With the national terrorist threat level raised to severe and the second COVID-19 lockdown starting just days beforehand, it had been uncertain whether the Remembrance Service at the Cenotaph in Whitehall, London, would go ahead this year. However, following the instruction of Her Majesty the Queen, the service was conducted as usual—albeit with heightened security and social distancing in place.
The number of people attending the service was reduced due to the need to comply with social-distancing guidelines. The royal family, members of Parliament, and representatives of faith and belief communities attended as usual, but there were fewer commonwealth representatives due to the need for everyone to stand at a safe distance from one another. Sister Jane Elvidge was pleased to be able to represent the Church at this year’s remembrance service.
Before the service, members of the faith communities were able to spend a few socially distanced minutes together, to share experiences of how worship services have been impacted by COVID-19. Mr. Rajnish Kashyap, general secretary of the Hindu Council in the UK, explained how he and other members of an interfaith committee had worked tirelessly to ensure that religious services were able to be held once lockdown restrictions started to be lifted in the summer. It was interesting to compare common concerns about the effect of the pandemic on major religious services this year, in particular, how those of the Islamic faith couldn’t celebrate Eid al-Fitr (the festival of breaking the fast’) and how Diwali (a festival of lights) and Christmas will be impacted for those of the Hindu and Christian faiths. We were all hopeful for the future and being able to resume our worship services in the normal way.
The Remembrance Service started with cannon fire, which made the ground shake, followed by the bells of Big Ben at 11 a.m. During the two-minute silence that followed, all were encouraged to remember those who gave their lives serving their country either during the two world wars or in more recent conflicts. Attendees then joined to pray and sing in a shared moment of unity and solidarity. The words of the hymn “O God Our Help in Ages Past,” which was sung, remain as relevant today as they were when written in 1708. In the last verse, we are reminded that God is “our hope for years to come” and “our guard while troubles last”. Those attending were also able to show appreciation for Queen Elizabeth who addressed the nation at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. During her speech she said, “We will succeed—and that success will belong to every one of us.” Jane said, “It seemed very fitting that we were able to pay tribute to her majesty today.”
It was good to reflect on how we have been brought together as a nation this year through the COVID-19 pandemic, and how our common suffering and restrictions, have made us more aware of one another. Although the current pandemic has not resulted in as many deaths as the first and second world wars, it is causing considerable hardship and suffering worldwide. Perhaps, because of not being able to be with our loved ones who are in hospital, especially at the end of their lives, we are now better able to understand how it must have been for loved ones lost on the battlefield—alone and unable to be supported by their families in their hours of need and suffering.
Let us hope that in the year ahead, as we continue to battle against COVID-19, we can be united as members of our communities, and ensure that we are doing our part to help those around us who are suffering. As we continue to look outward we can do our part to build on the amazing work that has been done on our behalf by all those service personnel who have made such brave sacrifices for us and continue to do so.