Archives for November 2014
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.
Text: Luke 4: 16-21; John 20:20-21
Some of you are familiar with writer Sue Monk Kidd, perhaps through her best-selling novel “The Secret Life of Bees.” She is a wonderful story-teller who writes fiction that is clearly drawn from a deep spiritual well. She’s also a former writer for Guideposts, an inspirational magazine found on the coffee tables of many conservative Christians, including the one in our home when I was growing up. Her ties to the magazine were severed during a painful journey toward a more open theology which she recounts in her poignant book Dance of the Dissident Daughter, published in 1996.
Ms. Kidd’s latest novel is entitled The Invention of Wings. It’s a fictionalized history of the famous Grimke sisters, Sarah and Angelina, who were born in Charleston, South Carolina in the 19th century. Theirs was a slave-owning family, yet the sisters became leading Quaker abolitionists prior to the Civil War. The tale has an “upstairs-downstairs” character like Downton Abbey as the story switches from the privileged Sarah Grimke’s voice to that of Handful, a family slave about Sarah’s age. The book opens with Handful’s description of her mother, a slave of course, whom she calls “Mauma” – M-A-U-M-A. In recounting Mauma’s painfully-acquired wisdom, Handful says this: “Everything she knew came from living on the scarce side of mercy.” On this day when we celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Community of the Cross of Nails, I want to suggest that we cannot truly be reconciling people until we learn some things about “the scarce side of mercy.”
Text: Matthew 5:1-12
It is our custom on this first Sunday of November to remember those who have died in the last year as well as those saints from years past that we hold so close in our hearts. To borrow the old words found in the liturgies of our faith, this practice is “meet and just and right.” All Saints Sunday gives us space to grieve and remember those we have lost; and it also offers us a way to give thanks for our loved ones’ lives and for the place they still hold in our hearts and world. But here is the other thing this day gives us space to do: it allows us to grieve other losses. The kind of loss that deserves notice and demands comfort and comes from many places, not only death. Loss that comes in the form of leave-takings, or as we slowly lose a loved one to Alzheimer’s. It comes in the loss of employment or dignity and from struggles with illness both of body and mind. It comes from exhaustion of caring for a special needs child or an elderly parent and the occasional recognition of all the things given up in order to offer that care. It comes from disappointment at home or work or school, of dreams deferred and hopes dashed. Such loss comes at us from so many sources. And today, we are invited to remember those losses and somehow find a way to bless them.
In some ways, our text this morning offers the same invitation but from a different perspective and with different words. Out of our remembrance of what has been and what is, we are invited to think about a way forward—a new way of living in the world. And out of our gratitude for what has been and what is, we are invited to consider some world-changing blessings.
One theologian writes: “If you were raised Christian, you are probably familiar with the beatitudes. They’re one of the ‘top three’ texts that you get to memorize in Sunday school along with the Ten Commandments and the Twenty-third Psalm.” These eight short sayings lay out Jesus’ core teachings in a wonderfully concentrated and compelling format. Curiously, though, these teachings of Jesus are also the least commentated upon by our church fathers and mothers and theologians. They are not so easily understood and possibly more difficult to live.