Preparing for Preaching on Remembrance Sunday

Stephen Cherry who is one of the clergy at Durham Cathedral has an excellent 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 little contextual and so I thought I’d do a post evaluating his and adding in what I, with far less experience, have learnt over the last couple of years.

When I say Stephen’s post is a little contextual what I mean is that it starts from the position of talking about more civic style Remembrance Sunday services which are likely to include organisations such as the British Legion. I think for those type of services all of his advice should be followed to the letter. In planning standard services I think his advice is also sound because we need to recognise that it is a Sunday when there may be guests in the congregation who perhaps only enter a church once a year and that is to remember. I know that there are those who may not go to the big local services with all the pomp and ceremony but may choose to quietly slip into a church to pay their respects.

He lays out the challenge of” a four-figure congregation, outdoors, standing up, in November. “I am focusing on a two figure congregation, probably lower than the a good batsman’s batting average for an innings.

The first thing I would say is that if you are a local preacher remember you have a choice as to whether you put yourself on the plan for that day or not. I know many who don’t. As a committed pacifist Karl, for example, won’t plan himself for this Sunday because he feels it would be wrong for both him and a congregation. We need to respect those who decide not plan themselves in on this Sunday.

Personally I do put it in as a Sunday I will do because I view it as a really important Sunday and view it as an immense privilege to be able to serve others on that day. That said the weight of responsibility on a preacher as they carry that privilege is even heavier than on a normal Sunday. It’s one where you have to pray and trust in God that little bit more as well as being far more thorough in your planning.

For a local preacher I think a key bit of advice is check with your stewards what is expected within that congregation and are there any special things they do. My first year they needed me to finish early so that they could all head off to the local war memorial to lay a wreath in the main village act of remembrance, this year and last they have no special requirements.

I think you also need to understand what Remembrance Sunday means to you. For me remembering the sacrifice given by our service men and women as well as others killed in the horror of war is something very important. My grandparents who both served in World War Two instilled into me exactly what this day means and in putting together a respectful Remembrance Sunday service I am honouring what they did with the British Legion for many years too.

I think the script that Cherry mentions is vital. For me ensuring the silence is remembered on the 11th hour of the 11th day if possible is very important. That means I need a script and need to know what I will/can cut or change around if my timings end up slightly out.

I think the idea of films and literature is good. I personally go for a story telling approach based on local history. This year I found this local history site which was very useful.

Reaching out to everybody is important and this is where I disagree with Cherry on something – depending upon context. He says don’t even think of wearing a white poppy and whilst I think that at the type of civic service he is talking about that is probably good advice in a local chapel context I would say wearing a white poppy next to a red one can be ok. I did it last year (out of conviction rather than for any other reason) and an elderly gentleman who had been a conscientious objector during the war told me he had valued it because he felt it was the only time he had been included on Remembrance Sunday. As many of these men acted as stretcher bearers and so on I think it is important that without getting into politics they are remembered too.

I agree that injecting the hope of the gospel is vital too. This year I am including some material from the  Coventry Cathedral website in my sermon to help link the story and the gospel.

There is a question as to how much you focus on it being Remembrance in “ordinary services” and how much you don’t on this date. The lectionary provides a choice of readings reflecting this. Personally I go for it is Remembrance Sunday, we remember. I think it’s a bit like Mothering Sunday in terms of having to be sensitive and there being a debate around it but in many ways as it is nationally recognised in the way it is I think to some extent if you don’t want to be in an environment marking the day you should go to an evening rather than a morning service on that day if you can. That said as with Mothering Sunday special sensitivity does need to be shown around this and care towards those who don’t want to mark it.

Apart from the poppy thing then I agree with all that Stephen Cherry says in whatever context you are in.

What I would add is it is one Sunday when it is even more useful than ever to remember there are a range of resources available to give you prayers or the skeletons for prayers which you can amend. If you’re not confident, as I’m not on this Sunday, use what’s already there, you don’t always have to write your own. The material I am using for the silence comes from  Churches Together.

Also I’d say use familiar hymns that have aged well and are appropriate on the whole. The possible visitor element is important.

A final thing which I messed up on last year and am very glad to have thought about having done my research this year is being aware if you live in an area where alot of people in World War Two had reserved occupations.

I recognise that this is full of my own opinions and I am still quite new to this, any comments or other advice welcomed.