President Vince McCully reflects on Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph

15 November 2023

On Remembrance Sunday we were represented by our President, Vince McCully, at the Cenotaph in London. Here, Vince reflects on the experience:

“Stuck for words to describe this occasion. Wish everyone could experience both the solemnity and the celebration, I admit to a little wobble in the third verse of t’hymn. All 22 faith representatives gathered in the same room before the ceremony. Still here at Horseguards soaking up the atmosphere. Certainly the biggest parade I’ve ever been on.”

The above, my post on Facebook, written standing in ‘Horseguards Parade’, amidst all the hubbub of the returning marchers, there are two bands playing in the background and Princess Anne salutes all as they pass her. These are the men and women of all the services, the Chelsea Pensioners, children of RAF personnel (in the black and yellow scarves), Police, Scouts and Guides amongst many others. All treated with due decorum.

It is a day of remembrance in a spirit of fellowship and community, a national and international coming together, in joint enterprise. Walking to the venue in the morning and catching the eye of police, stewards, officials and marchers I noticed that every face was open and ready to be engaged, the atmosphere buoyant and uplifting, testimony to an air of ‘team spirit’. I saw no frowns – maybe I did not notice them.

On arrival at the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (no later than 10am mind) and having passed through all the security I could then put away my invitation card and passport. We, the faith leaders, were all diligently shown into a spacious room for light refreshment.  Some were regular attendees and some, like me, were there for just the one time. Everyone mingled freely and I was soon chatting away and shaking hands with Andrew Copson of the Humanists, also the Baptist, Ba’hai, Muslim, Church of Scotland, Jewish, Spiritualist and Zoroastrian church leaders. Everyone spoke freely and the atmosphere was convivial on all sides.

The service of remembrance was solemn alright, parading out in pairs (I was with the President of the Spiritualists’ National Union – Minister Jackie Wright) and standing by the Cenotaph you could hear a leaf fall. A stillness, a certain timelessness encompassed all present, at times it felt unreal. A fellow parish councillor, in Rivington, attended this service some years ago, as a by-stander, and recounted that this ‘stillness and quietness’ washed over him in like fashion.

I am privileged, as President, to visit many of our congregations and I always look out for the roll of honour proudly displayed by my hosts in their Chapels and churches. I wonder at the emotions of the folk that erected them; the loss, the grief and the regret for the fallen; the relief, the gratitude and the joy for those that returned. I used the word ’celebration’ in my post above, it is a celebration of lasting peace, peace for which we must all strive and never more-so than now. Years of studying the classics taught me that war is wasteful, wasteful in the extreme, wasteful of lives, of cultures, of property all are sacrificed on the altar of a doomed enterprise and that all wars end when dialogue begins. War is a hateful, wretched and de-humanising business and we as Unitarians and Free Christians always seek ways in which we can work and pray for peace and concord, may we always continue to do so.

I wrote a prayer and made a call for peace during services days after the Palestinian conflict broke out, I wish to share them with you now:

We pray for the people of Gaza and Israel. The very thought that such atrocities can be justified and meted out to another person, let alone that the victims are innocent civilians, is beyond comprehension. Thousands of people have already been killed, many more maimed and injured.

Dear God, in the name of all that is holy and good, please restore peace to all sides without delay. To kill is not even a last resort, it is simply a sign of humankind’s utter failure to understand anything about God’s will.

“Our world has become so interdependent that violent conflict between two countries inevitably impacts on the rest of the world. War is outdated, non-violence is the only way. We need to develop a sense of the oneness of humanity by considering other human beings as brothers and sisters. This is how we will build a more peaceful world.” – The Dalai Lama

A Prayer – Published when we were in the midst of the Second World War:

Eternal God, in whose kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, and no strength known but the strength of love; guide and inspire, we pray Thee, the work of all who seek to make peace in the world, that all nations may find their security, not in the force of arms, but in that perfect love which casteth out fear. Amen

from Orders of Worship (Lindsey Press, 1944), pg. 14. Slightly abridged by Vince McCully