Several weeks ago, as the Chaplain to our local Branch of the Royal British Legion, I was invited by the Rector to draft a form of a Celebratory Service that was to be held today. I had help from Ken Rowbottom, our RBL County Chairman and Virginia Skoyles, developing the service into a full-blown Village Event. At the heart of the service it was planned to have three short reflections on each of the time spans of twenty five years since 1945. While each was to be read, the plan was to have three symbolic candles brought through the body of the church and lit on the altar.
Revd. Susan has asked me to share these same thoughts with you so that, whether or not we are able to hold a Service later in the year, we can still reflect and pray together in our homes on V.E. Day itself. You might also wish to light a candle, or even three (!), so as to participate more fully. What follows this Introduction is the script, for you to read for yourself. I suggest pausing after each section for your own prayers of intercession. These are tough times and society remains full of uncertainty that conflicts with the original spirit of the envisaged V.E.Day. However, there is much to give thanks for, not least that we live in a settled and beautiful part of our country, largely untouched by the brunt of the Corona scourge, whether individual pain or collective fear. So we must pray for peace: peace of mind, peace across neighbourhood and peace as an outlook on life.
Revd. Canon Andrew Vessey
1945 – 1970
As waving flags replaced the wailing sirens, across the shires families would welcome home their sons and daughters, men and women who had served King and Country in the cause of justice and peace. A new generation could look forward to a fresh beginning, expressed in the aspirations of a great ‘Festival of Britain’ and the youthful energy of a new Queen. The nation erupted into house-building and industrial regeneration. We brought a fresh sense of pride into numerous projects and initiatives that in turn fostered new learning opportunities. So, not just new towns to build and new schools with fresh curriculum, but also new universities and colleges where the young people could be properly trained for work. We built new roads, invested in railways and air transport systems while, beyond our shores, a new breed of European politicians vowed to work together across old divisions. As we held our breath mankind took its first steps on the Moon. A sense of exploration and real optimism was in the air. England even won the World Football Cup !
1970 – 1995
These years saw much of what would become our national story determined by the impact of unrest, bred perhaps by the deep divisions between wealth creation and industrial decline. Inequality of pay within the coal industry went on to force the hand of many other trades unions, both in 1972 and 1978/79. That “Winter of Discontent” as it has become known, spread to stoppages and disruption across the railways and hospitals, petrol deliveries and rubbish collection. Overseas, Great Britain became embroiled in two particular global trouble-spots. We went to war with Argentina in the South Atlantic in 1982 over the The Falkland Islands, while in 1991 we played a supporting role in the American military invasion of Iraq known as Desert Storm. Later still in 2001, as one of her allies, we would share in the USA’s response to the situation in Afghanistan, challenging the rule of the Taliban and facing the wider threat of Al Qaeda. The extraordinary collapse of Berlin Wall and the release of Nelson Mandela in South Africa, promised everyone a sense of fresh hope. Nevertheless, as the twentieth century drew towards its close, it seemed that in Britain, whichever government and political party were in power, uncertainty and social divisions were destined to produce a legacy of unrest and suspicion.
1995 – 2020
Events like the opening of the Channel Tunnel and development of Felixstowe Docks began to alter the way we not only connected with the Continent for trade and holiday traffic but also raised more concerns as to how Britain’s role would develop within Europe. Handing back Hong Kong to China coincided with granting National Assembles to Scotland and Wales while the creation of the Northern Ireland Assembly, arising from the formal adoption of the Good Friday Agreement, demanded the continuing reconciliation between old enemies. There then followed a huge financial melt-down, caused through inappropriate risk-taking and bail-out, resulting in years of austerity which in turn affected many of our essential services and County Council budgets. There are many examples as to how life in Britain has got more dangerous and global extremism become a permanent threat to our society while the environmental crisis has clearly broadened and deepened. This brings us world-wide responsibilities as well as local concerns to do with climate change, not least the way we farm and build our homes. But nothing could have prepared us for the current global pandemic, sweeping through all nations and taking so many lives. Stories of extreme grief, courage and sacrifice remind us that this has been a war against an unseen enemy; one which any of us might be harbouring deep within our bodies. Such a massive infection of humanity will surely continue to demand a radical shift in how we each conduct our lives and relate to each other. Discovering a different rhythm of work and relaxation goes hand in hand with becoming more alert and caring of others.
For the Christian believer these challenges take us right back into the essential principles of loving one’s neighbour and contributing to society’s welfare because we believe all individuals are deemed to be a gift from God. Thus to follow the example of Jesus Christ, whatever challenges we might face, all aspects of life are deemed to be a reflection of God and so, inspired by His Spirit, we are each called to holy living.