The Reverend Canon Dr Sarah Hills, Canon for Reconciliation at Coventry Cathedral, has written this statement following the 2016 U.S. Election:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation. (2 Corinthians 5:18)
I have a question, and it is one that I grapple with daily. What does reconciliation mean? During this time when we start to realise that Donald Trump has become the President of the USA this must be a question for all of us. No matter what our faith, race or class. No matter where we were born, where we live now. No matter whether we have a job or not. Young or old. Jew or Greek. Slave or free.
So, what does reconciliation mean in the light of this news from America. And post-Brexit. And in all the places where division is rife and growing. And where people live in fear and conflict. So how do we ‘do’ reconciliation? Well, I would argue, how do we not? Today, even more than yesterday, we need to engage with each other in different, better ways – for the sake of our children, ourselves, not to mention the planet. At Coventry Cathedral, we have been tasked with a particular working out of this calling to reconciliation. Coventry was bombed on the night of November 14th, 1940. Two thirds of the city was destroyed, and the medieval cathedral left in ruins. And so the Cathedral has long had a calling to work for reconciliation and peace. The day after the bombing, Provost Howard, the leader of the cathedral, made a prophetic statement. He said, ‘Father, forgive’ meaning that all people are in need of God’s forgiveness…not just ‘the enemy’. Three of the medieval roof nails were found in the rubble, and bound together as a cross of nails. Since then, Coventry Cathedral has pursued a message of reconciliation through our work locally, nationally and globally. This ministry stems from our threefold commitment to healing the wounds of history, learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and building a culture of peace. Reconciliation is about the journey from the past, though the present to the future. It is about re-membering; about living honestly; about looking forward in hope. But how do we do that? Well, reconciliation starts with sharing our story. Of trying to better understand our own stories and those of ‘ the other’.
What is the story we are hearing from America? Or, more accurately, the stories. My story is not the same as your story. Whether you voted for Clinton or Trump you have a story. Whether you voted leave or remain in Europe you have a story. In Coventry we hear stories daily. Stories of anger, woundedness, of deep despair, of lament for a broken past. And stories too of hope, of reconnection, of God’s transforming grace. Stories of conflict and of reconciliation.
Our shared stories of reconciliation do not only mean looking back. They mean we must engage with the world today; with situations of conflict and division across the world.
So we may mourn or rejoice. We may feel anger or joy or pain or bewilderment. Reconciliation starts with acknowledging who we are and how we feel, and giving time to this hard process. And then we can realise what our own story is. And then we come together to share our stories. Around the table. The table of meeting and the table of the body of Christ. But it does not, must not, end there. Reconciliation means action, too. It is something we practice, and we know we don’t get it right all the time. Yet we have been given this mandate, and in Coventry, a particular story and space for reconciliation. And in Coventry and around the world, we have witnessed the transformative hope that reconciliation can bring.
These journeys of reconciliation can be risky, can be long, and are always messy. But we know that reconciliation is about all of us. We are all in need of it, and we can all join in with it. Reconciliation can start with sitting down at the table and listening. Sharing a meal. Inviting someone in. And we can all do that. And yet reconciliation is not about sitting around on cushions agreeing with each other. It is about learning how to disagree better, about engaging authentically with issues of justice, of poverty, of exclusion, of stigma, of sustainability.
Our world is broken, and reconciliation is the only answer. There is a Southern African word ‘Ubuntu’ which means ‘I exist because you exist’. We are all connected and we are all God’s children. So let us sit down together at the table. Let’s talk. It won’t be easy. It will be risky and hard and long. But it is the only way. And then, and only then, we can act together as reconcilers to transform what is broken into a hopeful future for all.
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 the 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.