Sermon: Sunday 22 June 2014
Royal Tigers Association Annual Service
The Right Reverend Tim Stevens, Bishop of Leicester
‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.’
It is a great privilege to be invited to preach at the Annual Royal Tigers Association for several reasons. First, because it falls to this cathedral to be the home of the colours of the Regiment and therefore the spiritual home of the Association. Second, because this is a special year for the association with the WW1 centenary and the associated series of exhibitions in the city supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund. Thirdly, because of the very significant memorial to be dedicated to those who died serving with the Royal Leicestershire Regiment at the National Memorial Archive.
But it is also a personal privilege to be part of this ceremony today because of the very great pride in the Association which is deep in the hearts of our Leicestershire communities, and which I have come to be aware of during 15 years as bishop here. Moreover, as a bishop in Suffolk before I came to Leicester, I feel I have some kinship with the Royal Anglian Regiment and its Bury St Edmunds heartland. So it is very affirming to discover from my file that the letter inviting me to preach on this occasion is dated 18 August 2011 – a significant piece of forward planning!
The pride in the Association and the history of the Regiment has its roots in the history of England. It is, as you all know, a very remarkable story indeed, beginning in 1688 when Colonel Solomon Richards was commissioned to raise a Regiment of Foot. Over the subsequent three centuries, the story of the Regiment holds up a mirror to the all the great conflicts and challenges which have made our country what it is today.
Hardly any episode of significance in our history took place without the Regiment’s involvement, from the War of the Spanish Succession to the American War of Independence; it included service in India, the Netherlands and New South Wales, followed by action in the first Afghan War and the Crimean War, the Boer War and then the great conflicts of the twentieth century. In 1946 the Regiment was granted Royal status and subsequently saw action in the Korean War. Amalgamation as a battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment occurred on 1 September 1964. The list of battle honours, especially in the two great wars of the last century, must be a matter of immense pride for anyone connected in any way to the Regiment.
But in addition to these natural causes of pride in the history of the Tigers there are three particular reasons for giving thanks to God for this Association and for celebrating its achievements:
a) First, because the association brings together old comrades, cares for them and their families, and preserves and maintains friendships and deep bonds of loyalty. In an age in increasing commercialisation, when it appears everything has a price in the marketplace, the Royal Tigers Association values friendship, memory and story as being beyond price. So many of our fellow citizens, especially the elderly and frail, face loneliness and isolation in vulnerable old age, but the Association is there to stand by people who have served Queen and Country, who have known the companionship and comradeship of the Regiment in the past, and who value those continuing connections with pride and gratitude in the present and the future. In doing this the Association is in the business of nation building, creating the networks, bonds and belongings which make us who we are as a people. This is an enterprise of real significance – reaffirming that human beings have value not just as units of production in the economy, but as people in relationships which make communities worth living in. And this is a practical, pastoral but also spiritual task, because without those organisations which feed the spirit and the soul, human beings wither. The Royal Tigers Association is one such organisation.
b) Second, the Association has a role of immense value in preserving the memory and the story of the Regiment. This is especially important in this centenary year of WW1. Today the names of four men will appear on the memorial stones in Coalville, including two, Albert Bott from Ibstock and Ronnie Bowman from Appleby Magna, who died in Cyprus in 1956 while servicing with the Royal Leicestershire Regiment. This careful research and collaboration with local historians and the Royal British Legion and others helps to unlock the stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things in the service of their country. And these stories will of course receive their most prestigious memorial in the National Arboretum later this year.
These stories are a vital part of our local but also national identity. They remind us that human beings reveal their true selves in sacrifice for others. That the acquisitiveness and competitiveness of our contemporary culture does not have the last word to say about us. We are capable of acts of heroism and sacrifice, of generosity, of courage and commitment above and beyond the day to day tasks of paying the mortgage and clearing our debts.
Last week at a National Prayer Breakfast attended by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in Westminster, Archbishop Justin Welby spoke of the global church as a community of people who try to exist for one another, who seek to follow in the way of Jesus Christ and reveal to the world what sacrificial living is like. There are echoes of this in the stories collected and revealed by this Association – stories of those not defined by a Health and Safety culture – but one of risk, of courage and of sacrifice for others.
c) Thirdly, the Association reminds us of the deep connection between so many soldiers and the Christian story. It emerges from the clearly from the two prayers we have said today; the collects for the Royal Anglian and Royal Leicestershire Regiments. They speak of trust in God, of reconciliation, of remembering the kingdom for which Christ died. These will have been themes rehearsed by chaplains to the Regiment down the years and by those who have turned to the Scriptures or to their prayers on the eve of battle. These are themes of which St Paul writes in the letter to the Ephesians, read for our second lesson; ‘Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.’ These words doubtless have a special resonance for those facing extreme risk in battle. But they have a profound meaning for us all. Our lives find their true shape and colour and character when lived in reliance on a power stronger than our own. When our confidence is not in our own power and more in God’s. When we come to know we are not the centre of the Universe, but a small, fragile and temporary part of it, dependant entirely on God’s love and mercy.
In the collection of prayers and poems, entitled Hear My Cry and published by the Bible Society for the WW1 Commemoration, General the Lord Dannatt who retired as Chief of the General Staff in 2009 has written this: ‘God does not take sides between countries, however he is passionately concerned for the people who live in those countries and get caught up in war. He made us, he loves us and he wants us to love him in return. In peace or war God is interested in us as individuals.’
Because the Royal Tigers Association reflects that commitment to the individual members of the Regiment and God’s love for all of us, that we assure you of our prayers today and in all the days ahead.
© The Rt Revd Tim Stevens