A Sermon To End All Sermons: Do’s and Don’ts on Remembrance Sunday

4 11 2012

No one argues with you if you say that it is difficult to preach on Remembrance Sunday. Though why it is more difficult than any other Sunday I can’t really think.  In fact, in some ways it might be easier.

After all, it’s a day when the secular calendar and the religious calendar overlap. It’s certainly an occasion where you don’t have to hunt around for a theme. And it’s a ceremony when people really do care what you say and will notice if you put your foot in it. This may not be the sermon to end all sermons – but it certainly matters. It will be remembered.

My most memorable preaching experiences on Remembrance Sunday come from my Loughborough days when I was Chaplain to the Royal British Legion and spoke at the service in the town’s Queen’s Park. The service was under the  wonderful Carillon War Memorial. The carillonneur played Chopin’s Funeral March as the wreaths were laid. Poppies fell during the silence, which ended with a rifle shot from the top of the tower directly above my head. I shared the shelter of the doorway with other local clergy and the President of the RBL, Jim Pitts, while anything from one to two thousand people stood for the whole ceremony. One of my most abiding parish memories is of watching petals fall on Jim’s hat-covered head as I stood immediately behind him.

So – the challenge: a four-figure congregation, outdoors, standing up, in November. It didn’t take long for me to decide that it would be a very bad idea to bore them rigid with church-speak, or to foist my own sociopolitical views on them.

Anyway – that’s my credentials. Here is my list of do’s and dont’s.

Do:

  1. ask others how long it should be and believe them.
  2. write a script, read it out loud in advance to time it, and stick to it.
  3. mention films or literature that will help people focus.
  4. reach out to all who will be present. Remembrance is an inclusive all-age activity.
  5. find something personal to say, something that only you could say. (But keep it really brief, a tiny touch will do.)
  6. connect with the spirit of silent remembrance.
  7. spend half an hour imagining how you would  feel on Remembrance Sunday if you had been involved in active service and had lost friends.
  8. go and read all the names on your local war memorial.
  9. inject Gospel hope into both the tone and content of what you say.

Don’t:

  1. include any pulpit humour in the opening paragraph.
  2. construct an argument about just war theory.
  3. become a political commentator for the day.
  4. pay any attention to aspects of the ceremony you find uncomfortable – just screen them out and focus on the bits that have meaning for you.
  5. even think about wearing a white poppy.

P.S.  When I first thought about this I imagined the ‘don’ts’ would outnumber the ‘do’s’ but I am glad it is the other way around.

P.P.S. I myself will be preaching in Durham Cathedral, where people will be sitting comfortably. Nonetheless I plan to take a strong dose of my own ‘do and don’t’ medicine. I hope it works for us all.

P.P.P.S  I know this is a bit opinionated, but comment is free.

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5 responses

7 11 2013
Christopher Wardale

As always excellent advice – I always thought of Remembrance Sunday as a very postitive chalenge. We had the Civic Service for Darlington so the place was packed with all sorts of people. It was a genuine opportunity to reach out to a very wide community. I always started thinking about it about September. Jon Bell from the Iona Community preached one year – caused chaos by being a bit too edgy. They didn’t like what he said BUT they never forget it.
Christopher Wardale

10 11 2012
Journey through the field of life » Blog Archive » Preparing for Preaching on Remembrance Sunday

[…] site called Sermon Starters which provides some usual resources for preachers. His most recent post gives guidance for Remembrance Sunday. It contains some good advice but is also to some extent a […]

9 11 2012
Manon Ceridwen Parry

Thank you – am about to start writing mine now so this is much appreciated 🙂 The all age comment is so true, we have brownies and rainbows and after my first year here realised I would need to do something for them too so produce an all age activity sheet now too.

5 11 2012
My Life Right Now | Growing Christian Woman

[…] A Sermon To End All Sermons: Do’s and Don’ts on Remembrance Sunday (stephencherry1.wordpress.com) […]

4 11 2012
katzideas

I m not a preacher but it seems wise especially about the just war.I know some of us have mized feelings about Iraq and Afghamistan

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