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Annual service for UN Day

organised by Harpenden UNA at Harpenden URC church on 28th October 2018

The theme of our annual service was War and Peace 1918 – 2018 and our speaker was Rev David Tatem who recently retired, having been URC Secretary for Ecumenical and Interfaith relations. The service was as usual introduced with the words of the preamble to the UN charter - “We the peoples of the United Nations, determined to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind”.  These words seemed particularly poignant this year in which we commemorate the centenary of the end of the 1st World War.  We sang a hymn specially written for this centenary which starts with the words “How can we sing of that sad conflagration: cauldron of misery, mud, gas and fire?”

David’s address was preceded by a recording of the folk song, written in 1975 by Eric Bogle, variously known as ‘The Green Fields of France’ or ‘Willie McBride’.  The song reflects on the countless young men who died on the green fields of France and asks ‘Did they really believe this war would end all wars’ for ‘its all happening again, and again, and again’.  David quoted the words of historian Christopher Clark who wrote ‘The conflict that began that summer mobilised 65 million troops, claimed three empires, 20 million military and civilian deaths,  and 21 million wounded. The horrors of Europe’s 20th century was born of this catastrophe’.  In his address David reflected on the language that was used by national leaders to make such horror an acceptable way of resolving conflict. He contrasted the proud and patriotic talk of young men  “giving their lives” with the realistic “their lives were taken from them in an avoidable bloodbath” and he quoted German pacifist Otto Umfrid (1914) on what is true patriotism: “is the person who loves the fatherland more the one who did everything in his power to prevent this horror [the impending war] or the one who sowed blood and harvested blood from it?”

David could identify some progress in developing processes for conflict resolution since WW1 but not enough progress in addressing the root causes of conflict.  He described how, following WW2, Edwin Robertson who was a minister of Dagnall Street Baptist Church in St Albans worked with some German Church leaders to create the Kirchentag which is a forum for German people to discuss a wide range of issues (including for instance climate change) that have a bearing on world peace and peacebuilding. An essential element of this discussion is to promote understanding and to avoid the use of derogatory language about groups of people.  Commenting on the reading from Matthew 5, David interpreted “love your enemies” as love in the sense of the Greek word “agape” – having a practical concern for another’s welfare, “seeking the best for them”.
There has to be a shift away from the culture of “us and them”. The United Nations can play an important part in this process by emphasising the ways in which the peoples of the world are interdependent, and the churches have also recognised that they have a part to play in promoting understanding between different faiths.  David ended with the words of Studdert Kennedy who served as a chaplain in WW1 

And Good lives on, loves on, and conquers all-- 
All War must end in Peace. These clouds are lies. 
They cannot last. The blue sky is the Truth. 
For God is Love. Such is my Faith, and such 
My reasons for it, and I find them strong 
Enough. And you? You want to argue? Well, 
I can't. It is a choice. I choose the Christ.

As a result of the collection at the service we were able to send £192.65 to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees.  

Trevor Evans, UNA Harpenden