In light of Remembrance Day on Sunday 12 November, it got me thinking, how can we remember together, when for some, it is a time of celebration and victory and for others it is a painful and traumatic reminder? The concept of intercultural collective memory is a complex and challenging one, but if we truly want to build an intercultural church then it is something we must tackle together.

So, how should different communities remember collective history? Should we employ historical amnesia, where we try to block out the past because it is too painful? Or disengage because it is a part of history detached from us or foreign to our experience? Or only acknowledge the past that we want to remember because it brings certain comfort and redact the parts that we don’t agree with or understand? I believe if we are to truly build an intercultural church of inclusion and acceptance, as God intended, we have to find a balance.

Growing up in Nigeria as a young boy, I soon discovered when I returned as an adult for the first time in 2011, that my memory of my experience there was very different to the realities of family and friends on the ground.

How people remember a shared history depends on the perspectives of the different communities involved. For example, how White South Africans remember the apartheid period is very different from how Black South Africans remember that period of South African history. Another example is how Africans remember the colonial period in African history is very different from how Europeans view that history. This is because for some the past represents perhaps a golden age of empire and expansion whereas for those colonised it represents a time of exploitation, vulnerability and loss of identity. 


In the light of all these different perspectives on remembering, how should we remember and commemorate Remembrance Day in our churches? As an African who has had the joy of pastoring three British churches in the UK, I have been involved in organising several Remembrance services. But what often struck me in these services is how stories are centred around the experiences of European soldiers who fought during the First and Second World War, by doing so we are creating a collective remembrance which excludes other people’s stories.

Refreshingly a project called They Also Served (organised by Bishop Joe Aldred, former Churches Together in England Pentecostal and Multicultural Relations officer and Dr Angelina Osborne, project director), highlighted the bravery and contributions of Africans and African Caribbean soldiers in the First World War in liberating Europe from tyranny.

Through such projects we now know for example that the son of Dr Harold Moody (18821947, from Jamaica and founder of the League of Coloured People ), Captain Charles Moody fought during the Second World War. Charles Moody was the first Black commissioned officer during the Second World War. 

I also remember in one of the churches I pastored in south-east London one of the elderly women in the church telling me the story of how her husband volunteered as part of the commonwealth effort to fight for the British army in the Second World War. These stories have largely gone untold. Which leads to an important question; do we need in our churches an intercultural perspective in remembering the past? In essence, do we need an intercultural collective memory in centring muted stories that have not been told or need highlighting in our Remembrance services? This approach to Remembrance Day could be quite powerful in bringing healing to our communities, but it could also help us to develop healthy frameworks in our church liturgies and practises in how we remember the past. 

As we approach this Remembrance Day, can we move away from historical amnesia that blots out stories from the past or selective amnesia that favours dominant narratives in our history and instead embrace intercultural collective memories that can help us to address the past as well as enrich our present engagement with each other? How powerful would it be if we can model in our services intercultural collective memory that allows us to remember European, African Caribbean and African soldiers who fought together side by side to defend our lands. It could become a powerful witness in a polarised world.

In Romans 12:6, we are reminded to live in harmony with one another” and I believe that this includes respecting and acknowledging one another’s experiences and history, even when it is different to our own. Compassion and inclusion are integral cornerstones for building the intercultural church and there is no time like the present.