It’s ANZAC Day this week. In New Zealand ANZAC Day has the biggest church service this country has each year. The irony is that most New Zealand churchgoers probably don’t attend.
ANZAC stands for Australian and New Zealand Army Corps and 25 April is a day for remembering. On this day services happen simultaneously throughout Aotearoa that greet the new dawn. I call this a ‘church service’ because most of the components of a church service happen as the people gather to remember the multifaceted dimensions that ANZAC Day now has attached to it. In this post I give my review of a recent ANZAC Day service I attended, and why churches should find ways to engage with this day:
In 2010 I attended the last dawn service held outside the Anglican Cathedral in the square in central Christchurch (the cathedral was destroyed by earthquakes the following February), there were approximately 10,000 people at the service.
Dawn services and church service components
There was a call to worship, Christian songs were sung together (not particularly well, but sung nonetheless), prayers were prayed (with obvious depth of thought, compassion, and understanding from the ‘clergy’), thoughts were offered for pondering, and the benediction was offered over the people with Christian warmth and friendship.
If I was to critique the service, I would note that some of the songs chosen weren’t very well known and there weren’t enough song-sheets, and looking at the official church representatives it could have been 1910 not 2010.
It was moving, emotionally manipulative at times, cold (temperature wise), and God-connecting for those who were looking, and maybe even for those who weren’t.
When ANZAC Day is on a Sunday (it was in 2010)
Being on a Sunday in 2010, my own church gathered 4 hours later for our normal church service. Our service was focused around ANZAC Day, with an attempt to acknowledge the tension already present in our place at times throughout the last century: between those who went to war, and those that stood against it.
In 2010 we still had with us each week retired service people as well as registered conscientious objectors. In 2010 one of our younger people was serving in Afghanistan, and some of our younger people regularly protest against injustices in the world.
In our ANZAC Day focused church service we didn’t honour war and fighting
We tried to respect the historical choices made, the people who served God and country (however they expressed this), and above all the image of sacrifice Jesus can provide for all humanity, a story familiar to many churchgoers.
Most churches in our country struggle to engage with New Zealand society and culture, in fact we’re failing at this. ANZAC Day is something of a national gift in the annual cycle we follow: Lent, Easter, ANZAC Day, Pentecost…
It’s not the time to be singing Onward Christian Soldiers
It’s also not the time to be ignoring one of the only (and growing) times our nation publically faces head-on, issues that provoke wonder, aw, shock, pride, disappointment, loss, and maybe a bit of spirituality, even Christian spirituality.
The Dawn Service I went to had about 10,000 people at it. I can imagine that number doubling if all the churchgoers in my town turned up too, apparently there are approximately 15,000 regular churchgoers in Christchurch. All of us turning up would certainly improve the singing!
It might be an idea to ask the city council for the song selection beforehand so we can have a run through at church the week before. I’d also like to see the song words listed on a website so smartphone users have them at their fingertips rather than relying on getting one of the sparse paper song-sheets.
We (the church) should always be looking for authentic ways to connect with a society that is increasingly moving on from Christian things. The Christian expression at the Dawn Service I went to, while fully present, still left a lot to be desired, and my church doesn’t do anything in our plot at the moment to justify being asked to contribute – I hope that will be different one day.
I would like to encourage churches to engage with ANZAC Day with respect and intelligence.
Everyone wears a poppy
The red poppy flower also known as the remembrance poppy is a symbol that has been used to remember those who died in wars since the 1920s. In the week or so leading up to ANZAC Day people wear a red poppy to show their remembrance and respect. Buying these poppies is also a fund raiser for the Returned Services’ Association, and the manufacturing of the poppies used to provide work for the IHC until being recently sourced from China.
In 2010 I put a red poppy on the church billboard as a way to show that this one particular church in the city was also ‘wearing a poppy’ for the same reasons any individual person might wear one. I did this because I thought it was a simple and clear way to show a normal connection between the church and a significant societal event. No words were needed. Some of our neighbours appreciated it enough to tell me.
A white poppy
My plan for the following year was to make an identical billboard but with a white poppy, to show that this particular church also supported other ideals. The white poppy was introduced by the Co-operative Women’s Guild in 1933 as a symbol of peace.
One idea with the billboard was to change it every alternate day between the red and white poppy. I was a bit sidetracked in 2011 by earthquake issues and I haven’t yet produced the white poppy billboard – maybe next year.
What ideas do you have?
I’m interested to hear how your church engages with ANZAC Day (or other wartime remembrance events), or any ideas you might have – please share them in the comments below…
Image: Red poppy on the Oxford Terrace Baptist Church Madras Street billboard, Mike Crudge.