READING, WRITING AND CONCENTRATING – XV ‘THE KINGSHIP OF CHRIST’ [3] BY G.K.A. BELL (1954)

January 2nd, 2019

I am currently struggling to read books. I tell myself every day that I should read on my lunch breaks at work etc, but my mind races from one thought to another and I mainly fail at opening a book and discovering what is contained within. 

Today, I have decided to chain myself to my desk for much of my lunch breaks and copy from whatever book I have to hand.

It forces me to read, write and concentrate at the same time, in the hope that over time it may replace some bad habits with some good ones, and generally help me become a better reader and writer……..etc,…

The Kingship of Christ

 (1954)

THE STORY OF

THE WORLD COUNCIL OF

CHURCHES

by THE RT REV. G.K.A. BELL 

 

3

THE TEST OF THE SECOND

WORLD WAR

 

The attitude of the Churches in the belligerent countries towards one another when the Second world War broke out was very different from the attitude of the same Churches when the First World War began. The fact that the tyranny of Hitler’s regime found its victims in the Evangelical and Catholic Churches in Germany, as well as in the Jewish race; and that from 1933 onwards the Confessional Synod of the Evangelical Church, and the Roman Catholic Church, had resisted the regime, no doubt made a big difference to Christian opinion in U.S.A., in Britain, and in other countries in Europe. There was not the same temptation to identify the Church with the Nation as there had been in 1914. But there is also no doubt that the new sense of the spiritual bonds between Christians of different countries to which the ecumenical movement had given birth had a profound influence on Church leaders of both sides. In Visser ‘t Hooft’s words, ‘ It must and can be said that when total war came the great majority of the Church leaders did not forget their obligation to the Lord of the Church, and their obligations to their fellow-Christians’.

      The message of the Oxford Conference of 1937 had included words, ‘If war breaks out, then pre-eminently the Church must manifestly be the Church, still united as the one body of Christ, though the nations wherein it is planted fight each other, consciously offering the same prayers that God’s Name may be hallowed, His Kingdom come, and His will be done in both, or all, the warring nations. This fellowship of prayer must at all costs remain unbroken’. What was the duty of the World Council of the Churches (in process of formation) in time of war?

 

Deepening of Ecumenical Fellowship

A meeting of the Administrative Committee (an organ of the Provisional Committee) was held at Apeldoorn in Holland in January 1940, to consider what the Provisional Committee could profitably do. Pastor Boegner and M. Guillon (France), R. S. Barnes (U.S.A), Archbishop Temple, W. Paton, H. Carter and the Bishop of Chichester (England), Professor Gulin (Finland), Dr Koechlin (Switzerland), together with Archbishop Eidem (Sweden), Bishop Noack (Denmark), and W.A. Visser ‘t Hooft, arrived to confer. Bishop Berggrav had also come from Oslo, to see what encouragement he and his Scandinavian colleagues could get from churchmen of different countries in favour of mediation between the warring Powers. There was much grave discussion on this point outside the meeting of the Administrative Committee itself; and a statement was drawn up by Archbishop Temple to which the four British participants gave their signatures, setting out the conditions under which in their opinion negotiations could be opened. These included an undertaking to recognize the Czechoslovak and the Polish peoples  as independent and sovereign; and a requirement that as part of the new order ‘a prominent place must be given to economic justice and to the enterprise of making available for the well-being of all peoples the wealth which science now enables mankind to produce in so great abundance’. It should be added that Bishop Berggrav, who had been courteously received at the Foreign Office in London before going to Apeldoorn, got no hearing at all when, after Apeldoorn, he went to Berlin.

      The Administrative Committee itself, however, was concerned with the task of the World Council. There were wide differences of opinion. Some members hoped that the Churches would make a declaration on basic issues at stake concerning aggression and freedom. Others pressed that the Churches should do all in their power to keep the door open for mediation. No agreement could be reached on a common statement: but the meeting of the delegates, and the exchange of ideas had very great value. It was arranged to continue the discussion by correspondence. In May 1940 total war began, and further communications were impossible.

      The World Council of Churches, however, was very much alive. And although the Geneva staff was reduced, and responsible committees were unable to meet, there was an actual deepening of ecumenical fellowship. It took various forms. For example, links were maintained between Geneva and the Confessional Church in Germany. Dr Hans Schönfeld, a German subject resident in Geneva and in charge of the Study Department, risked his life many times by repeated journeys to Germany, the occupied countries, and to Sweden, in order to keep in touch with the various Churches. There was one famous occasion in May 1942 on which Hans Schönfeld from Switzerland and Pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer from Berlin came separately to meet me in Stockholm whither I had gone to renew old contacts with Church leaders in Sweden. Their arrival was a great surprise. Nor did either know that the other was coming. I had long, intimate talks with each as well as with both together. They told me in great detail about the character and purposes of the German Resistance. Pastor Bonhoeffer also secretly gave me the names of the leading personalities – the same who ultimately were involved in the Hitler plot of 20 July 1944. They wanted me, if I could, to find out from British Government whether, if the whole Hitler regime were overthrown, the Allied Governments would be willing to treat with a new bona fide German Government for a peace settlement. Various suggestions were made as to how the Allies, if they were willing, might make their attitude known whether by public announcement or otherwise. I emphasized the need of declaring German repentance and this was accepted. I also spoke of the importance of the Allied Armies occupying Berlin.  Schönfeld agreed that such occupation would be a great help for the purpose of exercising control. I was with them for many hours and Bonhoeffer felt in particular ‘there must be punishment by God – our action must be understood as an act of repentance’. I reported the conversations fully to Mr Eden when I got home but the Government decided that no action could be taken. It was a sensational experience for a Churchman in wartime, but it was an act of very great bravery on the part of the two Germans. It was a very definite attempt to secure an earlier peace. It would never have been made had there been no ecumenical movement. To the great loss of Germany as well as the ecumenical movement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer was murdered by the S.S. in April 1944, after two years in prison. Hans Schönfeld has for many years now been isolated from his friends by a grave psychological illness.

      There was a continual stream of information of many kinds through the World Council Offices. This was passed on to Churches through the Ecumenical Press Service, or in less official ways. The wireless proved a very great help by way of giving news to churchmen in different countries. The sense that the World Council of Churches and the individual members of the Provisional Committee remembered and prayed for them gave great courage to the heroic martyrs in the concentration camps of the Third Reich, and in Nazi-occupied countries. Every Christmas, I was asked to make a special broadcast to churchmen in Germany.

      ‘In these last years,’ said Bishop Berggrav, preaching in the Protestant Cathedral at Geneva on the occasion of the first meeting of the Provisional Committee after the War (February 1946), ‘we have lived more intimately with each other than in times when we could communicate with each other. We prayed together more, we listened together more to the Word of God, our hearts were together more.’ And since one example is worth a thousand general statements, I reproduce, with his leave an in his own words, Bishop Berggrav’s own experience of a remembrance by Archbishop Temple in the middle of the war:

      I was confined in my cottage in the woods in Asker. I had 17 policemen on guard of which 3 were on duty at the time. A peasant’s wife had the idea to bring me every day a bottle of milk. The guards were accustomed to her coming, but she was of course only allowed to go as far as to the fence, where the guard then took over the bottle. This day she didn’t walk the path, but came through the forest, jumped the fence and was before my kitchen window before the guards observed it. She whispered to me in a hurry: ‘My husband listened to London yesterday evening, and he heard the Archbishop of Canterbury pray for you, bishop!’ Then the guards arrived and took her away, but what a difference with me! No longer left alone. But taken into the fellowship of Christian brethren, even in Great Britain. This moment is my deepest experience of ‘Ecumenism’ as a reality.

Two other forms of ecumenical fellowship which continued right through the war had been a very special value. They concerned refugees from Nazi tyranny, and prisoners of war…

 

Service to Refugees

In January 1939, the Provisional Committee, at its first full meeting at St-Germain in France, had to face the challenge of the increasingly tragic situation of refugees. It appointed Dr Adolf Freudenberg to take charge. He was a German diplomat by training. He was then ordained as a pastor. But he was himself a victim of the Nazi discrimination against non-Aryans. He and his family formed part of a considerable body of German pastors and their families who had found refuge in Britain on my invitation backed by the Church of England Committee for non-Aryan Christians at Christmas 1939. His first duty was to co-ordinate the work of various national Christian Committees for Refugess. When war broke out he was in Switzerland, and was therefore able to keep in touch with the various countries in which the refugee situation became increasingly acute, and to organize the administration of spiritual and material aid. At first his chief task was to help as many non-Aryan Christians as possible to emigrate from Germany. With the fall of France came a new and more difficult call. Thousands of non-Aryans were departed from Germany to southern France. French Protestantism rose to the challenge. Young Christians, under the direction of Mlle Madeleine Barot, and the Chaplaincy Services to Refugees, with strong backing from ecumenical resources, did everything in their power to lighten the misery of the refugees in the camps. Later on, when the refugees were being sent back to the death camps in the East, French pastors, priests, and youth leaders risked everything to get German non-Aryans across the mountains and barbed wire into Switzerland, where they were helped from funds supplied by the Churches of Switzerland, U.S.A., and Sweden. Other refugees in Italy, Hungary, and Shanghai were also supported from ecumenical funds.

 

Service to Prisoners of War

 

Soon after the outbreak of the war, plans were set on foot to help those taken prisoner. This work has been described as the most visible expression during the war of the World Council of Churches’ life. The Ecumenical Commission for the Chaplaincy Service to Prisoners of War was organized in 1939. In order to have maximum freedom in its negotiations with belligerent Governments, it was constituted as an independent body. But it was in fact an organ of the Council. Dr Koechlin of Switzerland became its first President. The main activities began in the summer of 1940, when the great stream of prisoners of war flowed to camps in Germany. Contacts were made with the ‘Hilfswerk fur Deutsche Kriegsgefangene und Internierte’ which was mainly organized to serve German P.O.W.s, but was able and ready to render assistance to the work for prisoners of war in the camps of Germany. The Vice-chairman of the commission, Professor Jacques Courvoisier of Geneva, made four visits to the camps in Germany from 1940 onwards. These visits helped the Commission to define its policy. One of the main tasks was to negotiate with the authorities concerning the most effective distribution of the available chaplains so that at least all larger camps should has pastoral service. In very many cases, however, no chaplain could be provided and laymen had to take charge of the congregation.

      In addition to this the Ecumenical Commission organized a regular supply of books, brochures, vessels for the Holy Communion, and the like. With the help of the American Bible Society a constant stream of Scriptures was received. From 23,000 in 1940 the number of Scriptures sent annually rose steadily to 126,000 in 1945. Christian literature had also to be specially written: and a number of well-printed brochures, with fine illustrations, were sent out at the time of the main Christian Festivals. From 1945 onwards the Commission also issued a paper, ‘Die-Lager-Gemeinde’.  Much help was also given to prisoners through personal correspondence.

      Similar action was taken in P.O.W. camps in North America, and in Britain. There was a close association with Y.M.C.A. in the North American camps. The Swedish Churches were also well to the fore in supplying chaplains. It is no exaggeration to say that the prisoners of war were constantly surprised to find that the Church followed them with its ministry to a foreign country and behind barbed wire. It is not claimed that the whole ground was covered; but a great effort was made, and the Governments concerned were usually ready with full facilities. In the whole work of this ecumenical ministry the Churches of different countries, particularly the American, Swedish, and Swiss Churches, with the help of the American Bible Society, the International Red Cross, and the World Committee of Y.M.C.A.s gave ungrudging service to prisoners through and with the World Council of Churches.   

Christian Reconstruction in Europe

 

 Side by side with the ministry to the refugees, and the visiting of the prisoners, plans were also being made to provide help in the task of reconstruction for Churches which would need it most. The Central Bureau of Inter-Church Aid, founded by the great ecumenical churchman Dr Adolf Keller at the time of the First World War, had already done pioneering work of a notable kind on an increasing scale. It was recognized right in the middle of the Second World War that if the World Council of Churches was to be true to its ideal as a fellowship of the Churches, an organisation would be necessary to give effect to that fellowship among the Churches which had suffered through occupation, or because of foreign oppression. Dr S. McCrea Cavert, general Secretary of the Federal Council of the Churches of Christ in America, had paid a visit to Geneva in September 1942, just a few weeks before the total occupation of France made further journeys of this kind impossible, to discuss the question of post-war reconstruction on behalf of the American Churches. Project were prepared, and there was consultation as far as possible with Churches in the receiving countries, as well as in U.S.A and Britain.

    The raison d’etre of the Reconstruction Department was defined by the General Secretary of the Provisional Committee in July 1943 in the following memorandum:

 

      The paramount principle is that which is implied in the very existence of the world Council, namely that the task of reconstruction is to be conceived as an ecumenical task in which all the Churches participate to the limit of their ability, and that the common objective is to rebuild the life of the whole fellowship of Churches which finds expression in the World Council. If this ecumenical principle is taken seriously, this will mean that the Churches will agree to co-ordinate their policies and activities in order to make certain that all needy Churches receive adequate help, that the Churches will not confine their help exclusively to Churches belonging to the same denomination or confession, and that the autonomy and desires of the receiving Churches are taken in full consideration.   

 

      A preparatory committee, under the chairmanship of Dr A. Koechlin, was set up in Geneva on 25 May 1944. The new World Council Department, and the Central Bureau of Inter-Church Aid, with full help from Dr Keller, worked together on lines which led to their ultimate fusion. Inquiries were made into the needs of the Churches, preliminary reports having been received from France, Germany, the Balkans, and Holland. Reports also came from Britain, U.S.A., Sweden, and Switzerland as to the beginning of national Inter-Church Reconstruction committees; and possible relations with UNRRA were discussed. By December 1944 Dr J. Hutchinson Cockburn of Scotland had accepted the post of Senior Secretary of the new Department. The first meeting of the Department properly so called was held on 15 May 1945 – a meeting made notable by the intimation of a gift of 100,000 dollars from the New York office of the Central Inter-Church Aid. But of the gifts, plans, and projects more will be told as our story proceeds.

 

 

Office clerk.

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