There were protests and prayers outside Westminster Abbey on Friday, as the controversial 'National Service of Thanksgiving' for Britain's seaborne nuclear weapons organised under the auspices Gavin Williamson, who was sacked as defence minister on Wednesday, went ahead - in spite of hundreds of appeals from faith leaders and peace campaigners for it to be cancelled.
The service in the Abbey was attended by new defence secretary Penny Mordaunt, the Duke of Cambridge Prince William, and a 2,000 strong congregation, made up largely of naval personnel and their families.
The Dean of Westminster Abbey Rev John Hall told them he had received many calls for the service to be cancelled. "Clearly we have not done so and are proud to be holding it here in the Abbey.. The only legitimate aim for any country's military capability is securing peace," he said. "We can't celebrate weapons of mass destruction but we do owe a debt of gratitude … to all those those men and women .. who in the past 50 years have provided a deterrent…"
Outside the Abbey, around 500 campaigners including members of Pax Christi, Christian CND, Quakers, Methodists, and Buddhists held a vigil, a 'die-in' and an alternative peace service. Led by Bruce Kent, there were prayers and readings from Fr Joe Ryan, head of Westminster Justice and Peace, and Chris Collins.
Rev Arariah France-Williams read this greeting from Canon Paul Oestreicher who is currently in New Zealand: "My prayer today is with the submariners carrying the burdens of our nation's sin."
Fr Joe Ryan commented later on Facebook: " A most interesting series of services today. Westminster Abbey holding a service of Thanksgiving for Trident submarines, the Navy, nuclear weapons and the 'peace' that has emerged from the possession of nuclear weapons over the last 50 years.
Outside the Cathedral we were holding a Vigil praying for the abolition of nuclear weapons. What a contradiction? Yes, we are certainly divided...we believe that our safety is not secured by weapons of mass destruction. We need to dialogue with our so-called enemies. There are ways to peace and security by non-violent methods. This is what all of humanity needs to accept."
Martin Tiller, Co-Chair of Christian CND said: "We did not want to have to organise this service, our preference was that the Dean of Westminster saw the inappropriateness of this service and cancelled it."
"Nuclear weapons have the potential to change our planet beyond all recognition. We do not believe they are part of God's plan for us and certainly do not share the view of the Royal Navy that they are to be 'celebrated'. "What is worth celebrating is the very positive and moving event outside the Abbey in which Christians and other peace groups came together with one voice earlier today".
"It has been incredibly encouraging to see the unity among Christians on this issue. The breadth of traditions represented this morning shows that mainstream Christian opinion wants to see the back of nuclear weapons and a world based on peace and friendship in the future."
See also: Text: Bruce Kent at Westminster Abbey peace prayers www.indcatholicnews.com/news/37035
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