To look on the positive side however, it’s forced us to take the plunge into areas that we already knew we needed to be addressing: how to bring Coventry to others, who don’t have the means to come to Coventry? How to connect meaningfully partners across large distances in such a dispersed network?
The earliest venture down this road was early in lockdown, in March, in the form of the German CCN’s Friday litany prayers on Zoom, which quickly became a source of connection and fellowship each week for partners far beyond Germany’s own borders. It’s been a joy to connect with partners this way, and such good news that beyond lockdown the litany became monthly and still continues on the first Friday of the month at midday CET (next one on Friday 8th January).
At Coventry we held our first online pilgrimage in October, taking place on Zoom across three afternoons, and we were so encouraged to have 19 pilgrims from 5 countries and both sides of the Atlantic. There was much discussion and sharing of ideas, not least on the subject of race and the CCN in a year when, in large part triggered by events in the USA, this has been tragically foremost in people’s minds. The group is due to meet regularly online going forward, where circumstances permit, and we shall certainly be running more online pilgrimages each year going forward, alongside our traditional in-person pilgrimages (dates for next year here).
The 80th anniversary of the Coventry bombing took place this way as well, via videomessages between Berlin and Coventry, via Zoom virtual meetings, a thought-provoking reflection on the wider relevance of the anniversary this year, and via the Cathedral’s online service broadcast at 7pm, the time of the bombing. Earlier, CCN partners from both the UK and German boards joined up together via Zoom in a first ‘virtual’ linkage of the two boards; a significant moment. Each of the lead partners from the CCN boards around the world recorded a really special shared litany of reconciliation as well, used in the anniversary service.
At Coventry many staff were furloughed (put on government paid leave), and a few very sadly lost their jobs entirely in a resulting restructure. Jen Jenkins, our ICONS project manager, sadly, also, left us to work for the Coventry DBE. Our internship was affected, as well – we had to say goodbye, mostly virtually, to Hanna-Lotta months early, in March, and while we’ve been delighted to welcome Josefine in September her internship has hitherto been very different; part-time only, with us, because of the Covid logistical circumstances we find ourselves in, and long-distance for much of the time.
Before Covid took hold, in January our ICONS Ambassadors programme was launched, training 30 primary-aged pupils from 5 local ICONS in peace building and reconciliation, so that they could lead on positive change in their own schools. Sadly, only two of the planned four sessions could take place before the pandemic put a long-term interruption on the programme. We had several schools poised to receive their Crosses of Nails in April and May of this year, but sadly St John’s CE Academy in Coventry and Brailes CE Primary in Warwickshire are having to wait a little longer to receive their crosses (as are other CCN prospective partners). Schools are still engaging in the process of finding out about and becoming ICONS and we look forward to more schools joining us in 2021.
Just the weekend before lockdown restrictions began to take hold, we had a physical get-together meeting with our international board, the lead partners from each CCN geographical cluster area around the globe. This was a great two days of overview and sharing ideas, and arising from both that meeting and successive regular ones on zoom, we have a new CCN Governance Document, which sets out how the CCN works and interconnects. We spoke also of plans for another international gathering and youth gathering in 2022, and 2020 notwithstanding we are very much planning for these still – more information forthcoming in spring 2021. We also focussed quite strongly on interfaith engagement and the CCN’s still very small sister network Together for Hope – which we hope to be able take forward much more boldly in 2021.
I think if we were to award a prize for resilience this year it would be to Kasta Dip, our CCN Asia representative, who became caught in early Covid restrictions in Germany when he attended meetings there en route home from our CCN international board meeting and only made it home back to India in the summer. We absolutely salute your months of fortitude, Kasta – and we so value the time you and all the other international reps gave us in attending.
We’ve had new partners join, too (albeit in much smaller numbers than a typical year) and from new countries: Bergen Cathedral Community and Holy Trinity Pro-Cathedral Brussels joined at the beginning of the year, as did Southwark Cathedral in London – we’re thrilled to have them all on board. And in September, the Evangelische Kirchengemeinde Demmin in Germany joined us, about whose story Dean John preached movingly in Coventry Cathedral the following Sunday, CCN Sunday – which, as so often this year, was for many an online service but on this occasion led beautifully by our UK & Ireland board partners in a prepared video.
We know this has been an incredibly tough year for everyone everywhere, that will leave scars behind it long past the chimes that ring in the new year (where this is even possible). We’re set to head into a recession that is the worst of any of our lifetimes – coupled with, in the UK, for very many of us, the immense sadness that is Brexit in just a few weeks. Things are, and will be, really tough. We continue to be incredibly grateful for the CCN ministry that our friends in the German CCN and USA CCN enable through their financial support, and for their spreading the word about the CCN more broadly – which this year has led to the CCN proudly winning the 10,000-euro ecumenical prize from the Catholic Academy in Bavaria (presentation delayed until 2021).
Early this year at Coventry the Cathedral’s West Screen was broken into, and one of our precious, irreplaceable John Hutton angels was smashed. The screen will never again be quite what it was, and this has desperately saddened so many. What happens next is still to be confirmed. Yet we end this year with a fabulous winter ice rink in the cathedral ruins, created and sponsored by Coventry City of Culture 2021, a year of cultural celebration which starts in May 2021, as one of the pre-events, and a chance to bring real joy (and a few happy but sore muscles, as I can testify) to local people this winter.
With our blessings and sincerest thanks for all your support and endeavours this very tough year, and may this Christmas bring you hope, peace, and rest.
I leave our final words to two of our partners: one, Erin Newton, of Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in North Carolina, USA, offers us her own personal version of the Litany, which has words so resonant to this year; and a wonderful picture from our dear partners in Neuendettelsau, Germany!
Alice Farnhill, CCN Co-ordinator
Litany of Reconciliation
Erin’s version, Dec 2020
All have failed to fully see and live into the glory of God.
The anger and intolerance that disable us from inhabiting our civic spaces together,
The ways we trade and interact with our global neighbors that enrich ourselves at their expense,
The way we vastly undervalue green spaces, clean water and air, healthy land, and reduced consumption,
Our resentment of those who rejoice at a time when we see only desolation and loss,
Our failure to see Christ in the faces of the homeless family, the person who is mentally ill, the one who does not look like us, the prisoner, and the refugee in flight,
Our capacity to normalize and turn a blind eye to harassment, bullying, sexual abuse, and human trafficking in all its forms,
Our failure to call out our religious and civil institutions for excluding rather than drawing the circle wide,
The actions we take and the words we say without consulting or trusting the God who made us,
Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ modeled for you. Amen.