Minister's Letter - November 2018
Rev Sue Keegan von Allmen
Rev Sue Keegan von AllmenDear friends,

Wilfred Owen, a poet who fought in the First World War and died a few days before it ended, was the first poet I admired. We studied his book of poems at school, and it had a profound impact on my understanding of the First World War – as a war in which the lives of hundreds of thousands of young men were wasted – and when I studied modern history, this view was reinforced. It led me towards pacifism and to value the story of a great-aunt who drove ambulances alongside conscientious objectors from 1917-18.

Growing older, I became aware that many of my friends held quite different views, especially those who had relatives who had fought and died in the First and Second World Wars. Our understanding of the past, is affected by the way it is presented to us, through our study, the media and personal experience. And it changes, as we hear new stories, and in recent years as a result of media campaigns. I suspect that my view of the First World War is a distant, academic one, because I don’t know any relatives who fought in France. My grandfather was just 18 when the war ended and he was sent to Ireland as part of the army to suppress the Irish uprising. It’s that conflict that had the greatest impact on our family history. (That’s another story)

I am no longer sure whether my early understanding of the First World War is correct or not. A TV series about it, a year or so ago, both challenged it and reinforced it. So, it’s no longer the black and white story I once thought it to be. What I am sure about though, is that it matters, and it matters to us all.

On August 4th 1918, King George V met to pray with members of the Houses of Parliament as part of a National Day of Prayer. One hundred days later, the war ended. Since August 4th this year, many people have been reflecting on the past and praying for peace, reconciliation, and hope for the future, using resources that begin with this thought. “The risk of the incarnation was huge. If we take seriously the humanity of Christ, we take seriously his vulnerability: the vulnerability of a baby, the vulnerability of a man on a cross. Jesus himself took the risk of crucifixion and we know from Gethsemane the cost, pain and fear of that. There is an obvious risk in reconciliation: you can easily get caught up in fighting. But that’s not the primary risk. The primary risk is failure. Reconciliation always involves bringing people together and when that goes wrong the outcome is often worse than before you tried. But behind that risk is the hope of something great – of restored relationships and the flourishing of whole societies. After all, it is through the risk of the incarnation that we see the glory of the resurrection.”

It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that the decision to go to war is one possible response to the search for reconciliation. And I find it helpful - whether or not we agree with our nation’s involvement in any particular conflict, with the nationalist sentiments sometimes expressed, or with the views of conscientious objectors – to see the decisions people made in their own time as decisions to be respected and honoured. Each choose to risk their, and some lost them in the search for reconciliation, restored relationships and the flourishing of whole societies. So, we remember them all, in every generation.

With good wishes, Sue