They fought against each other. Seeking to be obedient to a higher ideal, and even God. On both sides of the battle lines were Christians, among them – and Methodists.
A hundred years ago the assassination of the Archduke of Austria-Hungary led to an escalating spiral of ultimatums, decisions and declarations of war, which for several weeks involve all the major European powers in World War II. For three and a half trench warfare did not bring complete victory for either party, but left the mountains of victims who had not caused any war before. Sometimes Christmas killings cease to continue then as before. In 1917, the United States joined the war and became a major force on the world stage. That same year the Russian Revolution marked the rise of communism. When the Great War ended in 1918, more than nine million soldiers had lost their lives.
Across Europe, people still remember the outbreak of the First World War. As Christians, Methodists, we can not do this without remember what it means to be part of the great body of Christ, a transnational and transcultural community of believers. Nationality, culture and language define our identity. But why are they so easily become a primary identity? They can also be mixed with our religious beliefs, that nations believe that God is on their side, while others are against him; or to conceal their faith in Christ with national or political ideology and thus drown every prophetic protest.
After the war Methodists again regained his custom to send delegates to the meetings of neighboring annual conferences, leading back to the time after the German-French War of 1870-1871, this was a powerful symbol of reconciliation after conflict step towards building bridges to healing of memories and re-engagement.
Politicians have built international organizations in order to prevent such a war. The League of Nations was established in 1920, and after the Second World War, it gave way to the United Nations (1945). At the height of the Cold War appeared Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (1973), for resolving conflict through diplomatic means. Conference of European Churches (1959) tried to rebuild relations between the Churches of East and West in a process of promoting reconciliation, dialogue and friendship between European Christians. Though nations and churches have developed means to promote dialogue, we again face today with the growth of nationalism in Europe. As Methodists, we are concerned about efforts to protect Europe’s borders by foreigners seeking asylum.
Remembering the First World War is a chance for us to remember and to reformulate their identity as part of the Church of Christ, one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic; call to be hospitable to strangers, to seek non-violent solutions to conflicts and today we celebrate with gratitude our connectivity that is not limited by national, cultural and linguistic differences. Let us live in accordance with our basic identity as disciples of Christ, Prince of Peace.
Executive Committee of the European Methodist Council
Donald Kerr, Ireland, and Bishop Patrick Shtrayf (Co-Chairs)