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Reconciliation: the desire of my heart

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The pectoral cross which Archbishop Justin wears every day speaks volumes about him. It is, as you will see in the photo fashioned from three nails, and an extraordinary story lies behind it.

On the night of 14 November 1940, German bombs fell on Coventry. Much of the city was destroyed and the medieval cathedral was left in ruins. In the days that followed the Cathedral Provost, Dick Howard, made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible.

Two burnt roof beams – which had fallen in the rubble in the shape of a cross – were bound together and placed where the altar had been. Behind them were written the words, ‘Father Forgive’. Provost Howard also picked up three medieval roof nails and formed them into Coventry’s first Cross of Nails. It quickly became a symbol of his commitment to work with those who had been enemies “to build a kinder, more Christ-like world”, a potent sign of friendship and hope in the post-war years, small but powerfully prophetic.

Ever since then, Coventry’s new cathedral, rebuilt next to the ruins, has become a centre for peace-making around the world. And between 2002 and 2006, the man who is now our Archbishop served as its Canon for Reconciliation.

In that role he travelled to some of the most badly war-torn areas of the world – Rwanda, South Sudan, Congo, the Middle East – and always he took crosses of nails with him to give to the Christian communities he was visiting.

“To this day,” he reflects, “the cross I presented in Bujumbura (Burundi) remains within the sound of gunfire. This symbol is not one of ivory tower isolation: it speaks into the very heart of the wars, torture and terror that so fill our world.”

When he arrived at Lambeth, Archbishop Justin revealed his top three priorities and there, along with prayer and evangelism sits reconciliation. The Christ “who reconciles us to God through his death on the cross” informs the Archbishop’s own longing for reconciliation, which, he says, “shapes almost everything I think of. It’s the desire of my heart to find ways we can transform destructive, violent conflict into non-violent disagreement and the embrace of diversity.”

When Archbishop Justin comes to this diocese in November, we will be just a few days away from the 100th anniversary of the ending of WW1 and this, combined with his passion for reconciliation, has contributed strongly to the shaping of his programme. The theme of reconciliation, in fact, tops and tails his visit here.

Elsewhere in this magazine, you can read about The Big Sing for Peace with school-children from King’s Lynn which we hope will bring the Archbishop’s three days in our diocese to a rousing and moving conclusion, but I would like to tell you now about the event which will act as a launchpad for his journey around our Diocese. More than that, I would like to invite you to be part of it!

Though he will be in the east and the west of the Diocese on the days that follow, the Archbishop will come to Norwich on Wednesday 7 November for an evening at the Cathedral given over entirely to an exploration of reconciliation.

In the context of the WW1 anniversary, the evening will highlight not only our world’s desperate need for peace today but also the fact that every single one of us is called to be a peacemaker. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’, Jesus tells us. “Love your enemies”. But what might this actually look like in your life and mine? We hope this event will offer lots of ideas.

Everyone is warmly invited to the evening – to all of it or as much as you can manage. It will begin at 5.30pm with Choral Evensong and end at 9.15pm after Compline by Candlelight. At 6.30pm, you will be able to spend time moving around some specially devised Stations of Reconciliation.

Norfolk’s own WW1 heroine Edith Cavell will be the inspiring focus at one of them, as will the memorials to the fallen in St Saviour’s Chapel. There will be a Field of Remembrance, a Labyrinth of Light and many other imaginative springboards to praying for the peace of the nations.

At the font, we will be able to remember our calling as baptised children of God to work with him for reconciliation as well as the times we fail in this. We will stand before a Cross of Nails six feet high constructed from many hundreds of small crosses of nails, remembering Coventry, remembering Provost Howard’s first such cross fashioned from scorched and twisted nails, remembering the way in which God “makes all things new”.

At 7.15pm, Bishop Graham will chair ‘Reflections on Reconciliation’ and we will listen to opening contributions from a richly diverse panel including Pastor Rolf Stahl from Koblenz, Norwich’s German twin-town; Dr Marian Prinsley, President of the Norwich Hebrew Congregation; those who will speak about the need for reconciliation in a world peopled by homeless refugees and also in a divided Church.

In response to these initial reflections, the Archbishop will make his own presentation before leading us into a time of gathered silence and prayer. There will then be more time for people to make their pilgrimage around the Stations of Reconciliation before Compline brings the evening to a close.

Archbishop Justin holds a unique position in which to bring people together in conversation, to encourage those at odds to listen better to each other, to grow in understanding for the other’s position, to learn to live creatively with difference. But, without exception, each of us is called by God to share in his holy work of reconciliation.

The Archbishop hopes you and many hundreds of others will join him on Wednesday 7 November. If you cannot be with us, please pray with us, pray for peace in our time and pray for a sharpened sense of call among all Christians to be ambassadors of peace.