One of the highlights of my UK Mennonite Church Canada Learning Tour was a day trip to Coventry Cathedral. There have actually been three Coventry cathedrals: the original monastery built in the 12th century, the much larger Gothic church built in the 14th century that was bombed and largely destroyed in 1940, and the present Coventry Cathedral built next to the ruins.
The ruins themselves are impressive, still black from the incendiary bombs that devastated the cathedral and burned the city.
The old altar has become a memorial to peace with the words “Father Forgive” on the back wall and a litany of reconciliation in front of the altar.
The litany is prayed every weekday at noon, and our group was able to join others who had gathered for prayer in the ruins that day. Afterward, we went inside the present cathedral to The Chapel of Unity for mid-day prayer.
The round table and round mosaic patterns on the floor echo the shape of the chapel and convey a sense of unity. Children from Hiroshima made the paper cranes as a sign of peace.
The architecture and artwork of the cathedral are stunning, with contributions from around the world. A bronze maple leaf in the floor of the entrance way acknowledges Canada’s donation. The baptismal font is a boulder from outside of Bethlehem, and behind is the floor to ceiling stained glass designed by English artists John Piper and Patrick Reyntiens.
The Plumb Line and the City sculpture was a gift from a church in Cincinnati. A crucifix was a gift from the Czech artist Jindrich Severa.
A bell from Germany is inscribed with the words Friede/Peace, there was an exhibit of tapestries by textile artist Jacqui Parkinson, and much, much more . . . .
Even the seat cushions were works of art . . . .
While at the cathedral, it was a great privilege for our group to meet with David and Fran Porter. Canon David Porter is the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Director of Reconciliation, whose role embraces both reconciliation within the Anglican communion and how the church can be a reconciling force around the world. Dr. Fran Porter is a research scholar and currently working on a book for the Paternoster After Christendom series.
I so appreciated our conversation on the “deeply pained and deeply complex” work of reconciliation. It’s not about resolving all of the differences that may exist between individuals or nations, but “how do we live with these differences in constructive and peaceful ways?”
I came away with two practical examples of working at reconciliation:
(1) building relationships – e.g., the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby’s commitment to visit all 38 primates of the Anglican communion;
(2) the importance of “a robust process” that includes “creating spaces where people can be heard.”
Later I saw the Coventry cross made from two charred roof beams that had been found together lying in the shape of a cross among the rubble of the bombed cathedral. A copy is outside in the cathedral ruins, while this original is now kept indoors protected from the weather.
The charred cross is a symbol of reconciliation along with this cross of three medieval nails below, which is a copy of the original that is now embedded in the Coventry Cathedral altar cross. The Coventry cross of nails is also a symbol of the Community of the Cross of Nails which is a network of groups who “work and pray for peace, justice and reconciliation within their own communities and countries.” It reminds me that the work of reconciliation needs to be ongoing in our own lives and all around the world.
As I end this look back at my visit to Coventry Cathedral, I pray again the 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.
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