After nearly nine years, the United States officially ended their operations in Iraq on Thursday, with a ceremony that ‘cased’ (retired) the US Forces’ flag before its return home. Within the next two weeks, all American forces will have left the country, bringing to an end a conflict in which, according to the BBC on Thursday, some 4,500 US soldiers, and more than 100,000 Iraqis died.
The first thing that struck me, perhaps rather oddly, on reading this is how much time has gone by since the invasion of Iraq began in March 2003 in terms of my own life: I was at Mirfield in Theological College at the time, married but without children, and about to finalise arrangements for my curacy (getting quite excited at the prospect of living and ministering in Paris). It seems (almost) like another world, now – my curacy came and went (and, yes, Paris was great), and – three children later – we have been here in Abergavenny just under five years now. I suspect that something like this will be true for most of us: nine years is a long time in our personal lives, and for many of us much will have changed since March 2003, and not everything for the better for some.
This initial thought matters because it should bring home to us that there is now a large number of children in Iraq who have not known their country without the presence of foreign forces whose influence can hardly have been experienced as uniformly benign. While much has indeed changed for each one of us, for Iraqis the great change may be just round the corner, working out how to end on their own a savage civil war that erupted in the aftermath of occupation, in a country where many are embittered by the whole episode. They will not be the only ones asking whether it was all worth it, but they will be the ones asking that question with most urgency. One thing all this should remind us of here is how blissfully peaceful recent decades have been, and life continues to be, in Europe, which less than a hundred years ago was plunged into two horrific wars in less than the space of a lifetime, wars that tore the whole continent apart and destroyed the lives of countless men, women, and children. The thought puts all that talk of a ‘war of words’ between the UK and France over recent decisions at EU summits in perspective, does it not?
We are blessed, and we need to realise it – and give thanks for it. And we need to remember that an essential part of true Christian thanksgiving consists in the determination to be ourselves agents of God’s blessing to those in need. On our list of ‘those in need’, children in Iraq and elsewhere who have not seen or known a world yet in which war is but a memory for most, should be neither missing nor last.
Thanksgiving Service: In order to ensure that all who attend have a seat, it has been decided to issue tickets to the January 21 Thanksgiving Service for the life of Fr Jeremy. These will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis and 300 have been made available to our parishes today, before they are then sent to other people. Each ticket admits one person—because of the numbers expected, please only take one if you are absolutely sure you will be able to attend. Extra chairs will be available in both chapels and both transcepts, as well as the Priory Centre.
Christmas Flowers: If you would like to contribute towards the cost of flowers at St Mary’s at Christmas, perhaps in memory of a loved one, please see Mrs Lillian Price. See churchwardens at Christchurch and St Peter’s for flowers there.
Thanks: Many thanks to everyone who supported the Grand Draw, who sold and bought tickets and donated prizes. Thanks also to those who supported the coffee morning at which the raffle was drawn.
Monastic Day: Wednesday, December 21. All are welcome to join us for any or all of the services. As part of Wednesday’s Monastic Day, the ‘labora’ (work) will be singing carols at our nursing homes, as follows—all are most welcome to join us: 2.00pm Avenue Road, 2.30pm Belmont, 3.15pm Cantref and 4.00pm Rozelle.
Panto: There are still a few tickets left for the Panto on January 8 in Bristol. Please contact Sadie Sadie Watkins on 07970 732517 or Anne Parr on 859414 .