As a child one of the expressions my mother would use was “You will be sent to Coventry” meaning that I, or whoever was in her bad books at the time, had committed some misdemeanour worth of banishment.
Well, I went to Coventry for 24 hours and found it to be a delightful town with much to teach me. I had a day to spare having finished the photography workshop in the Lake District before taking up my Airbnb booking in London. I considered an extra night in London but not only were the hotel prices exorbitant, but I would have be encumbered by my luggage, needing to lug it across the vast city, as I visited places of interest. I had also discovered that by breaking my journey or at least buying a split ticket I could save on rail fares. I so looked at various options and settled on Coventry, finding a hotel close to both the city centre and the railway station.
Coventry has a compact city centre dominated by its cathedral(s), with some quaint medieval streets and a mass of unattractive shopping malls. It also boasts a transport museum and art gallery, but I got to neither.
Instead I walked around the Cathedral(s). St Michaels Cathedral built in the 1300’s was destroyed by incendiary bombs, along with much of the city, on 14 November 1940, 78 years ago to the day last week. Adjoining the ruins is the modern Coventry Cathedral which incorporates the Chapel of Unity. The Chapel is a dedicated community for ecumenical worship and has links with movements for peace and reconciliation.
Significant in the Coventry story is the cross of nails. The day after the Cathedral was bombed and burnt to the ground, the cathedral stonemason, Jock Forbes, noticed that two of the burnt roof timbers had fallen in the shape of a cross. He set these timbers upon an altar of rubble. A local priest, Rev Arthur Wale retrieved 3 medieval hand forges nails that had been used to secure the roof beams and fashioned them into a cross. The Cathedral Provost Richard Howard inscribed on the sanctuary wall “Father Forgive” and made a commitment not to revenge but to forgiveness and reconciliation declaring, on Christmas Day 1940, that when the war was over he would work with those who had been enemies “to build a kinder, more Christ-child like world.” In the post war years similar Cross of Nails were presented as a symbol of peace and forgiveness to Lutheran Churches in Germany. From this grew trust, partnerships and friends among former enemies.
In the 1970’s the Community of the Cross of Nails was founded. An ecumenical fellowship of individuals and groups committed to the ministry of reconciliation. All members adhere to the three guiding principles of the Community of the Cross of Nails: Healing the wounds of history, Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and Building a culture of peace. They are guided by the words ‘Father Forgive’ and pray Litany of Reconciliation on a regular basis.
It was moving to encounter these and many more symbols of reconciliation in both the ruins of the old Cathedral and in the new one.
One thing that caught me by surprise in the new cathedral was the craft and flea market that was taking place on the Saturday afternoon. I should imagine that it drew to the Cathedral many who would not otherwise enter a church.
As I left the cathedral and made my way past the ruins of the old cathedral my attention was caught by a little shop called “St Clare’s at the Cathedral” selling fair trade gifts, cards, candles and second-hand, mainly religious books. The sales assistant was a woman wearing a dog collar, who I discovered was Rev Charlotte who together with Rev Naomi are the Anglican priests who lead this small, friendly church community “that offers a home to the spiritually seeking, to those who have wandered away from God, to those who never knew him (sic) and those who have lost their faith in the church.” So, on Sunday morning I returned to St Clare’s at the Cathedral to join the small community of 20 or so that gathers, firstly for coffee, then for a simple liturgy of word and sacrament and finally to share a simple lunch of soup and bread, all the while children play on the floor with toys provided. Charlotte and Naomi were going to Berlin this week as part of the ongoing reconciliation work.
It would be unlike me to walk away from such a bookshop without making a purchase and this occasion was no different. I brought three books. One of which I have started to read: Mission on the Margins by Mary Beasley. Together with the other two Spirituality and Pastoral Care by Kenneth Leech and Pilgrims to the Manger: Exploring the wonder of God within us (an advent book) all appear to be highly appropriate for me at tis time.
I do not feel that I was sent to Coventry, rather that I was drawn to Coventry and am grateful for the gift that my visit there has been.