The Church of England today commemorates George Bell, Bishop of Chicester during World War II. Bell is remembered, inter alia, as a bishop who opposed the Allies’ bombing campaigns in World War II and, it is thought, was passed over for the see of Canterbury as a result. You can do worse than read the Wikipedia entry for more on Bishop Bell.
Today I’ve been reading reflections from Paul Zahl and Rowan Williams about Bell. Both are brief and both worth reading, particularly for the way they connect Bell’s opposition to the war to elements of Christian witness in today’s world. Here’s a bit from Williams’
But Bell also knew that we could only be who we are at home with ourselves and with God, if we knew where our homeless and displaced brothers and sisters were; hence his concern for the refugees and the landless. And God’s challenge to us once again—’Where are you? Where are your brothers and sisters?’ —is a challenge about how we as believers in Jesus Christ answer for the lives of those who are being driven from their homes, their livelihood and their security by the terrible violence of our age.
At a previous commemoration of Bell a year or two ago, I remember mentioning him to a senior priest in the church. “Who’s that?” this priest responded.
So today I’ve been thinking about those who have gone before us, who (for whatever reason) were passed over for career advancement, and have now gone into obscurity. George Bell was a faithful minister of the Gospel in his context. How can we do the same?
It is appropriate, perhaps, that Bell’s commemoration falls as the Crown Nominations Commission makes it final deliberations as to who the next archbishop of Canterbury shall be. When that name is unveiled (whenever that may be), quite a lot of attention will focus on the person chosen.
But I hope that we also remember the long list of people who were considered and not selected, and, even more importantly, the long list of people who were never in a position to be considered. There’s lots of faithful witness at all levels of the church, forgotten, overlooked, and passed over for a variety of reasons. We do well to remember it.