Nazi-Ravaged English Cathedral Becomes Site of Christian
In what leaders called "a profound opportunity," 300 Christians came to England's Coventry Cathedral Sept. 1-7 for an international reconciliation conference while English neighbors came to the same cathedral to mourn the death of Princess Diana.
"Reconciliation '97" drew ministers, lay leaders and representatives from six continents and a variety of denominations, ministries and cultures for a week of workshops, forums and encouragement from other reconciliation workers. Their presence, prayers and testimonies provided a soothing balm for the steady stream of grieving people who came to the church to lay flowers or light candles.
But Coventry's cathedral has long been recognized as a refuge of comfort and restoration. Bombed by Nazi war planes in 1940, church leaders responded by collecting medieval nails from the rubble, wiring them together to form small crosses and sending them to German Christians as a symbol of friendship. From that simple act, the International Centre for Christian Reconciliation was born and today partners with Christians in 75 cities around the world.
Conference leaders chose the historic site saying it provides a living visible witness to the power of reconciliation. Yet it was the timing that offered a unique ministry opportunity for conference participants: As Cathedral Provost Paul Oestreicher said, "Having a group of this caliber with such a high Christian commitment has been a gift to us, especially during this week."
Through daily workshops and evening sessions, participants discussed a variety of reconciliation issues and explored new strategies for evangelism and Christian unity. Reports also were given on reconciliation efforts in countries such as Australia, Canada, Northern Ireland and South Africa.
Antoine Rutayisire from Rwanda, a team leader with African Enterprise Ministries, urged Christians to forgive those who have done evil. Rutayisire survived numerous massacres while watching family members murdered, yet he came to recognize "healing only comes with forgiveness. We can rebuild houses and buildings but if we don't have healing and repentance, it's not the same." And one former IRA member from Belfast, Northern Ireland, told participants how he formerly terrorized and burned houses; now he's rebuilding them with Habitat for Humanity.
But no one suggested the road to reconciliation would be an easy one. Raleigh Washington, a Promise Keepers vice president and Chicago-area pastor who gave the conference's final charge, said, "Change will only happen as we come together as one. I have a new dream that churches around the world will come together in a unifying love."
Even former South African President F. W. De Klerk, in a special lecture sponsored by the cathedral, appealed to "the victims of our (South African) policies (to) find it in their hearts to forgive us."
De Klerk also stated: "One of the central realities of our histories has been the utter failure of most Christians and most Christian countries to carry out this commandment (of forgiveness). . . . Until we truly forgive our enemies, we carry within our hearts a bitterness which can poison every other aspect of our lives."
Plans are already under way for a similar conference in Louisville, Ky., in November 1998. St. Matthews Baptist Church will host the conference sponsored by Reconciliation NOW (Networks of Our World), an informal of the Coventry conference's organizers.
"When a global event of reconciliation comes to the U.S.," said St. Matthews' pastor Leslie Hollon, "the local ministry efforts will be challenged. This is a bottom up, not top down, grassroots experience reflecting the mystery of God and his healing."