Some of you will,
by now, have seen the ‘silhouette' in church, which appeared after Harvest Festival and has been moving around the
pews over the past couple of weeks. The perspex figure is part of a national initiative entitled there but not
there..., which is aimed at encouraging reflection by communities up and down the country about those who have
not returned from wars and conflicts over the years. Many of these people are named on war memorials and other commemorative
plaques in our parish churches, and St Martin's is no exception.
Over the last couple of years
in the pages of this magazine, Michael Walker has been gathering together the facts about the lives of these (mostly) men
and ensuring that they are not just names on a list but the identities of real people who had real lives in the midst of our
locality. A few of them have descendents still living locally and worshipping at St Martin's. Michael's research has
meant that we can connect these names with our community in a more real and vivid way than we might have done otherwise.
The silhouette in church represents all these - and so many others - who have gone to war over the years
and who haven't survived. But, as with any death of someone beloved by others, their lives had many other elements to
them which tied them to family and friends, meaning that they were not forgotten.
When we gather in
acts of Christian worship we gather with a recognition that we are part of the church which also has part of her membership
in heaven. In Christ we are one. We proclaim in the creeds that we believe in the Communion of Saints: the company of faithful
souls now in heaven who are part of the Church. These are there but not there: we cannot see them but they are part of our
community of worship; part of the family of God. Although the silhouettes represent those who have died in conflict and war,
they can also signify the whole company of the saints in heaven.
One of our hymns (For all the
saints) includes the verse:
O blest communion, fellowship divine!
struggle, they in glory shine;
Yet all are one in thee, for all are thine. Alleluia.
Each year we reach Remembrance Sunday hot on the heels of All Saints Day and All Souls Day on the 1st and 2nd
November respectively. For many years it has felt to me that these couple of weeks in early November are very much about being
surrounded by those who are there but not there. I've often sensed the closeness of this communion of saints in heaven
with me in worship - both during services with many people present and also, and especially, when I have prayed morning or
evening prayer alone in church. For I have felt not alone: the depictions of saints in the stained glass, the names of past
rectors on memorial tablets and names of other people recorded on monuments and plaques have all reminded me that I worship
with this company of others - not just those in heaven but those worshipping in their homes and offices and schools, those
locally and those around the world.
What these different days of commemoration help me do is recognise
the wider aspect of what it is to be a child of God and what it is to be a member of Christ's Church. We can get very
narrow in our thoughts and experience of being God's Church, sometimes with hardly a glance towards our nearest neighbours,
let alone those further afield. The month of November pushes us to think of both the Communion of Saints and the wider church,
and how our faith in God connects with the joys and tragedies of life. Christianity is a social religion - it was not the
teaching of Jesus that we each inhabit a narrow, individualistic faith but that we flourish as part of a community of love,
where each is welcome and where all are offered hope and salvation.
In this season of remembering,
may we be alert to our wider belonging and to God's wider work in his world and Church.