Minister’s Letter - November
What kind of poppy will you wear (or not), and why?
As remembrance approaches, the annual dilemma of what to do about poppies presents itself again. There is an array of differing opinions (some more credible; others less so) on what sort of poppy you should wear and why. My default practice is to pin an enamel red poppy badge given to me by a departed friend on my suit in the weeks before (just so that I don’t forget nearer the time!) and to supplement that with a red paper poppy pinned to my top whenever I feel the occasion warrants it. And in that (honest) statement, the problem presents itself. Has my poppy wearing become more about what people expect I should be doing, particularly as a person in the public eye, rather than why I choose to wear one (or not) in the first place?
The question has become even more contentious in recent years given the red poppy’s heightened profile through various WWI centenary commemorations such as 2014’s ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ installation at the Tower of London. In 2015, John McTernan, writing a piece in The Telegraph which targeted Jeremy Corbyn’s lack of a red poppy at a war memorial service in St Paul’s stated that: ‘The wearing of the red poppy is the ultimate celebration of Britishness.’ He questioned whether Mr Corbyn, by choosing not to wear one, really loved Britain. With such polarising views out there is it any wonder why so many, including myself, feel the pressure of ‘should’ instead of being free to articulate ‘why’ or ‘why not’.
With such a difficult dilemma before me, I give thanks that I’m part of a church community that makes both red and white poppies available during this period. People (I hope) feel free to choose whichever colour, or both, or none, to wear as part of their Remembrance Day observance. This is an important contribution to an emotive subject because through it we encourage people, so far as it is possible, to think less about what they should do, and more about why.
For me, the red poppy symbolises the need for us to have a collective memory and to express a collective will that yearns for humanity, step-by-small-step, never again to repeat the immense tragedy of ‘the War to End All Wars’. Following on from that, the white poppy (for me) is a manifestation of that will, a desire to pursue peace and dialogue wherever possible as the true path to human flourishing. You may very well have different reasons for your own choices. The point is that whatever they may be, the Church should always be a place where people of conscience can express their views openly and respectfully. That together we foster a genuine desire to understand and learn from one another, rather than building walls between what we do and don’t agree with.
 McTernan. J, The Telegraph ‘Does Jeremy Corbyn have any idea what Poppy Day is about?’ (22 Oct 2015)