One of the enduring images of this year’s Rio Olympics and Paralympics is not just the celebrations our nation’s historic medal winners and participants brought home – with crowds lining up the streets of Manchester and London before a reception at the Palace. The honour and privilege of being chosen to be our country’s flag bearers before the nations of the world must have been for Andy Murray and Lee Pearson, one of the proudest moment in their sporting careers. However, as Andy Murray found out, the act of bearing your nation’s standard is not just about ensuring you do not unwittingly put your own reputation in jeopardy, and those around you in danger; there is much more to it. It also involves stepping out into others’ shoes – victors of yester-year; who no doubt, are looking across or down to you, cheering you on to continue and uphold that tradition with a mixture of rightful pride and righteous humility.
The history of flag or standard bearers is one that precedes many modern ceremonies, even the flags themselves; which today are so familiar to many of us at national and international events. The Global Olympiads has also played its part in ensuring that nations come clear about the message they wish to convey when they proudly present their Standards before the world. This story is clearly highlighted in the 1936 Berlin Olympics when it turned out that two countries – Liechtenstein and Haiti came to the Games bearing the same flag design. It was this that led to Liechtenstein adding a gold crown to its Standard. But confusion about flags and their bearers in the modern Olympiads did not stop there. China for instance, did not resolve its own internal dispute about which national flag to parade at the Olympics until 1984 when at last, China decided to settle this issue about whether to come as, ‘The Republic of China’ or the ‘People’s Republic of China’. In the 2012 Games, the Chinese flag bearer remained a state secret for some-time; with the only assurance made pubic being that he would be ‘tall, handsome and influential’.
So, what does this tell us of the view we should have about standard bearers? And, how ought we to accept the honour of being the Standard bearer, should we be called on?
At this year’s Annual National Service for Seafarers, traditionally held at St Paul’s Cathedral each October; there were many representatives of national societies and organisations – championing and supporting active, injured and retired seafarers. Our own Fishermen’s Mission was proudly represented by Superintendent and Mission Area Officer for Scrabster and the Highlands of Scotland. I am very pleased to report that not only did he make us – his colleagues, proud by the way he conducted his incredibly demanding duty on that public stage, but those of us who were also there to represent the community of The Fishermen’s Mission and to support him and our colleague Supt Nicholas O’Neill (South of England) who read the second lesson, deeply felt that all the virtues necessary for an exemplary flag bearer were clearly displayed: commitment to service, personal courage and the deep sense continuity with a long tradition.
Today, in its 135 year history, we in the Fishermen’s Mission do still proudly continue to represent many people who are committed to its ethos. Our only public challenge is to make sure that not only are we honouring those whose service we are called to, but also, continuing to follow our eternal Saviour and Lord, whose glorious service we are in. This, for me, is our enduring standard.
Rev George Ayoma