Statement from the European Methodist Council

Commemorating World War One

They fought against each other. They thought to accomplish obedience to a higher ideal and even to God.  And on both sides of the trenches there were Christians and among them Methodists.

A hundred years ago, the killing of the Archduke of Austria led to an escalating spiral of ultimatums, decisions and declarations of war which drew all the major European powers into the Great War within a few weeks. For three and a half years, trench warfare continued, without overall victory for either side, but a mounting death toll beyond any comparison with any earlier war. Sometimes on Christmas Day, the killing was halted, before it continued as before. In 1917, the United States of America entered into war and become another major power on the world scene. The same year, the Russian Revolution marked the rise of communism to power. When the Great War ended in 1918, more than nine million combatants had died worldwide.

Everywhere in Europe, people still commemorate the outbreak of World War One. As Christians, and particularly as Methodists, we cannot do so without remembering what it means to be part of the body of Christ, a trans-national and trans-cultural community of believers. Nationality, culture, and language shape our identity.  But why do they so easily become our primary identity? Either in identifying them with our religious beliefs so that nations were convinced that God is on their side and the others  are against God, or in relegating faith in Christ behind a national or political ideology, there is the danger of silencing any prophetic protest. After the war, Methodists again took up the habit of sending mutual delegates to neighbouring annual conferences, as they had already done after the German-French war of 1870-71. It was a powerful sign in reconciliation after conflict, to build bridges, to heal memories, to reconcile and reconnect.

Politicians built up international structures for preventing a similar war. First theLeague of Nationswas formed (1920), and then after World War Two theUnited Nations(1945) organisation was created (1973) for solving conflicts by diplomatic means and theConference of European Churches(1959) sought to re-establish connections between churches in the East and West in the process of promoting reconciliation, dialogue and friendship among European Christians. Although the nations and churches developed means in order to foster the dialogue, we face even an increase of nationalism in Europe and we are worried about the efforts to protect the European borders against those who seek refuge.

Commemorating World War One as Methodists is a chance to remember our primary identity as being part of Christ's one, holy, catholic and apostolic Church, to be hospitable to strangers in our midst, to seek for nonviolent solutions in today's conflicts and to celebrate with gratefulness our particular connections beyond the borders of nations, cultures and languages. Let us live according to our primary identity as followers of Christ, the Prince of Peace.

European Methodist Council, Executive Committee
Donald Kerr, Ireland, and Bishop Patrick Streiff, co-chairs

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