In the lead up to ANZAC Day this year many families, agencies and community groups have become involved in documenting and interpreting the significance of the Gallipoli campaign. In preparing for this event, Marilyn Hyde and Pat Button have been busy at work over the past twelve months researching and documenting the lives of 181 people who were members or associated with the two congregations that led to the formation of Pilgrim church. Yesterday they introduced us to the scope and range of this project and in the days to come many of us will come to appreciate the significance of the work they have undertaken.
Their research has brought to light new insights about the character and values of a great cloud of witnesses, those who have been members of this congregation before us, those not known to us but who we remember today as their names are listed on our two WW1 honour boards. Many of us enter and leave week by week through the eastern door, stopping to greet each other and hardly ever stopping to think about those who like us came to worship and celebrate the One named as the Prince of Peace.
If these walls could speak about what they have witnessed! In many ways the building and our routine of worship and sacramental ministry represent implicit memories, the yet undiscovered stories of faithful people who now have come closer to us through the commemoration of this weekend. Their legacy is in the energies, gifts and commitments represented here by the artefacts, symbols and signs, music, poetry and art, those who continue to worship with us but on another shore.
Last Sunday we sang, “Lord of our days, Lord of yesterday. Lord, our Lord forever, your people we are” and Pat and Marilyn’s research has introduced us and brought us closer to our yesterdays, those who were members of this congregation 100 years ago.
The insights and discoveries of this project will help us appreciate the context of their day, what it was like to dream and hope in becoming a new nation at the beginning of the 20th century. While still retaining their links to a mother country, they knew this land offered them a new beginning, a land of opportunity. Here the old class distinctions and privileges of birth would fade away. With no established church and a commitment to the separation of church and state many church members made a significant contribution to a new civic culture that valued equal opportunity, argued that the State had a duty of care and responsibility for all people including those most vulnerable. Examples that come to mind include the Harvester judgment and the basic wage, eight hour day, aged pensions and rights for women.
While still part of an empire that was dying there was a loyalty to the old country that called us into a war to end all wars. Like us they would have struggled to comprehend the contradiction or paradox involved in going to war. How could a people committed to peace, praying and working for peace, nurtured in the art of peace, find themselves on the front line in a European war so many miles from home and family with many never coming home to the land and the people they loved.
We commemorate today those who lived with this contradiction; those who lives were destroyed and hearts broken, rarely speaking about their experience of death, their daily companion.
Les Carlyon in his best seller, Gallipoli writes, “many who outlived this place could not settle down when they returned home. Anzac was grubby when you looked at the corpses and beautiful when you looked across the satin to Samothrace. You had to know you were alive here. Death was everywhere, in the air, and in the sounds coming from the second ridge. Death was there when you rolled a smoke or told a joke or carted water. Day and night is was there. And its nearness made you feel so thrillingly alive. They had never been so aware that they were alive as when they were here, close to death.”
Our experience of the ANZAC story this year will lead us again and again to pray and work for peace. To embrace and work with the prophet’s vision, that they shall beat their swords into plough-shares, their spears into pruning hooks, nation shall not lift up sword against nation; neither shall they learn war no more. (Isaiah 2.)
O God of truth and justice,
we hold before you those whose memory we cherish,
and those whose names we will never know.
Help us to lift our eyes above the torment of this broken world,
and grant us the grace to pray for those who wish us harm.
As we honour the past, may we put our faith in your future;
for you are the source of life and hope,
now and for ever. Amen.
Rev Dr Dean Eland
Minister in Association