March 2016 marked the centenary of the Military Service Act, which brought compulsory military service into British law and, with it, the right to conscientious objection. Conscientious objectors (COs) included Primitive and Wesleyan Methodists, such as Bert Brocklesby and Jack Foister, whose moral stance was based on religious convictions.
A commemorative service took place at Englesea Brook Chapel on 20 March, led by former President of Conference the Revd Dr Inderjit Bhogal, and broadcast online at www.methodist.org.uk/co100. This page includes stories and links related to conscientious objectors.
Singing the Faith Plus includes three pages that discuss varied responses to war in hymns:
In relation to CO100 and those who refused to fight, some hymns in particular may be found helpful.
John Bell and Graham Maule’s To be a soldier (StF 133), written in memory and honour of George MacLeod, founder of the Iona Community, in which they observe that “To be a soldier / means more than wishing war would cease: / it calls for courage to… break rank obeying the power and Prince of Peace”)
Poppies to remember (website only) by Dominic Grant makes reference to white ‘peace’ poppies.
Also published on Singing the Faith Plus: When our views are varied and emotions strong by Gary Hopkins, which prays for respectful sharing of viewpoints and opinions within the Christian community; and Michael Docker’s Give voice to the prophets who spoke the hard word:
Give voice to the prophets who speak the hard word;
Who have waited and listened for what must be heard.
Their lives they may forfeit, their loves they might lose,
But they speak as they find and they call us to choose.
Fred Kaan - hymn writer and pacifist
In the ‘Justice and Peace’ section of Singing the Faith (#693 – 723), the hymns of Fred Kaan stand out. He was himself a committed pacifist. In his obituary of Kaan (The Guardian, 25 October 2009), the Revd Paul Oestreicher observed that “in Fred, the Christian peace movement found its voice.” See especially:
- Put peace into each other’s hands (StF 712) suitable for communion
- We turn to you, O God of every nation (StF 720)
- By the Babylonian rivers we sat down in grief and wept (StF 694) based on Psalm 137