Our latest message 1st February, 2019

Dear Friends,

As I sit at my desk working on this Bulletin, news has just pinged through to my phone saying that the US government is about to withdraw from the Nuclear Weapons Treaty with Russia, unless Russia itself clarifies that it will start observing the agreement once again. Apparently NATO “fully supports” the US action.  This is grim reading for us all.  It seems that the post-War settlements that we have lived with since the late 1940s and early 1950s are being challenged on many fronts. The UK, Europe and the USA seem quite unstable at the moment.  One can but hope that our nations will be able to navigate these rough waters and come out the other side without having reverted to old ways.  Old ways which led to suspicion and mistrust.  Old ways that all too often led to war.

I didn’t grow up in this country and have little personal experience of the decades that followed World War Two here.  My grandparents and wider family were all involved in the war effort in southern Africa, but we all lived through the horrors of the violence that accompanied the colonies' quest for independence and the subsequent rebuilding of nations and communities that followed. 

We know from the experience of our families and work places how easy it is to destroy trust and peace.  One mis-spoken word, one mis-understood gesture, one moment of reluctant contrition can so easily ruin what had seemed to be a good relationship.  But, for some reason, it takes more than just one well intended word or gesture to rebuild what has been broken. 

I was interviewed by a University of Sheffield student recently for his thesis on the importance of memorials in nations and communities. There is controversy over certain images we maintain, such as that of Bomber Harris and Cecil Rhodes. He was wondering if perhaps, for the sake of cohesion, we shouldn’t have such things any longer. My answer to him was this:  communities and nations are simply our families and homes writ large. Domestically, we need to remember the good times and the bad in order for us all to have honest, trusting relationships with each other. So, it seems to me, we should accord nations the same latitude. Bomber Harris, for example, reminds us of a certain sort of derring-do and the need to draw the war to a close.  His statue also reminds us that it wasn’t only the Luftwaffe that destroyed cities and individual family homes.  The RAF did too.  Cecil Rhodes’ images confront us with the reality of the British Empire that had within it a lot of good, but also a lot we would be ashamed of if our government did it today.

We need to remember.The Christian faith is one which has remembrance at its core.  At every Mass we “do this in remembrance of me” and in so doing we recognise our part in the destruction of Love, as well as the forgiveness offered to us by Love and the consequent compulsion to love as we have been loved.

If we remember only to hate and to perpetuate division we do so at a cost to ourselves too.  If we remember in order to enable reconciliation, forgiveness and hope then, even though it may be painful, we find ourselves participating in just a small way in the ongoing development of humanity.

As this goes to print I have no idea what the results of this latest spat between the West and Russia will be.  I hope that our politicians will see sense.

As I have said before, and no doubt will say many more times, we cannot and must not criticise those in power who may do on a large scale what we ourselves do on a small scale.  Our politicians, after all, are simply representatives of us.  If we find ourselves saying or doing things that undo domestic or local community cohesion, we must stop ourselves.  We must admonish ourselves.  As followers of Jesus we must forgive ourselves.  If it is, as the old adage goes, a village that raises a child, it is families that raise a village and villages that raise a nation.

May we, as Christians, play our part in our small part of the world.

Fr Stephen

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