A tweet on Saturday night got me wondering. "This is beyond hideous. Am now trying to produce order of service which will square circles of traditional expectations & youthful boredom."
1. the Remembrance Service is a standard part of the church's year, and it's expected on the 2nd Sunday of November every year. It has standard elements: wreath laying at the local war memorial, certain hymns, involvement of uniformed organisations and the Royal British Legion etc. It's a right and proper part of what we do, to remember the dead and their sacrifice, and to give thanks.
2. But: those who come from the uniformed organisations are met with church at its most traditional - solemn processions, organ music, a format which it's difficult to do much with if you want to be creative or child/youth-friendly. At the same time it's a big day for some of them: being in the flag party for a big civic event is quite something for a 13 year old.
3. Result - if Remembrance Day is one of the few bits of exposure to the church which those youngsters get, then it may leave them with a skewed view of the church, one rooted in a culture several generations adrift from their own. So preserving the traditions in the present may be turning people off in the long term.
4. At the same time, young people are keenly aware of issues of war and peace, and in this part of the world there are many with Forces connections. We had a short Remembrance ceremony at Yeovil College last year, and (without any great publicity) roughly 100 students were present to remember, and reflect. We used war poetry, some video clips, a bit of U2, and a prayer. It's been even higher profile this year, so there could be quite a crowd on Weds morning. Using 'Fortunate Sons' by the Lost Dogs (a war lament by a rock group) with war images on powerpoint, the poem 'Flanders Fields', the traditional 'we will remember them' response, and a couple of short prayers.
5. Is it possible to reinvent Remembrance Day, or does it have to remain forever bound to 'I Vow to Thee My Country' (a sub-Christian hymn, unless you substitute the word 'Saviour' for 'Country', but then it isn't a bit of patriotic music anymore) and 'they shall not grow old'. 'We that are left' have grown old, and most have died, so that particular poem is drifting so far from its historical moorings that it's no longer a lament for lost comrades. There are new poems to be written for Iraq and Afghanistan. How much can we tinker with the formula without upsetting people for whom the very familiarity is a key part of the event itself?
6. Our situation is unusual: the 2nd Sunday of most months sees a traditional service at the church, and a 'Cafe Service' in the local community centre. At the cafe service on Sunday we kept a minutes silence, got the children making poppies, and thought about a wider theme of 'arguments' - what causes them, and what the Bible says about them. Because it's always the 2nd Sunday of November, there's always a link to Remembrance, and we recognise that it's Remembrance Sunday. At the same time that's only part of what goes on in the service, rather than taking it over completely. As a result there's a choice for worshippers, and on Sunday morning we had a number of families present who, had it been a traditional Remembrance service, may well not have come at all.
7. Is there more flexibility outside the church? Many will remember on the 11th itself, not on Remembrance Sunday. Local supermarkets will announce it over the tannoy. Factories stop. There may be a chance for someone to offer a brief 'thought', or a prayer, or something which makes it more than just silence. Ritual is one of the few things which people still expect the church to do well, and this is one where we can help wider society mark it meaningfully.
another way of joining the dots here: 'Black Swan Song' by Athelete