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Westminster Abbey offers help to churches planning First World War Vigils

Thursday, 17th April 2014

Westminster Abbey offers help to churches planning First World War Vigils

Westminster Abbey has published a suggested First World War Vigil structure online which is intended to offer material to the wider Church, community groups and other faith communities which may be helpful in planning their own commemorative event on the night of 4th August 2014.

Drawing upon Sir Edward Grey’s famous remark that, “The lights are going out all over Europe”, Westminster Abbey will mark the centenary by moving from light into darkness, until one candle remains at the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, which will be extinguished at 11.00pm to mark the moment of the declaration of war. The Vigil will include music, scriptural readings, psalmody, poetry, and contemporary reflection (such as diary entries and letters) from 1914.

The Very Reverend Dr John Hall, the Dean of Westminster, said:

Our Vigil will metaphorically ‘pause’ in penitence on the moments leading up to the outbreak of the war and on those first months of conflict without rushing to conclusions or adopting particular narratives. The Service will not be a premature marking of armistice, but rather a particular commemoration of the centenary of the beginning of the war: remembering the effects of human frailty and failure, as well as the looming violence which characterised so much of that lengthy and devastating conflict.

The Abbey will be lit so that the light falls away from the East to the West until the Procession reaches the Grave of the Unknown Warrior, where a single light will remain. The congregation will hold candles, which they will extinguish in blocks as the Vigil proceeds. In the structure which follows, there are four moments where light can be extinguished before the final, symbolic flame is put out at 11.00pm.

The Abbey recognises that not all places will have the option of live choral or instrumental music, so the structure offered on its website suggests that either silence or recorded music could play a similar role in these potential groupings of poetry, readings and prayers.

The Abbey Vigil starts at 10.00 pm on Monday 4th August and will be broadcast live on BBC2. Some churches may wish to join in the liturgy via live broadcast, and the full Order of Service will be released prior to the service. Others may plan to make use of the Abbey material’s simultaneously or earlier in the evening.

Dr Hall said:

However particular groups wish to make use of these resources, it is our hope that they might be of service to our national commemoration and remembrance.

The biggest challenge we face is actually time – getting all our work done alongside the daily routine of the Abbey as a working church, visitor attraction and home to 1,000 years of history.


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