Reconciliation in our DNA

What do Coventry, England, and New Plymouth, New Zealand, have in common?
Wounds of history and a journey of peace and reconciliation.

By Lloyd Ashton

Taranaki Cathedral is set to become a New Zealand outpost of a worldwide peace and reconciliation movement which rose from the ruins of Coventry Cathedral.

Coventry Cathedral was destroyed in a massive German bombing raid on the night of 14 November  1940. Standing in the midst of the smouldering rubble the next morning, Provost Dick Howard picked up three of the long medieval roofing nails that had rained down overnight upon the cathedral floor. He bound them together in the form of a cross.

Credit: Taranaki Cathedral

Taranaki matriarch Maata Wharehoka acknowledges Dean Jamie Allen with a traditional Māori greeting after removal of the cathedral’s military hatchments

This Cross of Nails was later placed on an Altar of Rubble built from fallen masonry – and the people of the cathedral birthed a worldwide movement called the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN). In the post-war years, the CCN focus was on reconciliation with Germany. But since then the movement has grown far beyond that. Now there are around 170 partners in 35 countries, including strife-torn regions such as Iraq (St George’s Church, Baghdad), Ukraine, Israel and Palestine, and Sudan. Each CCN partner is committed to the work of reconciliation in its own context.

“Not a quick fix”

And now the Community of the Cross of Nails has been planted in New Zealand, through the Taranaki Cathedral Church of St Mary in New Plymouth. On Sunday 1 March the current Dean of Coventry Cathedral, the Very Revd John Witcombe, presented a Cross of Nails to Taranaki Cathedral. This powerful symbol provided an opportunity for conversations to begin and thinking to change, Dean Witcombe told the Taranaki Daily News.

“It’s not a quick fix,” he said. “It’s a journey.”

Getting a global perspective

Taranaki’s Dean Jamie Allen – who served at Coventry Cathedral as a chaplain during his curacy years – says that formally linking with CCN was another step along Taranaki Cathedral’s journey of peace and reconciliation.

In the 1860s, the Taranaki province was swept up in conflict between land-hungry settlers and Maori. What’s more, for a brief period during those Land Wars, St Mary’s became a garrison church – and not only a refuge for soldiers, but also a store for British army munitions. In other words, the Anglican Church was seen by Maori to take the settlers’ side. This has left its mark, says Dean Allen – but also created the potential for St Mary’s to become a place of new beginnings.

“The desire for peace,” he says, “comes out of a past which has been anything but peaceful.”

There are three strands to becoming a CCN member: Actively working to heal the wounds of history, learning to live with difference and to celebrate diversity, and building a culture of peace. “The cathedral has been growing towards becoming a local centre for peace and reconciliation,” he says. Becoming a Cross of Nails partner means “declaring that reconciliation is part of our DNA.”

Global dimension

Being part of the Cross of Nails community also helps the parish look beyond itself, says Dean Allen.

“It puts your own struggles into a worldwide perspective and turns your face outwards from your own situation.”

Being a member of Community of the Cross of Nails is a chance for the Taranaki cathedral to learn from other members of the worldwide community, to pray regularly for each partner and to work on developing a wider New Zealand community. “God is glorified in the healing of the wounds of the past,” says Dean Allen, “and in the healing of all our brokenness.”

A joint Maori-Pakeha (A New Zealander of European descent) pilgrimage to Coventry is also being planned. Read more about Taranaki’s reconciliation journey.

Lloyd Ashton is the Media Officer for the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia.

This story appeared in Anglican World, the quarterly magazine of the Anglican Communion. You can subscribe to Anglican World here