Onward Christian Soldiers dropped from local Remembrance Sunday service

Remembrance Day
Rev Steve Bailey took his decision with the agreement of the local branch of the British Legion, but some members are upset at the move. Photograph: Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A vicar has dropped the hymn Onward Christian Soldiers from a Remembrance Sunday service next month because of the participation of non-Christians in the commemoration.

Some members of the Royal British Legion social club in Oadby, Leicestershire, are threatening to boycott the service or sing the 19th-century hymn outside the church in protest.

The Rev Steve Bailey of St Peter’s church made the decision with the agreement of the local branch of the British Legion. It will be replaced with another hymn, All People That On Earth Do Dwell.

In a statement released by the diocese of Leicester, Bailey said: “We agreed the change in hymn with the Oadby Royal British Legion who run this major civic occasion because members of the community from a wide range of cultural backgrounds attend this event, which is a parade, a service in church and laying of wreaths at the war memorial.”

The legion committee recognised that people from different faiths served in the armed forces, he said. The Oadby Multicultural Group would be laying a wreath at the parish war memorial for the first time “and we do want people of all faiths, who are paying respect to those from their own faiths and cultures who served and gave their lives, to feel welcome in the service”.

Ian Thorpe, the vice-chair of the legion social club, said: “It’s been done nearly every year in recent memory but [the vicar] said they’re not doing it because not everyone at the service will be Christians. It’s not the ‘soldiers’ bit, it’s the ‘Christian’ bit.”

The majority of legion members were not happy with the decision, Thorpe told the Leicester Mercury. “One family, who go to the church, have said they’re going to stand outside the church and sing it.”

Onward Christian Soldiers was written as a processional hymn, but some people view it as overly militaristic and imperialist.

Bailey said he was willing to meet those who had complained about the decision. “I am happy to discuss the matter with them as well as to provide reassurance that the Remembrance Service in the church remains a Christian service and one in which everyone can feel welcome,” his statement said.

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