This trio of autumn events pulls us together at a time of great division

PUBLISHED: 16:51 12 November 2019 | UPDATED: 16:51 12 November 2019

The Remembrance Day parade in Norwich 2019. Picture: Neil Didsbury

The Remembrance Day parade in Norwich 2019. Picture: Neil Didsbury


James Marston took his first remembrance service on Sunday and says that along with Halloween and Bonfire night, these three events pull the community together

Remembrance Sunday service in Christchurch Park, Ipswich   Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWNRemembrance Sunday service in Christchurch Park, Ipswich Picture: SARAH LUCY BROWN

No sooner is the summer over it's the annual sweet-tooth-fest of Halloween, then it's Bonfire night and then remembrance.

The rhythm of the year, these special annual events that mark time, seems to come around quicker and quicker. All of them, of course, bring the community together. As many of you will recall I am a curate in the Alde Sandlings benefice, a group of churches which includes Aldeburgh, Friston, Knodishall and Aldringham. On Sunday I took my first Remembrance Sunday service. We began by gathering at the village's war memorial in the churchyard. 
We held a two-minute silence before coming in out of the cold and into the church.

I preached about the value of silence and reflected that remembrance itself is ultimately an act of silence.

"Silence because it seems fitting. Silence because sometimes that is the only response we can make. Silence because ironically it gets the message across. Silence because it is powerful and demands of us a moment of reflection. And silence in the Christian tradition has long been used as a vehicle through which God can break through in to our thoughts.

Silence also means we listen. We listen when we don't make noise. We listen when we don't talk. We listen when then clatter of the world is quelled. And today as we remember we also listen in the quietness. We listen to history, we listen to the voices of the fallen."

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Silence is a rare commodity these days, but since the service I have been thinking a little further.

Remembrance, Bonfire night, Halloween even, are all events that bring a community together. Indeed I noticed before and after the remembrance service that there was a social element to it as well. People renewed friendships, re-made acquaintances, and enjoyed each other's company. And over a cup of coffee in the vestry they caught up on each other's news. It was, in some ways, quite a jolly occasion. And perhaps so it should be what better way to pay tribute to the men and women whom we were honouring by expressing fondness and kindness for one another.

What really made me think, however, was that in the act of remembrance everyone there 
was united in purpose and how sad, it seems to me, we keep hearing of division and discord 
in our political life. I don't really believe the nation is anything 
like as divided as we are led to believe. I see more unity than I 
do division.

I tend to look on the bright side. This is because if we believe without some scepticism the narrative of division I fear it quickly becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more we talk about how divided we are, the more likely it seems we will accept it, and once we accept it we can 
act upon it, and once we act 
upon it we live in a society that actually becomes divided, and deep division in society leads to a place I don't think any of us wish to go.

I am a clergyman and a member of the press; the truth is important to me. I'm not saying we should put away our political differences (they are real and valid), or be unconcerned about the division between rich and poor - this is real and obscene.

I am saying we should cherish and relish in those things that bring us together, those things that fly in the face of what the commentators might say, those things that defy the narrative of division that is so easily bought into, those things that enable us to show kindness and concern for one another, those things like Halloween, Bonfire night, and remembrance that collate people and put them together in a spirit of celebration and friendship out into the public sphere.

And perhaps, by doing this, consciously making an effort to pull together, we will be honouring those who we call to mind at this time of year in the most fitting way of all.

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