Erin Newton offered this Focus during our worship together on Sunday, November 9. This worship service commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Community of the Cross of Nails Reconciliation Fellowship, of which Pullen Memorial Baptist Church is a congregational partner.
I want to give you some context for the anniversary we are celebrating today, and for the artwork we have commissioned.
As you have seen and heard, we are marking the 40th anniversary of the international network called the Community of the Cross of Nails, or CCN, of which Pullen has been a part since 1977.
CCN was born out of the destruction of the 15th-century Cathedral of St. Michael, in Coventry, England, during World War II.
Coventry was a manufacturing center. On November 14, 1940, the German air force attacked the city with incendiary bombs and explosives, aiming to destroy it both physically and psychologically. The cathedral burned to the ground, leaving only the tower and the outer shell. The city center was decimated and hundreds of civilians lost their lives.
But the story takes an unexpected turn. Although there were many opposing voices, cathedral Provost Dick Howard set the tone, speaking often and publicly about the importance of not reacting with hatred or revenge. Under his guidance, the high altar—which you can see on the front of your worship guide—was rebuilt of stones from the rubble, and a cross made of the charred timbers was placed upon it. Behind the cross were inscribed the words “Father forgive.” Thousands of large, iron nails had rained down during the fire, and three were joined together into the shape of a cross and placed on the altar, to symbolize destruction, resurrection, and reconciliation. A replica hangs in the back of our sanctuary.
Soon after the war was over, Coventry and several German cities reached out to aid each other in dealing with the civilian suffering and post-war reconstruction.
The design of the rebuilt cathedral preserved most of the ruins intact, “as a memorial and a garden of rest.”
Coventry became known as an international center of reconciliation. Quoting from the CCN history, Crosses of Nails were “given to places where there was a wish to join in building the vision of reconciliation across the trenches of old enmities” (Schuegraf, p. 36).
In 1959, Canon Joseph Poole wrote the Litany of Reconciliation that we will share in a moment. It is read every Friday at noon in the open-air chancel of the ruins, and in similar observances by CCN partners on every continent.
Quoting again, 1974 was when “the term ‘the Community of the Cross of Nails’ came to be applied to the alliance of all those centres that felt themselves to be bound together by… Coventry Cathedral’s Cross of Nails [and] its vision of reconciliation” (p. 37). Notably, it was also the year Pullen sent its first group of youth, including my sister Michele, to Coventry on a pilgrimage of work, study, and play.
The story of Coventry is now about much more than two opposing European powers in a war that ended seven decades ago. At the heart of the CCN are three themes:
- healing the wounds of history;
- learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity; and
- building a culture of peace.
You have seen some of these themes in action.
Pullen was invited to join CCN because of its work in racial reconciliation. With our sister church in Matanzas, we are healing a wound of history; and our model for dealing with homosexuality and the church has been a beacon to others, for celebrating diversity. Pullen’s foyer groups are a CCN legacy, building bridges of community.
Our Baptist friends in the Republic of Georgia, also CCN partners, are doing healing work around several open conflicts.
When I and four other Pullenites traveled to Coventry in 2012 for the Jubilee 50th anniversary of the new cathedral’s consecration, all the CCN partners were invited to share our stories. Friends from Dresden highlighted how the opening of the Berlin wall—25 years ago today—opened the door for building a culture of peace, not just between a divided Germany, but also between Germany and other countries that had been closed off during the Cold War. More crosses of nails have now been presented in Germany than in any other country, and there are CCN partners throughout Eastern Europe.
Finally, next week at the annual board meeting of CCN-North America, I will renew ties with CCN partners from places such as New York City, Miami, Vancouver, Cuba, New Hampshire, and Hawaii.
CCN is a global network, but the partners are working in our own communities to bring about reconciliation and justice—including packing meals with Stop Hunger Now (and we hope you can join us after worship today for that event). Through the network, we can share our stories and lean on each other’s experiences.
Later in the service we will present the art designed by Rob Epps, one of our many former youth pilgrims to Coventry. He responded to our call for a visual representation of the three CCN themes: healing the wounds of history, celebrating diversity, building a culture of peace.
We cherish our cross of nails and its symbolism from the past. The new artwork is to remind us that “New occasions teach new duties.” We hope it can make the Community of the Cross of Nails come alive for you.