Sarah Hills, the Cathedral’s Canon for Reconciliation, writes…
‘For just as the body is one and has many members of the body, though many, are one body, so it is with Christ. For in the one Spirit…’ (1 Corinthians 12.12)
We have arrived at the morning after. The morning after the Anglican Communion has suspended the Episcopal Church of America for 3 years from various voting rights in the Communion. It is hard to see how ‘the body is one’. Feelings of hurt, outrage, sadness, grief are being flung around the airwaves and the internet. Yet the Primates have pledged to continue to ‘walk together’.
In Coventry, we are used to arriving at ‘the morning after’. In November 1940, the people of Coventry arrived at a morning after a night of bombing that destroyed the city and ruined our cathedral. The morning after a night of terror, of the drone of bombers, of fire and fear. Of confusion and heartache and dread. Of pain and loss.
Into this arena of tangled metal and emotions walked Provost Howard and said those two words, ‘Father, forgive’.
While we are today facing a very different ‘morning after’ the Primates statement, some of the feelings are the same. Feelings of confusion, anger, and hurt. And also relief for some, maybe. Although the worldwide Anglican Communion has not split, it is hurt. The question for us now, like for the people of Coventry in 1940, is how do we respond? Provost Howard responded without revenge, with a call for peace and reconciliation. With the hope of living in a ‘more Christ-child like and kinder world’. In November last year, we held the ‘Rising Global Peace Forum’ here in the Cathedral. Hilary Benn, the shadow foreign secretary was one of the speakers, and he talked movingly of his grandfather’s experiences in the two world wars of losing members of his family. His grandfather said, ‘Peril shared knits hearts together, yes, even between enemies – folk the world over desire peace’. Hilary Benn then asked the question, very pertinent for us today, along the lines of, ‘What are the consequences of acting or not?’ What are the consequences of doing nothing? Of not seeking peace? Of not trying to knit hearts together?
This is a vital question for us here in this space that we hope is for reconciliation. It is just as vital today the morning after the Primates statement as it was 75 years ago for Provost Howard and the city of Coventry. I would say that Provost Howard in 1940 had a good idea what would happen and the consequences if he had instead taken the path of revenge and judgement. But he didn’t. He gave Coventry and the world a prophetic and radical message. He prayed, ‘Father, forgive’.
I was very struck recently by a translation by Erasmus of the prologue to John’s gospel. Instead of, ‘In the beginning was the word’, Erasmus translates this as ‘In the beginning was the CONVERSATION’. In the beginning was the conversation. Exactly. Because how can we live in isolation? How can we live without dialogue? How can we live out the gospel message of reconciliation if we do not listen to each other? To God?
So, how DO we walk and talk together? Well, we follow Jesus, walking and talking on the road to Emmaus, our hearts burning within us… And we pray the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation:
“All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”