12 November 2023

‘Yes, the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again …
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering’

‘Salaam, Shalom, Peace’ at a recent exhibition in Coventry Cathedral … three words in Arabic, Hebrew and English (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I plan to attend the Remembrance Sunday commemoration later this afternoon on Horsefair Green in Stony Stratford later this afternoon.

There are similar commemorations across the land today, and many churches observed a minute’s silence during their services this morning.

We are in constant need of reminders of the horrors of war, the brutal impacts of war on combatants and civilians alike, and the brutalising effects of war for both combatants and those caught up in war zones and violence.

I refuse to accept the term ‘innocent victims of war’ – it implies that some people deserve to die or be killed in war. It is a term that has the same ugliness as the one that refers to a victim of street crime as ‘the wrong person in the wrong place.’

All people who are victims of war are innocent, and everyone has the right to expect to be safe in any place at any time.

In a similar way, I refuse to accept the term ‘collateral victims of war’ – no one, no matter who they are, should be written off as one more number or one more consequence in violence.

‘Reonciliation’ … a sculpture in the ruins of the old cathedral in Coventry, destroyed during World War II (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

After more than half a century of active involvement in peace movements, of being an advocate of pacifism, and of speaking out against racism, bigotry, hatred and discrimination, I am still bewildered how the world has failed to outlaw war, just as the world has outlawed slavery, the slave trade, torture and genocide.

I am bewildered too that people I know, respect and value have failed to condemn the Hamas attack in Israel civilians over a month ago (7 October), killing civilians in their homes and taking hostages, and allow themselves to be pereceived as advocates for Hamas, a murderous terrorist organisation with an extreme ideology that is shocking to the overwhelming majority of Muslims.

I am bewildered too that people I know, respect and value might balk at my criticism of the present military policies of the Netanyahu government, when many people inside Israel express the very same criticism. Since I first spoke in a school debate as a teenager after the Six-Day War in 1967, I have spoken for Israel's right to exist, but I have been critical of the military policies of Israeli goverements and supoortive of the Palestinian right to statehood.

Peace and Shalom … words in frosted glass on the doors of the Peace Chapel in Saint Botolph without Aldgate Church, London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is not a paradox, it is a matter of principle and consistency to condemn Hamas outright, to demand the unconditional and immediate release of the hostages, and at the same time to demand immediate access of aid convoys to the hospitals and people of Gaza and to speak out against the ferocity of Netanyahu’s indiscriminate onslaught on the people of Gaza.

It is not a paradox to be disgusted at the horrific rise in incidents of antisemitism across the globe and at the same time to be fretful about the rise of Islamophobia too.

Perhaps a minute’s silence is an appropriate way to reflect on the horrors of war on this day, and to remind ourselves of the need not just to hope for peace but to call out for it, to demand it, to clamour for it.

‘Ring for Peace’ … the peace bell in Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Defence of the Realm Act forbade ringing some church bells during war-time. So to ring out the bells is a sign of peace, a hope for peace.

Three bells that rang out in York more than 500 years ago were given new homes in the city in recent years as part of the events marking the centenary of World War I, and now carry a resounding message of peace.

Three mediaeval bells that were once part of the old church of Holy Trinity or Christchurch in King’s Square in the centre of York are now symbols of peace. The bells were made by Chamberlain’s of London ca 1440 for the mediaeval church once known as ‘The Butchers’ Church.’

The congregation was declining by the late 19th century and the parish was merged with Saint Sampson’s Church in 1886. Soon the church was disused, and by 1896 it was a place to house sheep on their way to slaughter. The furnishings were moved to Saint Mary Bishophill Junior, and Saint Everilda's Church, Nether Poppleton, and the church was finally demolished in 1937.

However, the three bells of the church were rescued. In 2016, as part of York’s commemorations of the centenary of World War I, they were placed in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church Goodramgate, the garden of the Merchant Adventurers’ Hall off Fossgate, and Saint Paul’s Bookshop, Fossgate. In recent visits to York, I have seen two of these bells, in the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Goodramgate, and the grounds of Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate. Both are hung from wooden beams carved with the words ‘Ring for Peace.’

Each bell has a Latin inscription: Sancta Margareta Ora Pro Nobis, ‘Saint Margaret, pray for us’; Sit Nomen Domini Benedictum, ‘Blessed be the name of the Lord’; and Eternis Annis Resonet Dominis Johannes, ‘Through eternal years, let John resound for the Lord.’

‘Ring for Peace’ … the peace bell in Holy Trinity Church, Micklegate, York (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

My photographs this afternoon are signs of peace in churches and cathedrals, including those bells in York: ‘Ring the bells that still can ring / Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack, crack in everything, / That’s how the light gets in.’

In recent days, I have found myself once again turning to the words of Leonard Cohen’s poem-song ‘Anthem’ on his album The Future (1992):

The birds they sang, at the break of day
Start again, I heard them say.
Don’t dwell on what has passed away
Or what is yet to be.

Yes, the wars they will be fought again
The holy dove, she will be caught again
Bought and sold, and bought again
The dove is never free.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything,
That’s how the light gets in.

We asked for signs. The signs were sent.
The birth betrayed. The marriage spent.
Yeah, and the widowhood of every government,
Signs for all to see.

I can’t run no more, with that lawless crowd
While the killers in high places say their prayers out loud
But they’ve summoned, they’ve summoned up a thundercloud
They’re going to hear from me.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

You can add up the parts, you won’t have the sum.
You can strike up the march, there is no drum.
Every heart, every heart to love will come,
But like a refugee.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack, a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in,
That’s how the light gets in,
That’s how the light gets in.

‘Pax, 1919’ … the Gardens of Remembrance in Lichfield, with one of the three spires of Lichfield Cathedral in the background (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Daily prayers in the Kingdom Season
with USPG: (8) 12 November 2023

Poppies tied around a tree in the churchyard at Saint Peter’s Church, Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

In this time between All Saints’ Day and Advent Sunday, we are in the Kingdom Season in the Calendar of the Church of England. Today is the Third Sunday before Advent (12 November 2023) and Remembrance Sunday.

Later this morning I hope to be present at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Mary and Saint Giles, Stony Stratford, and I plan to attend the Remembrance Service on Horsefair Green this afternoon.

Before today begins, I am taking some time for prayer and reflection early this morning.

This morning, my reflections are following this pattern:

1, A reflection on Remembrance Sunday;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The War Memorial in the churchyard at Saint Michael’s Church on Greenhill in Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Remembrance Sunday:

Instead of reflecting on any one particular church this morning, I have decided to post a collection of images – war memorials, monuments and churchyards – that I have seen in Berkhamsted, Lichfield, Oxford, Stony Stratford and Wolverhampton during my ‘church crawling’ in recent weeks.

Saint Michael’s Churchyard on Greenhill in Lichfield extends for nine acres and is older than the Church. It is said locally that the churchyard was one of the five ancient burial sites in England that were consecrated by Saint Augustine – the other four were in Glastonbury, Canterbury, Lindisfarne and York.

Other legends claim Saint Chad may have used the churchyard as a retreat for himself.

Trumpeter John Brown from the Charge of the Light Brigade is buried in the churchyard. Another grave has the bodies of the last three men who were hanged in Lichfield; they were hanged in 1810 for forgery.

The church and churchyard also have literary associations with the families of Samuel Johnson and Philip Larkin.

A trail around Saint Michael’s churchyard follows the theme ‘A churchyard journey – praying for a needy world.’

The prayer topics at the stations include, for example, ‘Governments, councils and leaders’ (Station 10). Station 2, at the War Memorial in the churchyard, takes the theme ‘Wars and Conflicts.’

The reflection at Station 2 reads:

‘Looking straight ahead we see the War Memorial that commemorates those from the parish who died in the first and second world wars. Around the churchyard we see many individual Commonwealth war graves. We pray here for the peace of the world, and for those made homeless.

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. (Micah 4: 3)

‘Loving Father, Prince of Peace, we pray for all those involved in conflicts around the world – in Ukraine, Yemen, Sudan and elsewhere. We pray for politicians and leaders, that they may seek a just peace; for those who mourn the death of loved ones; for those struggling with injuries; and for those who have been made refugees. May we be generous to help with their healing and to welcome those who need sanctuary. Amen.’

Israel, Gaza and the West Bank could have been added appropriately in recent weeks.

World War I may have been labelled ‘the war to end all wars.’ But over 100 years later, we realise what a rash claim that turned out to be.

We need constant reminders of the causes, consequences and terrors of war and war crimes if we are ever going to eliminate war.

The War Memorial at Saint Peter’s Church, Wolverhampton, was erected in 1920 and was Grade II listed in 1992 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Matthew 25: 1-13 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] ‘Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. 2 Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. 3 When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; 4 but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps. 5 As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept. 6 But at midnight there was a shout, “Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.” 7 Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps. 8 The foolish said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.” 9 But the wise replied, “No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.” 10 And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut. 11 Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, “Lord, lord, open to us.” 12 But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” 13 Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.’

The War Memorial in Saint Mary and Saint Giles Church, Stony Stratford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayers (Sunday 12 November 2023):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), draws on ‘A Prayer for Remembrance Sunday and International Day of Tolerance’. This theme is introduced today:

God of peace and gentleness
we remember with deep sorrow
the fault, fear, and failure
that repeatedly leads to the forming of enemies,
the escalation of hatred
and to war.

We repent of our complicity in cycles of violence
for colluding with anger
or defaulting to patterns of hostility
As we remember those who have
suffered because of our forgetfulness
or our inhumanity one to another,
that we may also disarm our desire to overpower, capture or vanquish.
Help us to resist peacefully every form of violence
so that we can follow you
in ways of gentleness and justice,
continually resolving to form life-giving relationships,
strengthened by the forgiveness of Jesus
the fearlessness of the Spirit
the transforming love of the Creator.
Amen Adapted from prayers from The Methodist Church

The USPG Prayer Diary today (12 November 2023, Remembrance Sunday) invites us to pray in these words:

Peaceful God,
Teach us to forsake division and violence.
Let us serve each other in peace,
And live side by side in harmony.

The War Memorial in Saint Barnabas Church, Jericho, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

The Collect:

Almighty Father,
whose will is to restore all things
in your beloved Son, the King of all:
govern the hearts and minds of those in authority,
and bring the families of the nations,
divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin,
to be subject to his just and gentle rule;
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

God of peace,
whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom
and restored the broken to wholeness of life:
look with compassion on the anguish of the world,
and by your healing power
make whole both people and nations;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Additional Collect:

God, our refuge and strength,
bring near the day when wars shall cease
and poverty and pain shall end,
that earth may know the peace of heaven
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s Reflection

Continued Tomorrow

The War Memorial in the Chapel of Keble College, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

The War Memorial in Saint Aloysius Roman Catholic Church, Woodstock Road, Oxford (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)