The Church of England and the First World War

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9780718893217: The Church of England and the First World War
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The Church of England has often been severely criticized for its role in the First World War, but this is the first study to be published in this country which treats its involvement at length, with carefully researched material forming the basis of a balanced judgment.

Every aspect of the Church’s life before and during the war is considered: its reaction to the outbreak of hostilities, the work of its chaplains in the field, its handling of the pastoral problems caused by widespread death in the trenches and bereavement at home, its responses to anti-German hysteria and the agitation for reprisals, and the undermining by the war of traditional attitudes towards theology, ethics, and church structures. Alan Wilkinson also evaluates the response of the Church of England to postwar problems. A vivid picture of the impact of trench warfare on twentieth-century sensibility emerges, reinforced by the use of contemporary photographs and illustrations.

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About the Author:

Alan Wilkinson, an Anglican priest, has ministered in three parishes, was Chaplain of St Catharine’s College Cambridge and Principal of Chichester Theological College. He taught for the universities of Cambridge, Bristol and Portsmouth and for the Open University. Since 1988 he has been an honorary priest at the Portsmouth Cathedral. He has written extensively on the interaction between church and society in the twentieth century.

Review:

Alan Wilkinson, an impressively insightful Anglican priest, surveys comprehensively the Church's involvements in the Great War - ranging from the livid propaganda, through agonized reflection, to an incipient pacifism that was not fully articulated within Anglicanism till the 1930s. (Jonathan Benthall The Times Literary Supplement)

In each of the chapters of his book, Canon Wilkinson examines a different aspect of the Church's role during the war, from the surprise at the start of hostilities at all, to the service provided to woeful widows at home and weary warriors at the front, to the question of the morality of the war, and how Christians of various stripes responded. [...] In providing a history of how the Church attempted to deal with these and other issues, Canon Wilkinson offers something of a blueprint for how the Church might choose to face a society in the throes of deep change - a lesson from the past, providing a possible pattern for the future. (Michael Trimmer ChristianToday.com, 1st of March, 2014)

I read this volume when it was published the first time around. Reading it again as the centenary commemoration of the First World War approaches is an even more sobering and profound experience. No one is allowed to misunderstand the complexities and ambiguities of the church's involvement in this most tragic of conflicts. This historical and perhaps unintentionally theological reflection on the horror of this particular war is masterful. (Rob Marshall, Team Rector of East Ham BBC Radio 4's Thought for the Day)

Few non-fiction books enjoy such durability and it is a tribute to the quality of the original research that The Church of England and the First World War remains the definitive and comprehensive work on the established church in that conflict. [...] Wilkinson gives a vivid impression of the role of the Church in providing practical and emotional support for anxious and bereaved relatives of those fighting as well as service to the fighting men themselves. It is a mark of the quality of the original analysis that thirty-six years after initial publication Wilkinson's book is still relevant, not only to the historical Church as it entered the war in 1914 or indeed as it emerged from it in 1918, but as it exists today with all the moral and theological complexities, contradictions and ambiguities that that entail from any meeting of conflict and the spiritual. [...] For church historians this volume presents the war as a watershed for the life of the Church and its place in society. (Julia Lee Dean, Writer and WW1 Daily's Religious Affairs Editor WW1 Daily, 24th February 2014)

If you wish to read a fully researched penetrating, balanced and insightful critique of the Church’s ministry at a pivotal time in our nation’s history, then you will not be disappointed. (Simon Lemieux Pompey Times)

Dr Wilkinson has made some interesting and welcome additions in this edition which is timely in view of the date... The very detailed notes and bibliography should help readers to go deeper into understanding just what made people endure suffering and hardship and deaths almost without number, and continue to honour and serve Jesus, the incarnate Lord. (Aidan CR Quarterly Review of the Community of the Resurrection, St John the Baptist 2014)

[...] a timely republication of an important work on a subject of topical relevance for the next few years, as we enter a quinquennium of remembrance. (Lee Gatiss Churchman, vol. 128, issue 3, (2014))

A broad survey of the Church of England in wartime...is to be found in Alan Wilkinson's The Church of England and the First World War.
(Cyril Pierce Review no. 1779, June 2015)

...packed with memorable stories and striking facts.
(Peter M. Waddell 22:4, 2015)

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