A message from Bishop Rachel
Last Sunday I had the privilege of leading a short service to commemorate the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Imjin River in the Korean war (22 – 25 April 1951), and to particularly honour members of 1st Battalion the Gloucestershire Regiment who gave their lives as they courageously fought alongside other men within 29th Independent Brigade. Even though the Glosters were eventually overcome, the battle is recognised as deeply significant in holding back the Chinese army. Today the friendship between Gloucestershire and Paju in South Korea (wherein lies ‘Gloster Hill’) is as strong as ever, and last year Paju donated 1,000 sets of PPE to Gloucestershire in gratitude for the friendship.
At the end of Sunday’s service my eyes filled with tears when one of the Korean representatives spontaneously took the arm of Tommy Clough (a 90-year-old veteran) and walked with him as he struggled to navigate the doorway of the memorial chapel. The picture of that moment will remain etched in my mind as a symbol of gratitude and friendship forged in adversity many years ago.
The Gospel reading at the service was John 15:12-17 and we reflected on Jesus Christ’s commandment to love one another, remembering that Christ chose us, loved us to death, and calls us friends. It is from this place that we are sent out to be fruitful as we stay rooted in God’s love.
Over this past year we have seen relationships deepen and grow within communities and across organisations as people have worked in partnership during a time of pain and loss, and sought to support one another. As we seek to inhabit and deepen kingdom-shaped friendships and partnerships, may our lives speak ever more courageously of Christ in word and action among our everyday lives, within our different contexts. And may we hold fast to the truth that thankfulness isn’t in opposition to lament but rather embraces it.
You may have seen the small Celtic cross in the cathedral treasury, lovingly carved in captivity by one of the Glosters, Lieutenant Colonel J P Carne, to provide a focal point for the worship of those taken prisoner at the Battle of the Imjin River. Their time as prisoners of war was harsh and difficult, and not all survived, and yet their regular worship spoke of their thankfulness for God’s unchanging love and their hope in Jesus Christ, as they gave thanks for one another and repeatedly prayed the fears and desires of their hearts.
I wrote two weeks ago about my desire for us, as we journey towards Ascension and Pentecost, to ‘put prayer at the heart of all we do … and also to be attentive to how we fan thankfulness into flame ‘.
To those words prayer and thankfulness, I now add friendship and partnership, and wonder what fruit might emerge from that rich combination, across local contexts and the wider diocese as we seek to live and share life in all its fullness.
Bishop Robert and I contiue to pray for you and give thanks for our partnership in the gospel.