I was recently up at one of our ICON Schools in the north of the UK, St Aidan’s CE Memorial Primary School up in Hartlepool. When preparing a PowerPoint for the assembly I was leading, I was really struck by the part Jock Forbes had to play in the establishing of the Cross of Nails as a symbol for peace and reconciliation. When he climbed the spire tower that post-Blitz morning and pointed out the girders that had fallen in the shape of a cross, I am sure he felt deeply angry about the loss of the beloved cathedral and no doubt entertained thoughts of retaliation and revenge. But this elderly man, who held no title, but had simply been the Cathedral stonemason and had been on fire watch that night, saw the symbol of the cross when he gazed down at the rubble. Later, he took up two fire-damaged medieval beams and lashed them together to form what is now the Charred Cross. When he placed it at the Altar of Rubble he had built in the ruined apse it stood, itself a symbol of destruction, as a reminder that Christ’s suffering met with that of the City. It was this symbol that prompted Provost Howard to write ‘Father Forgive’ in chalk on the wall behind it (later engraved in huge letters). The tone of the Cathedral’s response to the tragedy the conflict had caused was set and local Reverend A. P. Wales was moved to bind together medieval nails from the stricken Cathedral roof into what we now recognise as the Cross of Nails, starting something that has had such repercussions for good through history. Jock Forbes made room for a different response to pain and tragedy and loss, when he set aside the desire for revenge and instead noticed that cross in the rubble and considered what Jesus’s story reminds us even in the darkest, most difficult times. So, when I spoke to the children I told them Jock’s part of the Cathedral’s story and emphasised that to be a peacemaker in their own time and community they don’t need to have a title or be in a powerful position, they just need to want to transform conflict and make room for forgiveness, peace and reconciliation whenever they get the opportunity.
I took the ‘Peace Trail’ up to Hartlepool with me. These are 8 stations that help pupils consider what the different aspects of peacemaking are. I think the first one is the hardest and sets the tone for the rest of the Trail. It is the ‘Peacemaker Backpack’ and you must choose 5 skills and values from a huge selection to put into your peacemaker backpack, a tool kit for reconciliation. It’s not easy. When the Bishop of Coventry did the trail last year at a local ICON School, St Paul’s CE Primary School in Nuneaton, he expressed how difficult it was to choose. It isn’t easy. Peace-building requires many skills, it means being intentional and cultivating the attitudes and actions that are most important. I hope the Peace Trail teaches that. I know it gets the adults thinking as well as the children.
We have thousands of children in our ICON Schools around the UK and the wider world. Dedicated teachers are teaching their children what it means to be a peace maker and how vital it is for the world we live in. With one ICONS application recently approved and another application just come in just this year, the ICONS network is growing, which means more children ready to choose peace over retaliation and to load up their peacemaker back packs with peace building essentials and go out into their homes, their schools and their communities.
Mrs Jennifer Jenkins
ICON Schools Project Manager