"We are called to live in the virtue of that life and power that takes away the occasion for all wars. Do you faithfully maintain our testimony that war and the preparation for war are inconsistent with the spirit of Christ? Search out whatever in your own life may contain the seeds of war. Stand firm in our testimony, even when others commit, or prepare to commit acts of violence, yet always remember they too are children of God"
Quaker Advices and Queries, 31.
I marked the entry into Holy Week somewhat differently this year. On Palm Sunday a group of about twenty of us gathered at the gates of Aldermaston Atomic Weapons Establishment. We braved the wind and rain to share food together, then, after a short liturgy at the gate, set off to walk around the perimeter of the base, pausing at fourteen stations of the cross, to remember the events of Jesus' passion and pray for those involved in or suffering as a result of the nuclear weapons industry. It took around three hours to circle the base, a reminder of just how vast the operation is. At each stop we left a fabric cross tied to the fence, ragged ends flapping in the wind: fragile symbols of hope in a place of death.
This is the place of the cross
Where the suffering servant suffers still
Hidden behind barbed wire and state secrets
Veiled in hatred and fear
But this place too
This is still Holy Ground
The following day took a group of us to Burghfield, the other nuclear facility nearby, where the missiles are actually constructed, to blockade one of the gates. There was a strange contradiction between the beauty and peace as the sun rose above us, and the weapons of death being built behind us.
This was a new experience for me, and I cannot deny feeling distinctly apprehensive before we arrived, even if I was not going to one of those lying locked in front of the gates. Nerves aside, though, it did feel like exactly the right place to be. One by one, those on the ground were cut out of the tubes and moved to the grass verges. Some three hours after our dawn arrival, the gateway was clear, apart from the police vans which still kept it very effectively closed. Once everyone had been removed, we gathered to pray and sing together, before sharing the peace, with each other and with the police and going on our way.
The whole two days felt like a fitting way to commemorate Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, followed by his turning of the tables in the temple. Just as Jesus made his way to the centre of power to challenge the political and military powers of his day; so are we, as Christians called to continue to challenge systemic injustice and violence in the societies where we live. The industrial-military complex is one of, if not the most, significant of those systems in the midst of which I feel we are called to bear witness to the hope of other possibilities.
The timing had a dual significance: with this moment in the liturgical calendar coinciding with parliament being dissolved in preparation for the general election. Although work on trident renewal has already begun without official parliamentary approval, it will be in the hands of the next parliament to make a final decision. It is not too late for them to seek the way of peace.
On a personal level, the whole experience was powerful in many ways, not all of which I feel have necessarily fully been able to process or would be able to explain. From a loosely connected network of people, we built, in twenty-four hours, a close-knit, supportive, loving community of people we had to dare to trust. Too often peace is seen as the passive alternative of "just letting things happen" or of "keeping ourselves to ourselves", and it was inspiring to share with others an understanding that peace is an active, committed, alternative voice. Whatever the future holds for the UK nuclear weapons industry, it was important to be present, at this time and in this place; to put our time, our energy, our efforts into saying no, not in my name.
Reflections by one of the others present on the Put Down the Sword blog:
And in the media: