I don’t remember the first time I learned about the Community of the Cross of Nails based at Coventry Cathedral in England. No matter, I am so glad that we are now acquainted. It is one of those organizations, those Christian initiatives which will outlive us all–because of its inherent value and goodness, it’s rich and relevant history, and the sheer beauty of its intentions.
Based on the need and desire for reconciliation globally, expressed and embodied through local commitments and worship practices, it gives hope to so many hopeless situations, as the need for healing and reconciliation–between persons, peoples, nations, races and with the earth–is presently as great as ever. The need will never disappear!
As the present Dean of Coventry notes in an explanatory video, the ministry of the CCN is “a vein of reconciliation and not revenge. It is a particular historical manifestation of reconciling love given by the grace of God, rooted in the response of one man following a catastrophic human event.”
Following the devastating bombing of England’s Coventry Cathedral in 1940, its provost, the Very Reverend Richard Howard, made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. Using a national radio broadcast from the cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over he would work with those who had been enemies “to build a kinder, more Christ-child-like world.” His words were preceded by comments made the morning after the bombing from the Cathedral Ruins.
“We will rebuild as a sign of hope and a sign of peace . . . this must never happen to anyone in the world again . . . Father forgive, everyone, for we all play our part in the perpetuation of violence.” Through such brave and radical words the ministry was born.
Today the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN) is a Christian network of churches, charities, training organizations, chaplaincies and schools who, drawn together by the story of Coventry Cathedral, share a common commitment to working and praying for peace, justice and reconciliation. The ministry lives according to three key priorities: Healing the wounds of history / Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity / Building a culture of peace
Today, the greatest numbers of partners are in Germany, the UK & Ireland and the USA, but also has sizable numbers in South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands and Central and Eastern Europe; overall, we have partners in 45 countries across five continents. Different partners may focus on political, racial, religious, social or economic reconciliation; they may address war and violent conflict, post conflict restoration or healing; their work can have broad and far-reaching, national or regional consequences, or it can make a significant difference to local communities and individual people’s lives. Partners support one another, pray for one another and share with one another.
Here in Canada the CCN has a small number of affiliate churches and organizations including a few cathedrals and our own Sorrento Centre. A visit to the CCN Canada Facebook Page finds:
- a presentation by friend and colleague, Deacon Wally Eamer on the importance and value of Territorial Acknowledgements (June 2021)
- a reflection by retired Bishop Logan McMenamie on the Canadian Residential School story and recent discoveries (May 2021)
My own encounters with the CCN include:
- several trips to Coventry Cathedral during 1977-79 while a music student in London, and most wonderfully an opportunity to play the great organ one Saturday night following evensong
- while co-facilitating an environmental gathering of Anglican Communion bishops at the CCN affiliate Volmoed Centre a few years ago in South Africa I learned how this centre had been courageously hosting black/white/coloured gatherings through the Apartheid era
- several uses of the CCN litany at liturgies while Dean of St. Paul’s especially one year on Good Friday
- discovery a few years ago that Christ Church Cathedral in Victoria BC was a CCN affiliate given their significant work on healing and reconciliation through the leadership of Dr. Michael Hadley and others
- a visit to the Sorrento Centre in June of 2019 by Dean John Whitcombe of the CCN to establish the Centre as an affiliate member and to share in local indigenous storytelling and conversations around amongst other themes, the climate crisis
Opportunities for engagement continue as the CCN carefully tracks our relationship with creation itself. This October 2021, just prior to the global COP-26 conference in Glasgow in November, they are planning a specific one-off pilgrimage session on zoom on the environmental crisis and how the CCN responds. Given our location on the west coast one would need to rise very early.
Visually the ministry is expressed in the symbol of the cross of nails, originally three medieval nails bound together, a visual nudge that God is present even amidst destruction. The healing journey has a particular shape, from destruction through healing to hope. As Dean John shared with me two years ago, preaching at Coventry is actually quite easy—you simply preach the building which architecturally expresses the CCN journey. It’s all based on 2 Corinthians 5:18-19:
All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.
If the phrase Nailed It is often used as an expression to comment on the successful, skilful, or clever completion or performance of something then the CCN does this very thing. Whether affiliated with the CCN or not, let us all follow this fine practice of reconciliation, everywhere and always.
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