In this season of honoring military veterans, and of Thanksgiving, it is the right time to present a stunning example of the personal strength generated by reliance on God through Christ Jesus. It concerns the courage and persistence of civilians in a war zone: London during the WWII “blitz.”
This blog topic is being written in two parts – the 2nd to follow soon. It is taken from a book of sermons titled The Significance of Silence by Dr. Leslie Weatherhead, minister at City Temple, London, 1936-1960, and a prolific writer. He prefaced his sermon collection with the background “of the work of which preaching is only a part and a picture of the people to whom (the) messages were proclaimed.”
Part 1 of this blog topic quotes excerpts from Weatherhead’s preface:
In the spring of 1941 the City Temple was set on fire by incendiary bombs dropped from German airplanes and, except for the facade, the tower, and the lower part of the walls, totally destroyed. The famous marble pulpit, gift to my predecessor, Joseph Parker, from the City of London, was an unrecognizable heap of stones. Not one of the stained-glass windows remained. The great organ vanished in a night. The vast auditorium, seating over two thousand people, was a jumble of burned beams, twisted girders, and broken rubble. A score of firemen lived on the premises from the outbreak of war, but unfortunately the first fireman on the roof fell and was injured. By the time he was carried to safety the roof was alight in three places. Pieces of burning roof fell on the wooden pews, and in a few minutes the place was a roaring inferno.
… On the one hand, the sadness, the unutterable sadness of our loss. On the other, the unconquerable sense of triumph; a great thankfulness that no power of hate or aggression or evil can ever dominate the church, the living entity, made, not of stones, however venerable, or stained glass, however lovely, but of loyal, loving human hearts.
I have come to admire those stout hearts.
(After some descriptions of these “stout hearts” and the devastating effects of war in their lives comes the following account of their commitment to faith and church – their inspiration and hope.)
A month after the great disaster, the City Temple suffered again, although there was little more that could be destroyed. At that time we had been graciously allowed by Dr. Sidney Berry to meet in the Memorial Hall, the headquarters of the Congregational Union. One Sunday morning in May, 1941, I set off to conduct worship with a heavy heart. All night the bombs had been dropping, the guns roaring, the shrapnel falling. I should think no one in London had had any sleep, and many hundreds had suffered. In the suburb where I live we had been fortunate this time, though my own home had been damaged by earlier raids. Yet I felt sad on this bright morning, and apprehensive of the stories of suffering my people would tell me.
Before we had gone a mile, the bright sky had disappeared and given place to rolling clouds of smoke that covered the heavens and made the streets look as though it were a November evening. How we escaped punctures I have never understood. We drove continually over broken glass and parked at last near Smithfield Market, three quarters of a mile from the Memorial Hall, but as near as the police would allow us to take the car. Then we walked.
Down one side of bomb craters we went, and up the other. Skirting piles of debris, including part of the famous Old Bailey Courts of Justice, which I saw come down into the street, clambering over timber and massive lumps of masonry, threading our way between and over fire hose, we came at last to Farringdon Street, which was blazing all down one side as far as one could see. Fortunately the Memorial Hall was safe, though all approaches to it were dangerous, either from flames or from falling buildings. One could not pass up Ludgate Hill toward St. Paul’s Cathedral, for the flames from both sides met in the middle of the street. Yet the small hall in which we met to worship was crowded with people, and many stood in the corridors outside. I took for my subject “The Power of God” and read part of that glorious letter of Peter to a church suffering the agony of persecution under the monster Nero. We felt gloriously close to the infant church of the first century as we prayed and sang, with London burning all around us.
In the sermon I had to raise my voice to be heard above the hiss of the firemen’s hose and the roar of the flames devouring the buildings on the opposite side of the street.
I shall never forget that service. In the middle of it a gas main exploded with a roar. The flames lit up the faces of the congregation…
(We wondered if) we should give up the idea of an evening service. I then announced that the second service would be held as usual. And again the people crowded the hall. I spoke on the inner serenity of spirit which Christ promised to those who trusted him. We felt the Master was indeed in our midst and that no outward horror and destruction could invade our hearts.
I have described in detail that Sunday, the worst day I have ever lived through, because it tries to paint a picture of what my people are facing and the spirit in which they are facing it.
Not one of us is in despair.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil:
for thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding,
shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.