Letters from Iraq- Dec. 14. Bishop Neville Pacificus
Iraq Dec 14, 2002
Bishop Neville Pacificus
At our 7 AM reflection time, Neville Watson brought his stole and ring. In his rich Aussie accent, he told us that the only time he has used his stole in his 47 years as a minister was in impersonating a priest. When a friend of his was leaving the Catholic priesthood to marry and no priest would consent to marry them, Neville, a man filled with the peace and joy of Christ, who radiates that love to those he meets, said he'd be happy to oblige. When asked by the bride to "dress like a priest", Neville replied he'd "not only dress as one, he'd act like one". After the ceremony, the Bride's mother said to Neville, "Thank you, Father, that was a beautiful service"!
When Neville traveled to Bosnia during the war there, he was asked to be present and say a few words at the burial of 17 kids who had been killed in the conflict. He didn't have his stole with him at the time and wished he had it to communicate that it was not only his grief he was sharing but wanted a symbol to show that the whole church was in mourning. He also told of seeing stoles worn by Army Chaplains in military uniforms after an Australian tragedy and decided if stoles could be used to bless war, he'd find a way to use a stole for peace.
On his stole are two symbols. The first, a cross, which Neville proclaimed was there to remind us to work for an end to the idea of sacred violence. The other, a bright red flower, the Australian desert pea, reminding us that the desert shall bloom but also a symbol of blood in the desert- especially appropriate for the violence that has been visited and once again threatened on this country.
Neville also brought a large ring with a big stone in the center, which had been given to him by Yassir, a local Iraqi who is unemployed. Neville remarked that it symbolizes the unimportant people, the ones forgotten, and left behind. It looks like a bishop's ring so Neville stated that he has been consecrated and appointed by the poor, Bishop Neville Pacificus.
He continued the parody by stating that the first homily of his Episcopate was one that was actually delivered almost 100 years ago by Rev. Charles E. Jefferson of Broadway Congregational Tabernacle Church in NYC after he helped organize the NY Peace Society. Entitled "Militarism and the Church", the sermon was preached May 3, 1908. [Please try to find a copy of this on the web and read it yourselves.] The sermon ends:
"Rather I do pray that God will give me grace and strength to fight unceasingly and with every ounce of energy of brain and heart against everything which my own conscience tells me is contrary to the will of God and the happiness of [humankind]; no matter what forces are arrayed against me and how utterly hopeless the outcome of my labor seems."
After reading the sermon, Neville proceeded to talk about the act central to Christians around the world. "On the night he was betrayed, Jesus...", Neville began. Betrayed is a bad translation of the word, he continued. It is really the shift between acting and being acted upon. It was the point of Jesus' ministry where he ceased acting and was acted upon. The meal Jesus was sharing with his disciples was the Passover yet when it became time to share the bread that was accompanied by the words, "the bread of affliction", Jesus said it was his body. When he took the cup, he also changed the accustomed prayer to reflect the cup of the new covenant. Neville then took Iraqi bread and passed it around to us and asked us to eat it until it was consumed. He then took a new bottle of purified water, (what has been a lifeline for us westerners here), and said, Jesus used wine - but for us it is this water, and he poured us a cup. After we all partook, he gave us the blessing of the God of Peace to go in peace and work for peace.
Upon ending his parody, he shared his sense of disappointment that although he clearly wants to be here with the Iraqi people when war breaks out, he might be denied re-entry into this country because of inappropriate actions by a fellow Aussie during his stay here. "If I am unable to come back, I can live with that- in fact if I can't come back, I'll probably be able to live much longer!" Neville then shared the conversation he had with an architect the other night as they were talking about the architect's two kids and Neville's 3 grandkids. Neville told the architect that he hoped his [the architect's] kids would grow up to live in a better world than we have left it. The architect, with sadness in his eyes said, "If they survive." His children are 9 and 11.
Cynthia had us gather in a circle to lay hands on and bless Neville as he leaves with Peter, David Swann, and me tomorrow. We gladly offered our prayers and thanks for this wonderful servant of God! Had I not been able to meet wonderful Iraqi families and kids and be here in a show of solidarity with them, this trip would have been worthwhile in just meeting and spending time with Neville Watson, peacemaker and ambassador for Christ.