This November marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, and this historical occasion inspired our theme this month: ‘War, Peace and Reconciliation’. We managed to include some serious thinking as well as some fun.
Our host, Sam Brown, turned up in military attire, and promptly called the Sunday Assembly to attention. “Sunday Assembly … attention! Sunday Assembly … eyes front! Right, you ‘orrible lot, listen in … ”
This year, the non-religious people of Oxford will be represented in the Remembrance Day Service by one of our members – John White from the Oxford Humanists. John spoke about the importance of including a non-religious voice in the service, to represent the non-religious people who attend and those who died in the wars. Just a few years ago, the British Humanist Association felt that non-religious people were being excluded from Remembrance Day services, so it was uplifting to hear that John had been welcomed and accepted by those organising the service. We wish John him all the best as he takes part in the Remembrance Day Service on Sunday 9th November.
On a lighter note, Sam spoke about the ‘Sunday Assembly twitter wars’. The ‘wars’ started when George Takei (of Star Trek fame) tweeted his disapproval of the Sunday Assembly logo – the three triangles which read ‘Live better’, ‘Help often’ and ‘Wonder more’. This is how the Sunday Assembly responded:
Sam used this anecdote to encourage us to think about how we might go about achieving reconciliation in our own lives.
This month, we tried to encourage participation from the crowd by splitting into groups to discuss a selection of war poems. At the end of the discussion, we selected some poems to share – it was great to see so many members keen to take the microphone. The poems we read included the classic In Flanders Fields by John McCrae and To his love by Ivor Gurney. We all learned a bit of Latin as we listened to Dulce et Decorum Est by Wilfred Owen. The title translates as ‘it is sweet and honourable’, but it is a poem about the horrors of war. As someone who has always been a bit intimidated by poetry (surely some of you feel the same way?), I appreciated it when one of our number read Wilfred Gibson’s poem Back, and admitted that he didn’t really understand the poem. Several members chipped in with their interpretations. It was interesting to hear so many different perspectives and I’m sure we all found new depths to the poem as we talked about it.
The organisers also called for more volunteers to help run the Sunday Assembly – there are a lot of small jobs (booking the venue, updating the website, suggesting themes or songs) which soon add up to many hours work for one person. The message was ‘many hands make light work’. The clocks have just ‘fallen back’ – perhaps you could use that extra hour to contribute something to the Sunday Assembly – we’d love to hear from you if you’d like to help, and organising the Sunday Assembly is also a great way to meet people and make friends.
As always, the discussion was interspersed with musical interludes. This time we sang Nena’s 99 Red Balloons and Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace. We ended with a lively rendition of Consider Yourself from the musical Oliver! Sitting at the back, I could definitely see some movement during that song – foot-tapping, swaying, even a bit of shoulder-rolling. Perhaps we have some dancers in the group?