WoW! I hadn’t realised how much I’ve missed face to face chaplaincy at our local academies, engaging and sharing with Greenwood & Irvine Royal Academy students & staff assemblies. Last week, along with fellow chaplains Rev Jamie Milliken (Dreghorn & Springside Parish Church) and Robert Thomson (Fullarton Youth Pastor), we moved from a fun memory game into a quiz about things that jog our memories, like ‘i’ before ‘e’ except after ‘c’; 30 days have September…; Every Good Boy Deserves Fun (EGBDF music cords); You Get Biggest Breaks Potting Black (Order of colours to pot after reds); Haggis, neeps & tatties (Robert Burns); Bread & Wine (Jesus body & blood); and of course Poppies, Silence, & ‘Lest We Forget’.

This all led into home truths about the horror of war and appreciation for the sacrifice of many, who gave their todays for our tomorrows and freedom from tyranny. To bring this all closer to Irvine we showed videos of people in Kherson going about their daily routines, walking into their equivalent of Irvine’s Bridgegate Shopping Centre, as tear grenades explode everywhere and tanks roll into take control. We followed Dmytro Bahnenko’s vlog of the months he and his family lived under occupation and secretly filmed for BBC Eye at great personal risk. Dmytro, a local reporter, never thought he’d be filming the invasion of his home city. Along with wife Lidia, Dmytro struggles to shelter their five-year-old daughter Ksusha as she increasingly senses the danger around her. Kherson was the first major city to fall to Russian forces when they invaded Ukraine in February and he began filming the family’s lives when Russian soldiers first marched past their window on 1 March.

This all led into Remembrance silence, wonderfully observed by 2,000+ students & staff. And what made these large assemblies all the more poignant was the presence of Syrian & Ukrainian pupils, for whom the wrenching and ripping violence of war is all too raw and real. Yes, tears trickled, and emotions were close to the surface. One can’t imagine the pain and trauma so many people fleeing wars have to process, and how hard it is for people who remain. It is a broader view that gives context to the energy, food, and economic crises we face here in the UK. Indeed, what a gift it is to be able to walk down our streets without fear of bomb & gun; what a privilege, however exhausting, to share face to face in 9 large assemblies. And how proud I am of our teachers working in our schools, not just teaching, but also getting alongside our young people to help them process anxiety, fear, and a raft of emotions, which can assail many in these uncertain times.

As people fell silent at Remembrance ceremonies and services across Scotland and the world the people of Kherson and Ukraine were celebrating deliverance from Russian occupation. We are under no illusion that there is a long way to go in this tragic war, but we pray that it signals an important step towards a moment like 11am on 11th November 1918, when all guns cease fire, not just in Ukraine, but in all conflicts:

The Day coming when the mountain of God’s House Will be The Mountain— solid, towering over all mountains. All nations will flow toward it, people from all over set out for it. They’ll say, “Come, let’s climb God’s Mountain, go to the House of the God of Jacob. He’ll show us the way he works so we can live the way we’re made.” God’s Message comes from Jerusalem. He’ll settle things fairly between nations. He’ll make things right between many peoples. They’ll turn their swords into shovels, their spears into hoes. No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.” (Isaiah 2)