#whitefeather diaries

Strangely alone in the pulpit

Monday 26 October 2015

The hostility Bert Brocklesby experienced for his peace sermon was not unusual. For many religious leaders World War I was a righteous war and they actively encouraged support for the war effort. Those who challenged this interpretation of the Christian message faced vitriol for doing so.

One of the most outspoken was Bernard Walke, a Church of England priest in the village of St Hilary in Cornwall. As an Anglo-Catholic, he was rather different theologically to Quakers, but worked alongside them, and others, throughout the war. In 1917 he walked around Cornwall on foot with the Quaker activist George Hodgkin, talking about peace with those they met. Some were supportive, others very hostile. In Penzance he was knocked unconscious by a pro-war mob.

Bernard Walke later described the feelings he experienced from the outbreak of war. This is an edited extract.

When I stood in the pulpit, looking down on the people whose faces were now so familiar to me, I had the sensation of being in the centre of a cataclysm which was approaching as inevitably as a thunderstorm against the wind. It was contrary to reason, yet no ingenuity of man could prevent it. The noblest motives would be exploited and the most generous natures would offer themselves willingly to this monster that was about to destroy them.

I felt strangely alone standing there in the pulpit before all these people, with nothing to say, with no word of comfort or assurance to offer them. I was certain only that I could have no part in what was coming.

I saw no way of reconciliation between the way of the Gospel that I had been called to preach and the war that was approaching. I was not, as far as I know, carried away by my emotions; I was empty of all feeling but an awareness that this rejection of war as an altogether evil thing was at one with whatever intelligence I possessed.

The message that I had to deliver was the one I had been charged to preach on the day of my ordination. I could not regard that commission as having come to an end because the world was at war. It was still a message of “Peace and good will”; an affirmation that peace did not depend on the armies in the field; that there was no other way to peace for nations or individuals but the way of Jesus who had met and overcome the forces of evil on the cross, and offered to those, who could receive it, a share in His victory.

If that message of peace was ever to be effective among the nations, there must be some to witness to this power at a time when men had ceased to believe in it. To keep silence was to seal our lips for ever. The world would rightly distrust a message of peace that could not stand the test of war.

Source: Bernard Walke, Twenty Years at St Hilary (Anthony Mott, 1935)

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Monday 26 October 2015

The war that began in 1914 was expected to be over by Christmas. John ‘Bert’ Brocklesby found himself preaching in his own church just after the beginning of 2015. He wrote about the response he received.