28 August 2023

Daily prayers in Ordinary Time
with USPG: (92) 28 August 2023

‘Father Forgive’ … reconciliation is at the heart of the ministry and outreach of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Patrick Comerford

We are in Ordinary Time in the Church Calendar, and this week began with the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity (Trinity XII, 27 August 2023). Today, the calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship remembers the life of Augustine, Bishop of Hippo, Teacher of the Faith, 430.

Today is a bank holiday in England, and we have been invited to a BBQ with friends in Stony Stratford later in the day. But, before the day begins, I am taking some time this morning for prayer and reflection.

In recent weeks, I have been reflecting on the churches in Tamworth and Lichfield. This week, I am reflecting each morning in these ways:

1, Looking at a church in Coventry;

2, the Gospel reading of the day in the Church of England lectionary;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

The Reconciliation monument in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Coventry Cathedral (old):

Sir Basil Spence’s Cathedral in Coventry, which opened over 60 years ago in 1962, was not the first, or even the second cathedral in city, but the third.

In the closing days of World War I, when a new Diocese of Coventry was formed in 1918 to cater for that part of the expanding, heavily industrialised West Midlands, an earlier mediaeval cathedral had long been destroyed.

Instead, the city’s large mediaeval parish church, Saint Michael’s, became the cathedral of the new diocese. Saint Michael’s was one of the largest parish churches in England when it became a cathedral in 1918.

But it did not remain a cathedral for long: 23 years later, on the night of 14 November 1941, the German Luftwaffe blanket bombed Coventry.

The city was targeted because it was known for its industries, including factories making aeroplanes and munitions factories, and it was at the heart of the motor industry.

The Provost of Coventry Cathedral, Richard Howard (1884-1981), was one of four firefighters who went on the roof to try save the cathedral from incendiary bombs designed to cause firestorms.

A fire broke out in the cathedral at around 8 p.m. and, despite extinguishing the initial fire, other direct hits caused fires that ultimately led to the destruction of the city.

The Coventry Blitz continued into the morning of 15 November, and Saint Michael’s Cathedral was among the many buildings in the city centre razed to the ground.

In just one night, more than 43,000 homes, the entire city centre, two hospitals, two churches and the police station were destroyed by around 500 tons of explosives. About 568 people died in the raid, with over 1,000 people had serious injuries.

The heart was ripped out of the city of Coventry that night. All that remained of the cathedral was its tall, 300-ft Gothic tower and the shell of its red sandstone walls.

In the morning, Jock Forbes, the cathedral stonemason, found two wooden beams lying in the rubble in the shape of a cross and tied them together. This became the Charred Cross and was first placed in the ruins of the old cathedral on an altar of rubble.

That morning, Richard Howard chalked the words ‘Father Forgive’ on the sanctuary wall of the ruined cathedral. He was recalling Christ’s words on the Cross, ‘Father Forgive them’ – but there was a subtle omission. In dropping the word ‘them,’ and instead saying simply ‘Father Forgive,’ he was reminding everyone that we all need forgiveness, not just those who have harmed us.

Later, after the Blitz, Richard Howard formed the Cross of Nails, made of three nails from the roof truss of the old cathedral. It is now placed in the centre of the cross on the High Altar in the cathedral.

The Cross of Nails has become a symbol of peace and reconciliation around the world. There are over 330 Cross of Nails Centres all over the world, all of them bearing a cross made of three nails from the ruins, similar to the original one. When there were no more nails, a continuing supply has come from a prison in Germany.

All around the cathedral ruins today are signs of reconciliation and forgiveness. The statue ‘Reconciliation’ is linked to the Department of Peace Studies at Bradford University and was presented to the cathedral in 1987. The ‘Choir of Survivors’ is a sculpture presented to the cathedral as a gift from a church in Dresden, the German city that was also blanket-bombed during World War II.

But, perhaps, the most moving part of the cathedral ruin is the area around the former east end and high altar. Here Richard Howard’s words, ‘Father Forgive,’ were carved on the wall behind the rebuilt altar in the spring of 1948. On the altar stands a version of the Charred Cross, in a shape similar to the Cross of Nails.

The new Coventry Cathedral, designed by Basil Spence, was built beside the shell of the cathedral bombed in 1940 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Matthew 23: 8-12 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 8 ‘But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students. 9 And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father – the one in heaven. 10 Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah. 11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.’

‘Ecce Homo’ by Jacob Epstein in the ruins of the Old Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Today’s Prayer:

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is the ‘República de Jovens Home in Brazil.’ This theme was introduced yesterday.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (28 August 2023) invites us to pray in these words:

We pray for Igreja Episcopal Anglicana do Brasil, for all their churches and congregations, and for their church leaders and ministry.

The ‘Choir of Survivors’ by Helmut Heinze at the west end of the ruins of the old cathedral … a gift from the Frauenkirche Foundation in Dresden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Collect:

Merciful Lord,
who turned Augustine from his sins
to be a faithful bishop and teacher:
grant that we may follow him in penitence and discipline
till our restless hearts find their rest in you;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

The Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with Augustine to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The effigy of Bishop Huyshe Wolcott Yeatman-Biggs, first Bishop of Coventry, in the ruins of Coventry Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

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