Partnership Sunday – 27 January 2019 – Letter to the Churches of our International Partnership

Partnership Sunday. International Links with our friends across the world.

Grace and peace to our sisters and brothers in Dessau, Hartford, Ostrava and Speyer, from your sisters and brothers in Purley, in the name of the One who is Love, Joy, Peace and Hope.

On Sunday 29th of July 2018 50 young people and their leaders declared in our church: “We don’t believe in war; we don’t believe in conflict; we don’t believe in violence…. We believe in peace and reconciliation; We believe all you need is love.”  The creed, written during a week in which we were privileged and delighted to welcome so many young friends to Purley, has provided, for us, a lens through which we now look at our world at a time of such uncertainty.

At the time of preparing this message the UK Parliament is about to vote on whether to accept the deal agreed between negotiators of the UK Government and the European Union in preparation for the UK’s departure from membership of the EU on 29th March 2019.  The uncertainty about whether the deal will be accepted or rejected and what happens if it is rejected has created division, tension, uncertainty and alarm among many, including people who voted either ‘remain’ or ‘leave’.  People on all sides of the debate about Brexit would do well to remember the guiding principles which led to the formation of the precursor of the EU, the European Economic Community, in the 1950s.  There was a deep desire not to repeat the mistakes of history.  The EEC came into being to ensure that the possibility of war between members was removed.  Traditional rivalries would be set aside and old enemies would become new friends and partners.  As a result, the generations born after 1945 in Western Europe have been able to live through an unprecedented period of peace, prosperity and stability. Those three aspects inevitably go hand in hand and are currently under threat.  We are at a moment of great instability due to the uncertainty of Brexit but we must not allow that to threaten either our peace or prosperity.  Indeed, we see locally that even prosperity is unavailable for many.  The Food Bank run by all our local churches has seen significant increase in usage, reflecting a worrying, growing inequality between rich and poor.  Again, this threatens the peace of all and has to be addressed urgently.

Another timely use of the Youth Week Creed was on Sunday 11th November 2018 when we held a special service to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the ending of the 1914-18 war.  Alongside quoting from the creed, we used material produced jointly by the United Reformed Church and the Evangelische Kirche der Pfalz.  One of the items we used was a hymn written for the commemoration by friends Pfarrer Martin Henninger and Rev’d David Pickering.  Martin and David became friends when they were ministers respectively in Frankenthal and Leeds and their congregations were in partnership with one another.  In conversation they discovered that both their grandfathers, named Friedrich and Frederick,  fought at the Battle of the Somme in 1916, fighting, obviously, on opposite sides of the battle.  Earler this year they went on pilgrimage to the battlefield to reflect together on friendship, peace and reconciliation.  There they wrote the hymn which we were privileged to be able to sing.  Their words remind us of the harsh reality of war:

For the horrors of the Somme,
shells and guns and frightened men.
Whistles blew a deadly song,
noise and cries the loud refrain:
Human voices scream and shout:
Tommy, Pomme, or Fritz and Kraut

Pfarrer Martin Henninger and Rev’d David Pickering

But their words also remind us of the possibility for peace and reconciliation:

Yet, for healing of the Somme,
nations must from conflict cease,
Love, forgiveness be your song,
Pray and work, unite in peace:
All creations’ voices raise,
singing hopeful songs of praise.

Pfarrer Martin Henninger and Rev’d David Pickering

God calls each of us in our own communities to this same work of healing through our commitment to peace and reconciliation.  Earlier in 2018 our Church Meeting adopted a new mission statement, including a simple yet challenging commitment: ‘Living God’s Love.’.  God’s love is radical, not for the few but for all; God’s love knows no boundaries – it is not based on gender, sexual orientation, race, colour, creed or religion; God’s love turns the values of the world upside down, the poor are blessed and the powerful brought low; God’s love is revealed in the vulnerability of a babe born in a Bethlehem stable, not in a royal palace.  In God’s Kingdom all the labourers in the vineyard are paid the same wage and the first are last and the last first.

The challenges that face our world are immense.  Commentators talk of a number of significant threats to peace, including climate change, environmental disaster, nuclear, biological or chemical warfare, and international terrorism.  Clearly none of these challenges can be addressed through a policy of isolationism and nationalism.  These are threats that humanity has to address collectively and internationally.  We are all too aware that we are all connected globally.  Stock markets in Frankfurt, London, New York, Tokyo and Shanghai do not operate in isolation from one another.  Carbon emissions in Beijing and Sao Paulo affect the climate of the whole planet and rising sea levels threaten the livelihood of all living things in the South Pacific and elsewhere.  Business and media are not confined by national borders, and actions taken by secret service agencies in one capital city may affect the democratic process in nations across the world.  This is the world of 2019 and we would be foolish to ignore our interdependence. Indeed, we would not want to – working together across the globe has brought us many benefits through growing trade and the sharing of technological advances, as well as building friendships and deepening our understanding of one another.

We, as Christians, understand and celebrate this connectivity.  We are part of the body of Christ.  If one part suffers, we all suffer.  We laugh together, we cry together, we pray together and we praise God together.  Partnership Sunday reminds us each year of our being part of something so much bigger than just our own little bit of the world.  We are partners, together, seeking to tell the world that we are all sisters and brothers, we are one and we have to live for one another rather than in competition with one another.  This is our world of 2019 and it is the only hope for our whole world.

As so often happens, it is the young, with their youthful vigour, vision and enthusiasm, who remind us what is vital.  The Youth Gathering in Purley in the summer of 2018 provided many highlights, but perhaps their rendition of ‘All you need is love’ best captured the spirit of unity, joy and peace which our world so desperately needs and which we saw so movingly present throughout that special week.  Or, as Martin and David wrote:

For the lessons of the Somme,
children come to learn true cost.
Swords to ploughs, their new-found psalm,
youth no more to war be lost:
Furrows turn and skylarks sing
may God’s peace on earth now ring.

Pfarrer Martin Henninger and Rev’d David Pickering

May God’s peace ring in Dessau, Hartford, Ostrava, Purley and Speyer and, through us, in our world.

With love, your sisters and brothers in Purley.

Russell Furley-Smith

Author: Russell Furley-Smith

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