I’m coming to the end of two years as a reconciliation intern at Coventry Cathedral. It has been a journey so different from my expectations — fun, challenging, joyful, tearful, full of love, changing, bumpy — beautiful.
I didn’t fully know what to expect: I had left a corporate career to go back to university as a post-graduate, and I wanted to study abroad as I had not done previously. I also wanted to transition finally from the corporate world to the humanitarian sector. For most of my life, if you’d asked me what I wanted to do, I’d have said, travel and help people. In my school and university days, I wanted to be a doctor with Doctors without Borders, and was adrift when I realised my organic chemistry grades would not get me a slot in medical school. What do you do when your planned life path crumbles before you?
The journey to Coventry
So, I joined the military programme at university. It provided a direction, a path, funding and a job afterwards. I met amazing and inspiring people and did what I hoped was a service to society, and learned that I was capable of many things, just not organic chemistry. (But I also lived with the running joke from my grandpa about my sister, a linguist and missionary, and me, “ah, the one who is saving the world and the one who is bombing it.”) But I felt I saw more of the wars and conflicts, often with which I didn’t agree, we stepped into as a country. Later, I worked in medical device manufacturing, which felt closer aligned with my values, alongside exceptional, committed and passionate people, but I still wanted to do something in the humanitarian sector. On my vacations, I went on international trips with Habitat for Humanity to build houses or with missionary organisations, and there came face to face with abject poverty and hospital wards for malnourished children in Malawi, mass graves in Internally Displaced People villages in Northern Uganda, genocide memorials and the after effects in Rwanda. Things that should change us.
I also came across hope, resilience, ingenuity, love, mercy. And I saw the scars of war.
After a while, and approaching that age 40 milestone, I decided to make the big choices that might lead me to work in humanitarian aid. By then, I wanted to work with refugees and internally displaced people. I left my work and went to SOAS, University of London, to study for a Masters in Violence, Conflict and Development – a wonderful and challenging year of wrestling with the world as it is, with how often what is done to try to help hurts, with difficult and painful topics with people so passionate about wanting to make this world a better place. During this time I went to a transformative art exhibition by the War Studies Department of King’s College London. It showed among many other things, aerial footage of the damage done by United States, and others, in Iraq: scars of war related to my past. It hurt and I hurt.
I became resolved. I didn’t want to do the aid after the conflict. I wanted to be involved in trying to resolve the conflicts before they turned to violence and war. I teared up every time I read the beatitude ‘blessed are the peace-makers’ (Matthew 5:9). I wanted to be that.
Brought (not sent) to Coventry!
And so I came here. I found this internship, working in reconciliation, from a place of faith and hope, Coventry Cathedral, where the scars of the past are visible but beautiful in their place in the journey towards hope, resurrection and reconciliation. This internship, where I thought I would go ‘do reconciliation’ has been much more of a journey of my reconciliation with my past, with my God for my past, and with the brokenness and scars of this world. It has been a time of learning and growth in skills but also spiritually. We teach and our physical space exhibits the importance of story – our story, ‘the other’s’ story, God’s story. We try to give people the space to reconcile with themselves, with God, and with others. We strive to make an opening for people to explore and to find peace. With the prayer that since they have physically walked through the story of the Cathedral and have seen reflections of their story in that journey, they might go on their way with hope and the desire to work for reconciliation in their own lives and communities.
This is a challenging place. One where the floor says, ‘to the glory of God, this cathedral burned.’ One that recognises our part in the destructive tendencies of mankind … ‘Father, Forgive.’ And one that reminds us of the reconciling and restoring love of God, not just for the individual but for relationships, communities, and the world. It is a place that asks us to think beyond ourselves but not neglect how our actions and understanding of the world come from our journey and story, reminding us of the need to see, listen, and be open to the other.
This is a place of healing where we can sit at the top of the Queen’s steps and see our reflection with the ruins behind, the scars of our lives, but surrounded by a host of saints and angels as we look forward towards the tapestry with the face of Jesus. This is a place of hope.
With love and gratitude, to those who have supported me through this journey the past two years: CCN – North America, all of our pilgrims and visitors, our partners, the Cathedral Congregation, my family and friends, my co-workers at the Cathedral in particular the Reconciliation Ministry Team and my fellow interns, and especially Emma and Sarah. My heart is overwhelmed, my life is changed, my hope is restored.
As is sometimes said in Christian churches…
God is good.
All the time.
All the time.
God is good.