Thursday, 2 May 2013
A Good Read: Woodbine Willie
I found myself a new book this week: Woodbine Willie: an Unsung Hero of World War One (Bob Holman ISBN 978-0-7459-5561-2)
In 1914 a simple, unknown parish priest enlisted as a Chaplain. This man became one of the most famous personalities of the 14-18 war and although few might have recognised the name, Geoffrey Studdert Kennedy, as 'Woodbine Willie' he was a hero!
His habit of passing cigarettes around and being with the troops where the action was; braving shells and bullets to do what Chaplains did then (and continue to do today). He maintained morale and when war ended, took up another battle against poverty, unemployment, war itself and injustice.
A man who brought Christian and socialist thinking together and did rather than just talk about it. His money and his mouth were firmly to be found residing in the same place! The dean of Westminster Abbey refused him a funeral in that place because he was a 'socialist' (always good to see the days when we were perhaps the much vaunted 'Conservative Party at prayer'). But the man wasn't a political type, in fact he had a dislike and distrust of them (because he been to war and seen that politicians start them and soldiers either end them or are ended in them?).
This is one of the first practical theologians and looked to the Church to stand up against, poverty, poor living and the condemnation of the class system. 'If we share we have enough,' was his mantra, and many ignored it; but some didn't and that's part of the man's appeal - he was ahead if his time!
This is man who knew long ago that Church is the 'Big Society' and that we have a new Commandment to live by that goes into no man's land with those who are about to die; and ministers to the wounded and dying too!
This is a hero of the 20th Century and I can but commend the man (and the book) to you as an exemplar of what it means to live the Christian message and take up your cross to follow Christ.
ps. I was privileged to see a painting of the man hanging in the vestry of Worcester Cathedral whilst preaching there recently. I have to admit that the thrill of seeing it and the memorial (below) was one of the (so many) high points of that day: