The Church of England plays a major role in acts of remembrance

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The Church of England has a central but slightly odd role in commemorating the war dead. In the everyday life of busy, multicultural English cities, the existence of an established church, historically privileged but commanding the active devotion of a small minority, can seem like a strange anachronism. But at certain times and seasons, the Church of England comes into its own as a focus of national feeling.

One such occasion is the national commemoration of the war dead, which takes place every year around the anniversary of the armistice that ended the first world war, which came into force on 11 November 1918. This year’s memories have an added poignancy because a hundred years have passed. for the guns fell silent.

As usual, the clergy of the Church of England lead, although they do not monopolize, the religious part of the public proceedings in England. At the Sunday morning service at the war memorial known as the Memorial (a religiously neutral memorial in one of London’s main thoroughfares) there will be general Anglican prayers. If things turn out as usual, representatives of many religions, Christian and other, will also play their part in the careful choreography.

Meanwhile, many of the country’s main places of worship, including London’s Westminster Abbey, are holding “civic remembrance” activities: a phraseological revolution that features walking rituals the boundary between the worldly and the spiritual. They are a time when earthly bigwigs, including mayors and national politicians, can pay respect to the dead, regardless of their professed religion.

But the role of Anglicanism in national memory is even more evident in the small towns and villages of England whose focus often consists of monuments commemorating the community’s dead from two global bloodbaths, as well as longer conflicts forward. Whether or not the war memorial and the town church are co-located (as is often the case), the two are closely linked in common sense. Both show deep ties to generations long gone. Both express the feelings of a community that has suffered public and private pain, and is trying to make sense of that suffering and move on.

And for people who seldom darken the door of any place of worship at other times, it may be natural to gather at church, indoors or outdoors, and consider lists of names known locally. , remembering young men who left and never returned.

This year’s centenary will be marked by the tolling of bells across the country, recalling the peals heard by a weary, relieved nation in November 1918. And in England, most of those bells will be there Anglican churches and cathedrals because that’s where bells are generally located.

The Church of England has centuries of practice in stepping, briefly, into a central ceremonial place in a country that mostly ignores it. But in one way, he finds the role of the main memory a little strange.

Although this applies more to its clergy than the faithful, the Anglican church of 2018 is resolutely liberal, cosmopolitan and pacifist in its philosophy. He can deplore the suffering of soldiers and civilians on both sides of a conflict, but he can no longer accept the old patriotic rhetoric which claimed that soldiers gave the King “the life we ​​could live” or that they were fighting a “war. to end all wars.”

So the ceremony that the Church of England recommends this year to thousands of places of worship goes a long way towards reconciliation, peace and the human sin that leads to war. He chooses the most eurenic readings from the Bible, just like St. Paul’s order to “bless those who persecute you and if possible live peacefully with everyone.” He suggests, for example, reading the Lord’s Prayer, the most familiar of Christian petitions, both in French and German, to convey the idea that the continent is now a field of peace.

No doubt some will complain about this, just as Margaret Thatcher did after the British-Argentine conflict in 1982 when a memorial service brought back the war dead in both countries. But the Church of England has been balancing, balancing and weaving between many constituencies and ideologies for the half-thousand years of its existence, and the chances are that it will go some way some

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