‘Peace in a Shoebox’ – extract from the morning service to open our International Youth Week which runs from 21 to 29 July 2018 – service led by the Revd. Russell Furley-Smith and Revd. Nicola Furley Smith, Moderator of the Southern Provence of the URC
Bible Reading – James 2 v.14-18
What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it? Can that faith save him?
Suppose a fellow Christian, man or woman, is in rags with not enough food for the day, and you say “Goodbye, keep warm, and have a good meal”, but does nothing to supply their bodily needs, what good is that?
So with faith, if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.
But someone may say: “One chooses faith, another action,” To which I reply: “Show me this faith you speak of with no actions to prove it, while / by my actions will prove to you my faith.”
As we begin our youth week I think it is very important for everyone to appreciate how and why we are here and the place a shoebox has played in bringing us together. The story, our story, goes back to just after the end of the Second World War.
It started in 1946 with a German woman, Mrs Auguste Radbone, who was living in Goring, part of Worthing, in Sussex, on the south coast of England. She was married to an Englishman. In 1946 she travelled to Wolfstein, a small town to the north of Kaiserslautern in the Palatinate in Germany, to visit her mother and her aunt. What she found was a Germany devastated by war with people there living in appalling hardship. The winter of 1946 was harsh and in Germany food, clothing and fuel to heat their homes were all scarce. She felt so desperate to help the people of Wolfstein that she approached some of the churches in Worthing pleading with them to do something, one minister responded, the Revd Barnard Spaull, of Shelley Road Congregational Church. Mrs Radbone gave him a letter from the minister of the Protestant church in Wolfstein, Pfarrer Wilhelm Schwarz, asking for help. The matter was taken to the Shelley Road church’s Social Service Committee whose secretary was Mrs Rose Black and that committee recommended to the church that two test parcels should be sent. Remember, food and clothing were rationed in Britain at that time so it is all the more remarkable that anything was sent at all.
The two parcels were sent, one containing seven pairs of shoes and one containing food, including a packet of egg powder and a pound of semolina, which will amuse the older ones here who lived through those austere days.
The parcels arrived in Wolfstein early in 1947 and from that time onwards 161 parcels altogether were posted, the last one being sent in 1959 when Germany had already recovered from the worst ravages of the war and was forging ahead with economic development. In all that time Mrs Black kept detailed records of all the parcels and was the leader of the relief effort. The church in Worthing wanted more than a relationship through gift parcels. They wanted direct contact, face to face, and in 1949 three young people from the Pioneers, the young adult group in the church, travelled to Wolfstein to stay with members of the church there. They were Kenneth, Beryl and Alison – Alison was Mrs Black’s daughter.
That group of three spent two very full weeks in Germany and they took with them enough money to pay for four young Germans to return to Worthing. Those were, in many ways, the first partnership youth gatherings. It is because of them that we are here today.
Those initial links led to a partnership between the Congregational Church in England as predecessor of the United Reformed Church (URC), where we are today and the church in the Palatinate. That brought together Purley and Speyer. Speyer also had a partnership with Dessau and Dessau had a partnership with Ostrava. Hartford were drawn in through an exchange of ministers one summer in the 1960s between Purley and Hartford. It is a remarkable story of how a parcel sent in 1947 brings together 50 young people and their leaders here in Purley in 2018.
Those shoeboxes serve as an example of what James was writing about and show how God was found in that relationship between the people of Worthing and Wolfstein. This is evidenced in a comment made later that “an ordinary bar of soap sent from Worthing to Wolfstein was, on its arrival, something holy”.
John Reardon has written the story of the partnership between the United Reformed Church and the Evangelical Church of the Palatinate. He reflects on the impact of an act of kindness: “The original impetus was compassion and the desire to assist another nation that had only just ceased to be a warring enemy. When that local initiative was taken up at a wider church level involving those in positions of responsibility and leadership the overriding motive on both sides was for reconciliation.”
Our partnership and our youth gathering this week continue that work. We are not warring enemies. We are friends. But our world is still in need of peace and reconciliation. We can play our part in helping understanding, embracing difference and celebrating diversity.
John Reardon ends his book with these words: “There is no doubt that ….. since the ending of the Second World War large numbers of members in both Britain and Germany have been challenged in their Christian discipleship and enriched in their spiritual and personal development through the partnership which began with food parcels from Worthing.”
It is our prayer that over the next week you will all be challenged in your Christian discipleship and enriched in your spiritual and personal development through the time we spend with one another. And never forget that it is happening all because of a food parcel from Worthing in 1947.
To ensure you don’t forget, we are going to present each church with a shoebox. At the moment all it contains is a copy of the story of what happened in 1947. It also contains a Bible verse: Matthew 5 v.9: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. And a picture of a dove. Not just because a dove is a sign of peace. When Alison, Beryl and Kenneth first visited Wolfstein in 1949 they were likened to the dove which returned to the ark with an olive branch in its beak.
We hope you will add to the contents of your shoebox throughout the week to help you remember your role as doves of peace and reconciliation.
Let us pray
O God of vision: we give you thanks that your peace passes all understanding, so that when our confidence is shaken, and our thoughts clouded by despair, we may continue to trust in the wonderfully irrational power of grace, and the divine foolishness of forgiveness.
We give you thanks, O God, that you continually stretch us to see the world
through your eyes and through the questions you are asking.
In times of war, you imagine a world beyond the ravages of violence, and call us to be instruments of peace.
When people are divided by hatred, you imagine forgiveness, and call us to be ambassadors of reconciliation.
We give you thanks for all those from our partnerships who have dared to find God in that calling and have found God across barriers, physical and ideological.
When we are discouraged, you awaken in us a sense of possibility,
and call us to embody the energy of hope.
Inspire us, O God, to be what you have already called us to be: – peacemakers in the name of Jesus,
who teaches us to love our enemies, who expects us to be the light of the world, who does not excuse us from the cost of discipleship, who offers to us that peace which the world cannot give:
quiet confidence in the midst of oppression faith in the midst of despair a sense of wonder, even as we journey through the darkest valleys.
Bless us, keep us, and guide us, and through our relationships with one another as Partnership Churches, strengthen us to continue to be a sign of reconciliation. May we continue to find God as we strive together to meet current challenges and threats to relationships, to fight injustice, to demonstrate the saving power of God’s grace, alive today in our care for creation and concern for the future of our world,
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen.