THREE-QUARTERS of a century is a milestone, especially when it falls within a human lifetime. Today’s Bank Holiday in commemoration of VE Day was originally envisaged as a national celebration to bring together those of today’s society who lived during the Second World War with the younger generations. Instead, it is an anniversary that finds them largely separated by an unforeseen crisis. The wartime generation are both shut away and yet, in a sense, on the front line when Covid-19 strikes. The paradox is that, in its current troubles, the nation is aware of its unity in the face of a common enemy to a degree unknown since 1945; and many of the virtues exhibited during the war years — courage, kindness, forbearance, fortitude — have been brought out by the crisis, even if spivs and profiteers are types that have emerged again, too.
Crises reveal character to a degree that comfort and ease do not; but they also build character. As St Paul put it: “Tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope.” If in the present crisis religious language is lower-key than it was during the war, it is no fault of the Monarch who declared on Holy Saturday: “May the living flame of the Easter hope be a steady guide as we face the future.” (News, 17 April).
During the war, the sacrificial courage of Forces chaplains found its counterpart on the Home Front among clergy who visited from public shelter to public shelter during bombardment, risking their lives as much as fire watchers and air-raid wardens, to be among their people. Hospital chaplains are among today’s NHS heroes; but the Bishops’ guidance on the closure of churches even to the parochial clergy is no easier to defend now than when we first criticised it in March (Leader Comment, 27 March). It has come to grief on a sense that the Church must be a public presence with gifts to share, its great houses of prayer included.
The difficulty that some Anglicans have in teaching the practice of spiritual communion, or accepting the necessary limitation to it, has become apparent, but is not new. During the Second World War, the Church Times specifically raised the matter in relation to the ordination of the deaconess Li Tim Oi as a priest for Hong Kong when a community was deprived of the sacrament. Temporary measures — which must be evaluated case by case — may not have temporary consequences: this is one of the lessons that can be drawn from the many extracts from our wartime issues which we publish online today.
Victory in Europe followed a massive outpouring of treasure and blood, and a level of state organisation and control never seen before. But it was not regarded as the outcome of tremendous human effort and self-sacrifice alone. On that day of thanksgiving, the churches were filled with people; and no doubt they remembered the loved ones they had lost as they took comfort in the overcoming of a great evil. The world’s day of deliverance is still awaited. May God give us grace to come through victorious, and say: “O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory, for thy mercy, and for thy truth’s sake.”