In spite of the fact that our November services of remembrance – All Souls on 1st and Remembrance Sunday on 8th – have had to be limited in terms of attendance and slightly altered in terms of procedure – there is no question in my mind that they will mean even more than usual to most people this year, given everything we’ve all been through with Covid-19.
Commemorations in Marston for the 100th anniversary of the installation of the War Memorial in the former Churchyard have also had to be curtailed, though the Parish Council and a dedicated band of volunteers are doing their best to ensure a “taste” of the celebratory and commemorative elements of the ceremony held in 1920. These included the green archway across the road and assorted displays and exhibitions, as well of course food and drink, and it is clear that the newly installed War Memorial was a symbol of all of this community engagement and collective experience and memory.
Although remembering and the month of November are now so firmly established in the psyche and “soul” of the nation – primarily of course on account of the First and Second World Wars – it is worth reflecting on the fact that Christians have always taken the opportunity at this time of the year to remember and give thanks for departed loved ones in the annual Feast of All Souls, which always follows All Saints Day in the Church’s calendar. The festival provides such a strong and for many such a reassuring opportunity, when we are able to “connect” spiritually and emotionally with our loved ones, and all the saints down the ages. We are not of course speaking of either ancestor worship or veneration – but our memories are both strong and loving, and also deeply life affirming. No doubt we all come to these services with different needs and hopes and expectations, but in the reading of names and the lighting of candles, and in the silence, we all join together in a very special, meaningful and powerful way.
In his book “England’s Thousand Best Churches” Simon Jenkins describes very movingly an experience he had whilst undertaking research for the book, at the little church of Up Marden – “...a place of delicious remoteness in the Sussex Downs. <span style="font-size: 1rem;">The evening was warm and the gloaming was rising from the valley beneath. Through a churchyard hung low with trees I could sense the air filling with the ghosts of villagers climbing up the hill to that tiny building. I sensed their coming for a thousand years. As they arrived, they hurled their hopes against those walls, wept on altars and filled rafters with their cries. That shed called a church had received their faith, and offered in return a humble consolation. Now mute in death, these people communicated to me as they did to Eliot, ‘tongued with fire beyond the language of the living’. I could not be immune to the spirits of such a place.” (2000, page xxix)</span>
Jenkins refers to T.S Eliot and lines from his wonderful poem “Little Gidding” – ‘You are not here to verify, instruct yourself, inform curiosity or carry report. You are here to kneel where prayer has been valid’.
In our services of remembrance, and in all our services and visits to the church this month, and always, we kneel, remember and give thanks, and we pray, in a place where prayer has been, and continues to be, valid – to our loving Father in heaven, who hears all the prayers of our hearts.
May God bless each one of us in this coming month.
The Revd Alec Brown.