A SERVICE at Westminster Abbey to mark 50 years of constant patrol by the UK’s nuclear deterrent has been described as “morally repugnant” by the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND).
Christian CND has joined calls for the Dean of Westminster, the Very Revd John Hall, to cancel the service, and more than 20 clergy have signed a statement which warns that it sends “the wrong message” to the Anglican Communion.
The service is due to be held at noon on 3 May.
The service was originally billed, in an invitation sent out by Navy Command Headquarters, as “a National Service of Thanksgiving to mark 50 years of the Continuous at Sea Deterrent (CASD), the longest unbroken operation ever delivered by the United Kingdom . . . recognising all those individuals and organisations who have made a significant contribution to defending the nation as part of this mission.”
The Abbey’s website describes it as: “A Service to Recognise Fifty Years Of Continuous At Sea Deterrent”, recognising “the commitment of the Royal Navy to effective peace-keeping through the deterrent over the past fifty years and to pray for peace throughout the world.”
The Defence Secretary, Gavin Williamson, will be among those attending.
The general secretary of CND, Kate Hudson, said that it was “morally repugnant that a service of thanksgiving for Britain’s nuclear weapons system is due to be held at Westminster Abbey. This sends out a terrible message to the world about our country. It says that, here in Britain, we celebrate weapons — in a place of worship —that can kill millions of people.
“If the Defence Secretary doesn’t cancel this service, we call on the church authorities to step in to stop it.”
CND plans to hold protests outside the Abbey if the service goes ahead.
Christian CND is coordinating a petition to be presented to Dean Hall before the service, and C of E priests are among the signatories to a statement that calls on him to “instead engage with the campaign to eliminate nuclear weapons across the world”.
The statement draws attention to last year’s General Synod motion, which stated that members were “conscious that nuclear weapons, through their indiscriminate and destructive potential, present a distinct category of weaponry that requires Christians to work tirelessly for their elimination across the world” (News, 13 July 2018).
To date, 25 priests have signed it, including the Area Bishop of Colchester, in Chelmsford diocese, the Rt Revd Roger Morris.
On Wednesday, he said that he had “absolutely no objection to celebrating the dedication of those who serve in our armed forces. However, the celebrations planned for this year are also billed as a recognition of the innovation and skill of those who designed and built nuclear weapons.
“To celebrate a device that is designed to indiscriminately kill and destroy thousands of innocent civilians is totally incompatible with the gospel of Jesus Christ, and with our commitment as a Church to peace and to the flourishing of all humanity.”
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that he hoped that the Abbey would include “other voices” in the service:
“While I do not doubt Westminster Abbey’s good intentions to make this service a celebration of those men and women who serve in the Royal Navy and on these nuclear submarines, it is impossible not to view this service as appearing also to celebrate the weapons themselves.”
In the light of the Synod motion, which called on Christians to “work tirelessly” for the elimination of nuclear weapons, “I therefore regret any service or action taking place in the Church which, however well-intentioned, suggests otherwise; and I hope that the Abbey will include other voices in this service which can bear witness to the danger and horror of nuclear weapons and the growing consensus and witness of the Christian community and the nations of the world to work for their elimination.”
Since April 1969, there has always been one submarine from Clyde Naval Base on patrol — a mission termed “Operation Relentless”.
The Royal Navy announced in January that events were planned to “celebrate the 50 years of dedication of submariners on the longest operation ever carried out by our armed forces.
“No mission has been longer — or more important — than the nuclear deterrent patrols performed around the clock by the Royal Navy over the past half century.
“To mark that commitment — and success — high-profile public events, including services of thanksgiving in London and Edinburgh, a parade through the home of the deterrent force on the Clyde and a new commemorative award for crew are all lined up.
“Political, industry and naval leaders are determined 2019 also recognises the expertise, innovation and skill of the thousands of people who have designed, built and supported the deterrence force on more than 350 patrols since the late 1960s.”
A government policy paper states: “Continuous patrol is essential to assure the invulnerability of the deterrent”, and notes that the number of states with nuclear capabilities has continued to rise. Over the next 20 to 50 years, “a major direct nuclear threat to the UK or our NATO allies might re-emerge”, it warns.
The UK has reduced its nuclear forces by more than half since the late 1970s, and possesses only one per cent of the total global stockpile of nuclear weapons. A new fleet of Dreadnought submarines, costing £31 billion, is due to enter service in the 2030s.
This week, the National Audit Office released a report that noted that the Ministry of Defence had not disposed of any of the 20 submarines that it had decommissioned since 1980.
During last year’s Synod debate, the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, said that there were “no circumstances” in which the use of modern-day Trident missiles could be justified, given the destruction that they would cause (News, 13 July 2018).
He said: “The argument that they have worked as a deterrent is no argument at all. . . Our holding them only makes them seem more attractive to other nation states, often those with the most vicious and repellent governments.”
Representatives of the armed forces highlighted the sacrifice of submariners, who leave their families for three to four months at a time.
The Chaplain of the Fleet, the Ven. Martyn Gough, described putting chaplains on board, who said the daily office, and celebrated holy communion every Sunday.
On Tuesday, a statement from the Abbey and the Royal Navy said that it was “not a service of thanksgiving or a celebration of nuclear armaments. The service will recognise the commitment of the Royal Navy to effective peace-keeping through the deterrent over the past fifty years and will pray for peace throughout the world.”