Letter from our Minister
Few people expect Church Meetings to achieve much more than affirmation of the work done in the previous months or agreement on plans for future church events and even less when it comes to effects further than the church doors. At Tilehurst we discovered that not to be the case. A set of Church Meeting minutes was pinned on a public notice board and was read by one of the Brownie leaders on a Wednesday evening. The minutes detailed a discussion about more involvement with the church from the uniformed groups. She responded with an idea to collaborate with each other to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War with a display inside and outside the church building.
The idea was enthusiastically adopted and eventually spread beyond Tilehurst URC and officially became Turn Tilehurst Red with seemingly every organisation and many households in the area involved. There was widespread media coverage and perhaps the crowning glory was the involvement of Thames Water who floodlit the local landmark of the water tower in red. The number of displays on church buildings, shops, businesses, schools and pubs was remarkable. On the Saturday before Remembrance Sunday many walked around the area, ‘to stand and stare’ and it all started from a Church Meeting minute.
This year there is again to be Turn Tilehurst Red, with the theme of the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There is also again the request for displays. The idea this year is to use footprints and poppies to symbolise people who didn’t return from war. The footprint is a vivid symbol. They are already appearing and it set me thinking. Many footprints would have been left in the mud of war, the last thing that some would have done. Not all war however takes place in the mud of Europe. In the Second World War hostilities took place in the dust and desert of North Africa and many would have left footprints in the sand.
This brought a true story to mind. In the church I served in London there was a man who had been a professional footballer and served in North Africa. I knew part of his story because our daughters had a school project on the Second World War and he lent them some artefacts. Some of these were of a football match in Italy between his Army Representative team and a touring England team, which included many of the greats of his day such as Matt Busby. He had the team sheets and a photo of himself taking a throw in.
In North Africa as a Sergeant with the British 1st Army, he marched from Egypt to Tunisia. He told us of one particular experience from when he was in the vast North African desert and came across the body of another soldier. In his pocket he found a letter from the man’s mother so after respectfully burying the body, he later wrote to the mother. He showed us her letter of reply thanking him for giving her son a proper burial - a letter he treasured of a mother’s love amidst the horrors of war.
We leave all sorts of footprints behind us from our words and actions. There doesn’t have to be mud or sand. My friend John could have ignored that body. No one would have known but he was not that sort of man. I knew him in his later years as a wonderful humble Christian, and I am reminded of a verse of a hymn. It is from the hymn O Jesus, I have promised. Rejoice and Sing has omitted the verse, which is a shame for it begins:
“O let me see Thy footmarks,
and in them plant my own;
my hope to follow duly
is in Thy strength alone.”
(Mission Praise 501)
Yours in Christ,