The tradition in our ward and in some other wards in the UK is to have a Remembrance Sunday service on the second Sunday in November — the Sunday closest to November 11, or Armistice Day. In doing so, we essentially join with the rest of society in this act of remembering veterans as the rest of the Christian churches in the country uniformly dedicate a service on this day to the memory of those who died serving in past wars and to those currently serving. Part of this tradition in our ward is to move away from the assigned congregational talks that we usually have on a Sunday and stick to a readings-based program planned out in advance to capture the Spirit of the day and convey the purpose of the meeting.
I conducted our meeting this year and in introducing the readings-based program/format, I commented that this Remembrance Sunday program was not actually a “celebration” but rather an acknowledgment of the millions who paid the ultimate price for their countries. With some difficulty given the sheer magnitude of the loss in The First World War I explained my opinion that there were no winners in WWI and that the 15.1 million soldiers who died were not masters of their own destiny but rather only pawns in someone else’s political game.
Our program had a certain logic to it. The theme of the meeting was taken from Alma 36:2:
I would that ye should do as I have done, in remembering the captivity of our fathers; for they were in bondage, and none could deliver them except it was the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob; and he surely did deliver them in their afflictions.
The readings-based format allowed us to involve more people than a normal Sacrament Meeting with talks. After enjoying a reading of John McCrae’s “In Flanders Fields” (1915) by an old veteran in our ward, we had a string of scriptures read by various ward members of all ages from all different cultural and national backgrounds. The first readings included Doctrine and Covenants 134:2 and other scriptures generally outlining a possible argument for just war, including Alma 46:11-16 (The Title of Liberty). We had some somber hymns interspersed, such as “I Need Thee Every Hour” and “Nearer My God to Thee”. Then to bookend this portion, we heard a reading of Moina Michael’s “We Shall Keep the Faith” (1918) by the son of a British soldier who was taken captive at Dunkirk (rather than escaping with the majority in the flotilla) and spent the rest of the war in a Stalag followed by intensive hospitalization for four years after the war.
Isaiah 52:7 served as a somewhat blunt but always beautiful transition scripture from the war-focused portion of the meeting. The rest of the scriptures read emphasized our duty as disciples of Jesus Christ to make peace. I realize this could be considered slightly dissonant with a Remembrance Sunday church service but so much the better. This section of scriptures praising the earthly peacemakers also included acknowledgment of those who publish peace in the Spirit World, as found in Doctrine and Covenants 138:29-35, which was read as well.
In an attempt to turn our minds back to publishing peace in the here and now, we arose and sang “God Save the Queen” as is traditional on Remembrance Sunday in the UK. This was followed by a reading of the Twelfth Article of Faith. The last scripture read to close off this peace-focused portion was 4 Nephi 1:2-5.
The bishop gave concluding remarks before our Two Minutes of Silence. He focused on very traditional Remembrance Sunday themes of gratitude for those serving in defense of the country in the military. He pointed out that the readings in the program had been by old and young (we had very young primary children included as some of the readers), lifelong church members and new converts and by people from the full variety of walks of life and cultural backgrounds represented by our ward. He noted the contributions made in WWI by regiments from West Africa, India and Asia, East Africa, North America (Canada and the United States) and from Australia and elsewhere. Fittingly, he turned his attention toward the early Latter-day Saints who began their lives in England and Wales and emigrated to North American in search of Zion to find persecution, forced migration and death by exposure. It is the sacrifice of those who dedicated their lives to preserving our freedoms that we remember on Remembrance Sunday. So it was nice for him to give this British Holy Day a very Mormon twist in that way. As always, our bishop then tied our readings and the idea of Remembrance Sunday back in to the Atonement of Jesus Christ, ensuring that the outcome of the meeting was entirely Christ-focused. He did this in part by re-emphasizing the lead scripture, Alma 36:2.
Standing together with my ward, all with heads bowed, in the Two Minutes of Silence was very moving. The two minutes seemed very long but the chapel was extraordinarily quiet. Even noisy children were silent.