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Marking the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War

13 June 2014


From the Rt Revd Michael Bourke

Sir, - I am grateful for Canon Alan Billings's article (Comment, 30 May) about local communities' and schools' using the centenary of the First World War to reflect on the lives lost and the issues of war and peace.

In Hereford diocese, we are learning a great deal by working with our Lutheran partners in Nuremberg about how we commemorate war. Joint visits to the Belgian battlefields have been arranged by partnered schools, and a senior-school study project has been organised around the theme of Anglo-German stereotypes.

A pastor from Nuremberg preached at last year's Remembrance Sunday service in Ludlow, and was very well received. To mark the centenary, we are planning for the first performance of a new oratorio on "The Christmas Truce" to be performed simultaneously in Erlangen and Hereford.

One of the most searching discoveries that our German partners have enabled us to make is how the wars, and our commemorations of them, look to those who lost. The Germans, not least in Nuremberg, have had to face not only war guilt, but the shattering and rebuilding of their identity in ways we find hard to imagine. It was in the context of the 1918 disaster that Karl Barth called for a renewal of biblical faith, and accused the Churches of colluding with national idolatry and the myth of progress - forces that continue to flourish unquestioned in the nations that were victorious.

Our conversations have convinced us that the centenary cannot be properly commemorated by one side on its own: we need each other. This is also relevant, of course, to the place of our country in Europe, where forging a common identity out of the tragedies of the past must surely outweigh the minor inconveniences of shared sovereignty and occasionally irritating regulations.

I would encourage parishes to take up Canon Billings's excellent suggestions, and to do so wherever possible in collaboration with our ecumenical partners in other countries. Whether we will then sing "O valiant hearts" with quite the same conviction remains to be seen.

The Maltings, Little Stretton
Church Stretton SY6 6AP

From the Rt Revd John D. Davies

Sir, - Canon Alan Billings's message about the commemoration of the Great War is well-timed, although I guess that many will be surprised at his commendation of "O valiant hearts". I was born in 1927, and that hymn was a recurring feature in my childhood background. Further exposure to it when I was serving in the RAF finally killed it off for me, and I could not possibly encourage anyone to sing it nowadays.

Nevertheless, Canon Billings's general argument is important. We do need to think carefully about what we are trying to do with this sort of commemoration. When I was Principal of the College of the Ascension in Selly Oak, where we usually had some German students and sometimes some Japanese, the most difficult time of the year was when we had to try to explain what British Christianity thought it was doing during the first weeks of November.

Nyddfa, By Pass Road
Gobowen SY11 3NG


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