I participated in a series of Wednesday Worship at Opoho Church last week.  I chose the above title as my theme.  My reflection is included below:

2014 is a year of two anniversaries. It is 200 years since Christianity arrived in New Zealand. It is 100 years since the beginning of the Great War. It is the second anniversary that I want to talk about tonight. Working at the Presbyterian Archives I have been researching into what the Presbyterian Church was writing about on the eve of the conflict a hundred years ago.

It surprised me to think that back then ANZAC would have been an unfamiliar term to most Australians and New Zealanders. This year is the centenary of the last year ANZAC Day was not observed, either in the act of landing on the coast of Gallipoli and invading which happened in 1915, or its commemoration after that year.

In January the editor of the Outlook, the weekly publication of the Presbyterian Church of New Zealand wrote: The main menace of the times in which we live is the decay of authority, and the added fact that in the endeavour to prop up a decaying authority by force the force-authority has bred a force-resistance which in its turn is breeding a spirit of anarchy. The thing was inevitable; and has been foreseen by the thoughtful from afar off. It is the outcome of a vain attempt to rule the world and so organise society without the vital influence of religion at its back; and the hope of the Church consists in the dawning realisation on the part of social reformers everywhere that a real religion is, and must be, the main spring in all permanent reform. The root reason of our existing social problems and religious difficulties is unbelief leading to suspicion and distrust.

The editorial was most likely written by Arthur Grinling who was editor after the social-reforming minister Rutherford Waddell and shared his interests. The article continues with extensive quotes from British speakers about disarmament and Irish Home Rule.

In an edition in February the Outlook talked about the great impression that Mr Alfred Noyes was making in America. The reading of his poem ‘The Wine Press’, that we used in part in the beginning of worship was reported to have aroused a great wave of feeling against the horrors of war in a New York club. This was among the New York set. The poem was not reprinted for local readers. I suspect that it had not accompanied the press release that would have been used for the news source. There is no guess of what local readers would have thought of it.

I don’t think that the Outlook’s readers were great pacificists or advocates for disarmament no matter the progressive policy of the editor. They were British citizens living in New Zealand. The Empire was bringing peace, civilization and religion to the far corners of the world. Looking through the following months of the magazine the topics that engaged them were Bible and Religion in State Schools, the Church Schools, Missionary Work, the Chapman Alexander Mission in Edinburgh, the Kikuyu Controversy and Chaplains for Trentham Camp. Their attention was focused on the work of the Church, not on the world.

And so it could have gone on, to the outbreak of war. I haven’t looked through to see if it did. One of the amazing articles I have found on the outbreak of the war was in the Break of Day, the children’s missionary magazine in September 1914. It was written by Rev. James Aitken of Mosgiel Church. Unlike adults in the church you can’t talk down to children, the issues of the day must be addressed, which probably why we listen with attention to children’s talks. He begins, “My Dear Boys and Girls, – I hardly know how to write to you this month; my heart is heavy over this awful war. Isn’t it a terrible thing that has happened? To think that the two strongest nations in the world, the most civilised and Christian nations in the world, are fighting each other just like so many savages! I am sure you are all grieved about it, too, and are hoping and praying that it will not last long.”

And what about our enemies? Yes, we must pray for them too. It is a dreadful business that the German people have forced us to fight them. You know that the Germans are our cousins. If you went into a German school you would see boys and girls just like yourselves, only there would be more fair-haired, blue-eyed ones among them, that would be all the difference. They would have the same names, William and John and Mary and Margaret, pronounced ever so little differently. You would find that they read the same Bible, and loved the same Jesus, and prayed to the same God and sang lots of the same hymns as you. We shall do our very best to win in this great struggle; but we shall look forward to being good friends with our cousins again when it is all over.”

I think we see history after it has happened. It becomes set into history books, cut and dried and inevitable. As we live through moments of history, as we are doing now, then there are always other options available to us. Some of them overwhelm us and we can find ourselves living in the Days of Noah, or the Coming of the Son of Man. We can be eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, proclaiming the gospel or working for justice, until the flood sweeps us and our world away. We are given a choice each moment, and we can work and pray for a better world.

 

 

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