engaging and thought-provoking. I then look for our intercessions person. He is AWOL: “absent without leave.” I had anticipated that eventuality. Time for ACTS.
I pray. We all pray. As I pray for peace, I hesitate for a second or two as I look at members of congregation who come from war zone countries in the Middle East, Asia and Africa. I lick my lips and take a sharp intake of breath, thinking of what these people must have gone through.
Fast forward. Just before 13:00 the service ends with the Grace and notices.
I give thanks to God for a another dignified Remembrance/Peace Sunday service. The congregation files out to refreshments in the church hall. I even get compliments on my suit and on how I led the service. I am truly flattered. It was a team effort:
- Chaplain briefing
- A patient congregation
After shaking lots of hands and being asked in the absence of “the priest” if I can provide a visitor with some “holy water.” Answer: er, no, I can’t, and anyway, as far as I am concerned, all water is holy. That would be an ecumenical question.
13:00 Everyone has been fed and watered. I breathe a sigh of relief that all went well.
Have a dignified day, won’t you!