the queens foundation for ecumenical theological education by lindash


									              The Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education

          Centre for Ministerial Formation - Committee for Prophetic Ministry

                                Procession of Grief
                             Sixth Anniversary of the Iraq War

                        Birmingham City Centre, 20th March 2009

Friday 20th March, 2009 was the sixth anniversary of the Iraq war. Last year on the eve of the
fifth anniversary staff and students from the Foundation created an event in the city centre to
mark this occasion. The committee decided to repeat this event in a slightly different format
this year. Following application to the City of Birmingham Partnership and a meeting with city
officials, permission was granted to hold a „Procession of Grief‟. Whereas in 2008 the event
was stationary, located beside the fountain in Chamberlain Square, we decided this year to
have a solemn procession as well as the stationary elements.

Members of the committee walked the proposed route in order to estimate the timing of the
event. Others made banners and placards, the wording of which was agreed with the City
Partnership. Stage blocks were borrowed from Newman house to create a small platform for
the stationary presentation, a number of red cassocks were lent by St. George‟s Church in
Edgbaston, and students made quantities of ash. Selections from the Lamentations of Jeremiah
and lists of the names of some of the British and Iraqi dead were prepared.

The event was to be in the lamentation style, successfully pioneered not only at last year‟s
event but on 17th October 2008 by the main gate of the atomic weapons establishment in
Aldermaston. There was to be no political comment on the rights of wrongs of the Iraq war and
no suggestion that men and women had died in vain. Our purpose was to enable the city to
express grief at the tragedy of the war and its loss.

The Day Itself
On Friday 20th March 2009 about thirty people gathered in Victoria Square in front of the
Council House. Most of these were staff and students from Queens but half a dozen friends and
supporters, mostly clergy, joined in. The stage was erected and at 12:30pm the ceremony began
with the striking of a large drum. For 15-20 minutes the names of the dead were called out,
passages from the Bible were read and the drum was struck. We marked our foreheads with ash
and invited onlookers and by-passers to do the same. Several of them accepted this offer.

At about 1:50pm a procession was formed led by one of our marshals wearing a high visibility
jacket followed by the chaplain from St. Francis Hall with the drum. The procession itself was
led by the Principal of Queen‟s, the Reverend Canon David Hewlitt. It was a beautiful spring
day and the streets were very crowded. The procession worked its way right along New Street
and turned left into High Street. There we reversed direction and slowly returned along the
same route to Victoria Square. We carried the banners announcing „Peace‟, „The Earth is the
Lord‟s‟, „Sixty Thousand Dead‟, „Procession of Grief‟ and several others.

A considerable amount of interest was provoked. Most people nodded and waved, several
joined in the march and others stood watching quietly. An Iraqi man protested that fighting in
Iraq had been going on for much more than six years. Some of our number had remained with
the equipment in Victoria Square and the procession now joined them. Once again, the
speakers and the drummer mounted the stage and the final period of the event began. For
about 15-20 minutes this continued and the whole event concluded soon after 2:30pm.
Reactions and Evaluations
At 12.15 I meet with the Queen‟s and University Chaplaincy group in a loose huddle outside
the Council House in Victoria Square. Someone comes round with a small pot of ash paste and
smears a thumbprint on my forehead. I am handed one end of a banner (“if you agree with the
sentiment”) and a white-haired man with a dog collar takes the other end. Our message reads
„No More War‟, embroidered boldly on a white cloth background.

A drum is banged and we still and settle as two of the group stand on a low platform and
slowly read out names of people killed in the war, followed by a verse from Lamentations –
then another thud on the drum. Out roll the names, Iraqi and British and American, Eastern and
Western, Muslim and Christian, soldier and civilian, adult and child. Bong. “Wormwood and
gall”, “my soul is bereft”. Bong.

Lunchtime straggles of people in business suits and sixth-formers in black blazers glance over,
pause, then resume their conversations. The Floozy in the Jacuzzi watches silently, her
fountain not playing. Today she is dry-eyed but suitably ashen. Passers-by slow their steps and
read our banners. Some change their trajectory across the square to check us out. A few stay
and watch – most continue with their business. The spring sun shines down on us, a few
pigeons flap across the blue sky. Iraq is a world away, war on a different planet.
The woman in red with the drum leads off, and the rest of us fall in untidily behind her as we
make our way down the shallow steps to the top of pedestrianised New Street. I wonder if
we‟ll get airborne as the wind billows our banner. People come towards us with concentration
on their faces as they read our messages – „95,000 Iraqi civilians dead‟, „dust to dust ashes to
ashes‟, „Peace‟.
A group of lads pass and I catch “…agree with that. That‟s something I can actually agree
with…” A man shyly falls in step beside me. I say “it‟s six years since the start of the Iraq
war. We want to express our sorrow – all that suffering and grief.” He says “oh yes. Right”,
smiles and gives me a thumbs up sign.
Men in dark suits sitting outside Costa Coffee observe us briefly before resuming important
conversations; a Big Issue seller watches us pass and says „Good afternoon‟ politely when I
catch his eye; the Pentecostal woman carries on reading aloud from an old Bible without
registering our presence; our placards look pale as we draw level with the man by Waterstones
with his great bunch of glossy balloons like some exotic tree blossoming above him; among the
red-tee-shirted Sony sales team a Mr T look-alike with scary haircut and draped in bling
respectfully lowers his placard while we pass. As we process back up to Victoria Square the
busker at the foot of the steps adds his lament to ours by playing „Yesterday‟ with all the
feeling of a Jewish fiddler at a funeral.
So what did we achieve? Did anything significant happen today at the heart of the city? I don‟t
know what I expected to feel. On the day it‟s sunny and warm so I carry my coat and it doesn‟t
seem right to wear the red scarf I remembered to bring - so I just look sad and serious, clad in
black. But it‟s good to be doing something on this sad and shameful anniversary, and there‟s a
pleasant sense of comradeship and solidarity. Just being solemn and still in a public place
surrounded by business and bustle is a statement worth making. All those deaths that normally
we try not to think about. This is a very English lamentation – no passionate outpourings, no
shrieks of anger, no howls of protest at the pride of politicians. There‟s not a wet eye in the
place. Queen Victoria still gazes calmly out across her empire. Gormley‟s iron man lurks
darkly at his cynical slant on the edge below. But the city has a heart, and today that‟s where
we went, a few persistent people of faith, to witness to the sorrow of war and express the
troubled feelings of the heart.

I thought the format of a short list of names interspersed with readings of lamentation and the
drum beat was very effective.
Some of the readers needed to have projected more powerfully. The posters were doubtless
done at short notice but needed to be much larger and clearer and the message clearer to give
the impression that whatever your view of the Iraq war, at least let‟s lament the loss of life on
both sides of the conflict.
I think it has an effect that is disproportionate to the small numbers and is an implicit challenge
to the inertia and, perhaps sense of powerlessness, to which we have as a nation succumbed. I
certainly think it is vital for Christian ministers that they are familiar with the different ways of
protesting and I‟d welcome it being part of a discussion on case studies on what strategies are
appropriate for particular issues, including a city centre march.
I think it was a great success to reach so many people in the city centre with such a poignant
message. Having reflected on it though I have a few thoughts. I thought the drumming and
readings went well and that walking was just as effective as a van would have been. I felt that
the ashing part was maybe unnecessary I think only 4 members of the public asked to be ashed
and the liquid was very messy. My other thought was standing at the back as we walked down
the steps in front of the council house I noticed that a few people had difficulty walking down
the steps, (this might have to be reflected in the risk assessment) if we walked on a wider path I
think we could have walked down the slope instead. I also think we need 3 yellow jacketed
wardens. I was walking at the back and another student at the front - but when he was helping
us across the road there was no one at the front. I think we need an extra jacketed person in the
middle to do this.
It was a great pleasure to share the procession of grief, and an honour to share the procession
with the others. Firstly, it was the first time I've taken part in any form of public witness and or
lament, I am due to my previous occupation more used to policing them from the outside. A
very positive impression was made upon myself, and although a small first gesture at an
organized event, it felt right and proper to do so. This is an excellent opportunity for first
timers like myself, and those who have personal ethical issues about other public protests and
possible 'illegal' actions like myself, to partake in. An excellent public display of concern. (I
am aware that some others may have held pacifist views I do not share, or views on anti war
issues as a matter of principle, which I don‟t share in the same way.) I was able in integrity to
take part in a lament for the loss of all life.
I therefore see no reason why many more of the students at Queens, who may find some other
prophetic ministry issues as being troubling or incompatible with there integrity to take part in,
could not support this public expression of a lament of grief in common cause. Better prior
organization of the event at queens, and indeed dare I say it being projected as part of public
ministry and a public display of pastoral care for all the lives lost in Iraq, rather than a 'protest'
movement event, may have considerably broadened the appeal of the procession of grief and
resulted in larger numbers of participants. If I can be brought into a consensus over this issue, I
believe many more students can be.
Public declarations of Faith and Pastoral concern lie at the heart of nearly all of those studying
at Queens. I feel the event is the ideal vehicle for bringing people on board who would be
highly resistant to other 'prophetic ministry' events.
My impressions were that it was a meaningful and worthwhile exercise.
I participated in the lament because I still have deep regrets about not attending the war
protests in London aimed at stopping the war. When I stood up on Friday at the lament and
read the names of the Iraqi and British dead I realised that these public displays of Christian

witness really do matter and had enough of us protested about the plans for war in the sort of
numbers that would have gridlocked London, then we could have possibly stopped it. I had
hoped that by participating in the lament that I would feel better about my lack of action before
the war but it did not help me in this way. This was because I had tried to convince myself
that if I had become involved last time it could not have made a difference so I should not feel
embarrassed or guilty, I had therefore decided that all I needed to do on Friday was to accept
this fact and lament the dead, I was wrong. I now know that I could have done something 6/7
years ago that could have made a difference and that somewhere there will always be a tipping
point and that we must never assume that the tipping point is beyond us. The bible readings
and name reading went well, they had an impact on the crowd and this could be noticed. The
procession through the streets went well and again the effect could be noticed.
The readings could have been delivered better. We have a good public space here at Queens
and we could have all practised speaking our list of names out aloud and very loud one or two
times before Friday. We may have found it embarrassing but had we been able to memorise
and then look straight at the crowd and really loudly say the names as if we knew those people
(like we would if we were conducting a funeral) then I think that this would have had a
considerable impact on the public. I think that we needed to be nearer the public, we needed to
set up nearer to the fountains where they were sitting / standing.

For me this was a liminal moment, one which has changed me for ever. I think this is a sort of
public ministry and we may well have ministered to many listening in the crowd particularly
those who had lost loved ones in wars or conflicts or even in Iraq.

I found that the lament was so serious that I could not be nervous when I got up to speak. As
Christians it seems that we can grow deeper in our faith by expressing it in public and I
experienced this happening to me particularly as I prepared to speak and after I had spoken,
also as we walked around the streets. I found the walking part much easier from having the
experience of having taken part in several walks of witness for Easter services. I found the
time standing waiting to start and the lead up to speaking a very difficult experience and right
outside of my 'comfort zone'.
First of all I think this prophetic action/reflection is a very good forward step in ministerial
training. Generally the action was very successful in my opinion. Small scale actions like this
which require no police presence, no barriers, no helicopters overhead etc have certain
advantages over huge, heavily policed demos, especially with more contact with the public as
they go about their business in the city. So we had the crowd of schoolboys and girls in
Victoria Square and the lunchtime throng of people in New Street.
The two quarter-hour periods of liturgy in Victoria Square went pretty well. Audibility was
difficult with some of the readers, though I think a loud-hailer might not be a good idea.
Perhaps more rehearsal say on a nearby, to Queens, piece of open ground might help to up the
sound level. But I realize that speaking in such a public place as Victoria Square can make one
I thought the focus on lament, not on the rights and wrongs of the war was right. The choice of
Jeremiah was OK for the Scripture, even though some of it was heavily judgmental. Perhaps
there was a clear implication of the wrongfulness of that war, and of all war, in that choice of
I thought the stark simplicity of the format was very well conceived - just the four elements of
the drum, the readings, the names, and the movement down New St. and back. The lunch hour
length was also right, requiring a limited selection of the bits of Lamentations and the names to
balance each other, and allow time for the walk.

Voice production is always a problem in city centre events. Megaphone use, even if allowed,
can be counter-productive, as people resent the invasion of their ear space. What mattered was
that it was easy to realise what was being done, even if you could not hear it clearly. Anything
more complicated would have been self defeating.
Choice of readers was presumably determined by those who had promised to be there, but it
was significant in the witness value of the event that several must obviously have had physical
difficulty in getting there.
Choice of place: it was noticeable that more people were inclined to look inquiringly during the
walk in New Street. The area in front of the Council House is frequently used for demos, and
those who regularly walk around there at lunch time are probably demo-proofed. A good site
would be one where a lot of people are around, but which isn't a high profile point politically,
unless of course the media are likely to take notice, or the politicians are the target.
It might be a useful addition to have someone with a video camera conducting brief interviews
with passers-by about the purpose of the event. We have a culture in which grief is still stifled,
despite Diana etc., compared with many other parts of the world, and there could be many
interesting reactions whatever the political views of interviewees.

In the context of training, I believe it is hard to exaggerate the value of participation in any
event with meaning that arises from faith, and has wide public resonance. Such experiences are
challenging and very formative, and vital in preparing for work which must involve us in
public roles.
This was the first time I'd attended anything like this, I wasn't sure what to expect or how I'd
feel participating in such an event. However, when it came down to it, the respectful dignity
with which the event was conducted meant that far from feeling uncomfortable or embarrassed,
it actually felt very 'right' to be part of something like that. It was also interesting to reflect that
although the procession was evidently a political statement, we weren't judging individual
soldiers for taking part in military action as can sometimes seem the case with peace marches
and the like. As an act of remembrance, lamenting the loss of life, the action was entirely
appropriate. In this way it was very much an act of Christian Witness and also, as attending
the event was initially something that was outside of my comfort zone, it was good training for
public life. In addition, my husband (who doesn't share my faith) was sat watching us and he
said he felt very proud to see us there making that statement. He also said he ended up having
a conversation with a stranger sitting next to him who, having asked when Good Friday was,
continued to chat about all sorts of related things.
In terms of what could have gone better - a microphone would have been helpful. Not all of
the voices carried very well and it was a shame that some of the names got lost. I also wonder
whether we should have been silent as we processed? I was chatting to the women next to me
and thought afterwards that maybe we should have continued the sombre atmosphere of the
name-reading into the procession. Oh and one last small thing - the placards might have had
more impact if they had been printed as opposed to hand-written.
It was a very moving and, in its way, a stirring pleasure to take part in last Friday‟s event. I
was struck by many things, not least some of the negative comments hurled at us as we
processed from members of the crowd. But such responses are better than no responses. But it
is utterly right to do what we did, if it makes people think differently - even momentarily. We
needed something lo-tech to project our voices more. We could reasonably invest in a hand-
held megaphone for next time, I think. The next step would be to collaborate with a local
parish or two on the next project of this kind. The ashes were a powerful symbol and marked it
out as Christian. Some of the banners needed to have bolder lettering on them to make more of
an impact. The drumming was powerful.

I was very moved by how the procession and witness was received by the public, who seemed
to read the banners and be very respectful in general of what we were doing. I think in a busy
day when we are getting on with our own lives, it served as a reminder to us all that we are still
at war.

I was especially impressed with the answered prayers for good weather! Perhaps we could
have been a bit more organised with the wearing of red cassocks and I know I got the order of
what we were reading wrong - but I don't think overall it mattered.
I really think these kind of events need to be encouraged in our training, but not compulsory.
For me the Church needs to be involved in events that demonstrate to our community that God
cares about humanity and the earth.
It was my first experience of prophetic action on Friday. I wasn't entirely sure what should
happen, so I don't feel too qualified to give my opinion really! However, I was very pleased to
be a part of a peaceful protest that I agree with, without tensions or arrests! The banners were
concise and left no-one in confusion over our intent. Reading out the names of the dead was
very powerful, I hope the onlookers understood fully what we were doing. Just to say; I heard
three reactions from individuals as we walked:
 - One said; "Yes I definitely agree with that"
 - Another youth flippantly said; "Nah I believe in violence"
 - When I was collared later in Tesco‟s for an unrelated questionnaire, the interviewer said she
had seen the demonstration and had wanted to join in!

In the light of our experience over the past two years prophetic actions, off campus, fall into
three levels:
 - Level one is an event which is not opposed to government policy but expresses a point of
view or an emotion appropriate for ecclesial concern.
 - Level two are events which are critical of government policy or of some other aspect of
society. Whereas events at level one are not really protests or demonstrations, level two type
activities are clearly of this kind.
 - Level three: these would be activities which share the characteristics of level two, but in
which opposition is so strong as to be ready to face arrest.
The two Birmingham City lamentations in 2008 and 2009 and the two anti-consumerist
Christmas carol singing events fall into level one. The Aldermaston lamentation of October
17th 2008 would have been at level two and our participation in Faslane 365 on 10th June 2007
would fall into level three.
These levels could be regarded as a series of educational experiences, leading into more and
more courageous and costly witness. Part of the problem of internal communication lies in
convincing students that they are signing up for a level one event. A great many students seem
to believe that every such event has level three potential. Experience shows, however, that
even level one participation can be of considerable significance in ministerial formation.

J M Hull 07/04/09
Photos by Derek Sowton & Gaby Hull


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