“At the going down of the sun and in the morning.
We will remember them.”
Here in Aughton this Sunday we have two civic ceremonies: this year here at Christ Church (we alternate with St Michael’s) and at the War Memorial in Town Green The local clergy lead both.
Clearly broadcaster Dan Snow would disapprove. In a leader article in yesterday’s Guardian headed “Remembrance Sunday should not be dominated by religion” he writes “Yet for many of us in today’s Britain, this important ceremony is diminished by the dominance of a religion that fewer and fewer people follow.”
He comments concerning the Cenotaph ceremony: “There is a great danger that by letting a bishop dominate and refusing to admit a secular presence at the ceremony it will be diminished or even ignored by modern Britons.”
And yet our Sunday Remembrance service is now the best attended service of the year, drawing in many of our fellow residents in large numbers. It’s what they expect; it’s where they want to be. For when deep feelings are engaged for a whole community, such as a local tragedy, invariably the local church is the place to gather.
Our church’s Facebook page needed a simple description to fit in the “About” box and so I quickly typed “Christ Church, Aughton, is a parish church with an evangelical ministry set in the market town of Ormskirk. We belong to the Diocese of Liverpool.” That’s as many words as I was allowed.
Last week I was visiting diocesan central admin at St James House to meet with Steve Pierce. He told me – to my surprise – that my description of Christ Church being a parish church with an evangelical ministry was sheer genius (he is easily impressed, clearly). That simple description, he thought, says it all.
We are not an evangelical church for evangelical Christians; we are primarily a church for everyone who lives in our parish, serving them with an evangelical (scripture-based) ministry. And that means that this Sunday we welcome people who do not normally come to church. We welcome them to their parish church.
For engaging in an act of worship along with people who mean it is significant for those who do not – it touches areas of our lives which we rarely acknowledge. The simple reason is that each human being is made in the image of God and only in him will we find fulfilment.
As John writes in the introduction to this Gospel “The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.” (1:9) However much Dan Show – a Distinguished Supporter of the British Humanist Association, incidentally – may deny it, to be fully human means abiding in Christ.
All this gives us a key role and an awesome responsibility. “The ‘why’ is plain as way to parish church,” asserts Jaques in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It.” This much travelled path some four centuries later continues to be our national instinct. Our task is to make the way plainer.
This means, for example as vicar of Christ Church my responsibility is not limited to our congregations but to the entire parish of Aughton, geographically defined. This gives practical expression to the much-quoted observation of the wartime Archbishop of Canterbury, William Temple: “The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members”.
It’s not easy and there are many temptations to compromise the Gospel.
As the present Archbishop confesses: “I have never had demands on me as acute as when I was a parish priest.”
This is a calling we need to recognise and nurture. Even today I can knock on the door of any house in the parish (assuming I can get past the electric gates) and expect a welcome, however quizzical.
For being a parish church lies at the heart of our key task, that is to share Jesus with everyone beginning in our community. So this Sunday as we remember those men of Aughton who gave their lives in the two world wars, we do so together in the healing presence of God.
“We will remember them”