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‘Élitist’ First World War vigil in Westminster

08 August 2014


From the Revd Leslie Lawrence

Sir, - A few weeks ago, the press had pictures of a phalanx of police ringing Westminster Abbey to prevent protesters violating the green adjacent to the building. What a contrast to the memorial service shown on TV on 4 August, commemorating the beginning of the First World War! No need here for the police to keep people away: I fear the service may have done the job for them.

I found the Abbey service quite unsettling. It purported to speak for the nation, at least in part, but I have to say that I found it otherwise.

There were prelates and a cardinal, a former Chief of the Defence Staff, a cabinet minister, and celebrities aplenty. A baroness snuffed a candle, as did a Lord Lieutenant or some such. We had the ministrations of the Chaplain-General of the Army, too. All very worthy folk; but where were the "ordinary" people?

Where was the army chaplain back from his or her third tour of duty in such places as Afghanistan? Where was the squaddie who had seen his mates torn to pieces before his eyes? Where were the nurses and therapists? In short, where were the "ordinary" people? I am sure they were there somewhere, but well hidden.

The material used followed what I consider a similarly élitist pattern. There was some wonderful poetry, but much of it would have been all but incomprehensible to a great many in the cosmopolitan Greater London town of Feltham where I worship and minister in retirement.

And the music: I found much of it wonderful, but again doubt that many I minister to daily would have thought likewise. During a long interregnum, I have conducted more than 150 funerals and memorial services. By far the most popular music to speak to the bereaved, and which they have chosen for themselves, would be that sung by the late Eva Cassidy. Listen to her "Songbird" and "Over the Rainbow", and you will see what I mean, and why they chose it. Where was the music that spoke for the majority?

We are told that the general population is remote from our politicians. As our churches empty, I fear the same thing may be happening to us, if the Abbey memorial service is anything to go by.

22 Chestnut Road
Ashford TW15 1DG

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