In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness.
The Falkland Islands are a windy, often cold, and definitely wild place, of outstanding natural beauty, and of course, a contested site. I recently completed a short tour of the Falkland Islands as an RAF Chaplain. As I was there from March-August 2020, my time there overlapped with the anniversaries of countless milestones in the conflict there that was fought from 2nd April – 14th June 1982.
It was a strange tour, because an outbreak of COVID-19 on the Islands had to be managed, and in that time was defeated through disciplined measures, although the global pandemic remains a threat, and one which is especially sharp because of their nature as a remote location where hospital facilities are limited.
The measures designed to combat COVID-19 meant that many of the traditional ceremonies connected with the conflict were cancelled for the year, but we did mark the end of the war with respectful socially distanced ceremonies in Stanley, and Mount Pleasant Complex, which is the HQ for the British Forces in the South Atlantic Islands (pictured).
What is our pastoral task in all of this, as agents of peace and reconciliation? I know some would feel there is a danger that ceremonies of this kind could run the risk of glorifying war – the very opposite of what we would want to stand for. Or, perhaps, resemble a strange 21st century version Shintoism where we uncritically venerate our forebears, but without ethical debate or thinking about the contemporary context.
As a Christian minister, part of our call is the pastoral task of bringing order into chaos – a central motif of the opening of Genesis, where God begins the creative task of separating and organising – light and darkness, waters, sky, and earth – and creating and naming, giving purpose and making meaning from what has been made. When we organise gatherings around contested events for communities who may still be in pain, part of our task is to attend to these kinds of things within people with memory, thanksgiving and hope.
Memory, because remembering with humility and honesty, but also honouring those who suffered or died is important, not to glorify war but to acknowledge the reality and cost of it, and because those who do not learn from the past are doomed to repeat the same mistakes in the future. The Falklands, like any conflict, is a patchwork of individuals’ small moments and memories that for them are often big and defining moments, which can need care in their handling. Thanksgiving, because we are grateful for peace where it has come at a price, and for those who have lost their lives. And hope because whatever we do in these moments does need also to look for the future, and imagine and hold out for a world where conflict has been replaced by reconciliation – even if, as in the Falkland Islands like elsewhere, reconciliation is not an easy word even now.
The Gospel of Christ challenges us to imagine our stories in the middle of a bigger story where God places our moments into a cosmic narrative of creation, reconciliation and redemption. We may not always easily imagine how that will be worked out in our time – but the arc of scripture, beginning in the order out of chaos we see at the beginning of creation, dares us to believe that we can be a part of that ministry, and that it can.
The Revd Dr [Flt Lt] Chris Hodder
Chaplaincy Team, RAF College Cranwell
The Revd Dr Chris Hodder is a member of the RAF Chaplains’ Branch, which in turn is a member of the Community of the Cross of Nails through St Clement Danes Church in London. RAF Chaplains are committed to encouraging reflection about the importance of peace, reconciliation, and ethical decision making amongst all those who work in UK Defence.