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This page last updated 9 June 2006
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Letters to AO

EVERY WEEK WE PUBLISH a selection of letters we receive in response to something you've read at Anglicans Online. Stop by and have a look at what other AO readers are thinking.

Alas, we cannot publish every letter we receive. And we won't publish letters that are anonymous, hateful, illiterate, or otherwise in our judgment do not benefit the readers of Anglicans Online. We usually do not publish letters written in response to other letters.

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Letters from 29 May to 4 June 2006

Like all letters to the editor everywhere, these letters are the opinions of the writers and not Anglicans Online. We publish letters that we think will be of interest to our readers, whether we agree with them or not. If you'd like to write a letter of your own, click here.

Light my fire

Can anyone please advise me if there is a set tradition for the lighting of candles in the altar area of the anglican church. Particularly with reference to different services, i.e. Morning Prayer, Holy Eucharist, Evening Prayer and others. Please also include when the Paschal candle should be lit.

There seem to be several conflicting answers to this question and as a budding lay-reader I am interested in determining what is done in other churches. I have been unable to find any written material on the subject.

Geoff Tothill
St John the Baptist Anglican Church
River John, Nova Scotia, CANADA
1 June 2006

In Memory of the Revd Dr Werner Pelz

Dr Werner Pelz (b. 25 September 1921, Berlin – d. 14 May 2006, Melbourne) was a Jewish refugee from Hitler's Germany, prisoner of war, Anglican priest, Guardian columnist, theologian, BBC broadcaster and lecturer in Sociology at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. Despite this rich life experience which influenced so many, Werner was a modest man and would have felt any tributes unnecessary. As a former student, however, it would be remiss to let his recent death pass without comment.

Werner first gained notoriety as a priest-theologian in the Diocese of ("Honest to God") Bishop John A.T. Robinson in the 1950's and 60's, when he began writing articles for the UK’s Guardian and the Listener. The SCM Press published his first book “Irreligious Reflections on the Church” in 1959. This was followed by two more controversial books, "God is No More" (1963) and "True Deceivers" (1966), co-written with his first wife Lotte Hensl, a fellow Jewish refugee. He also wrote a play that attempted to fathom the all too human, inhumanity of a megalomaniac entitled "I am Adolf Hitler" (first published by SCM Press in 1969). Werner contributed to critical anthologies alongside other Church reformers and critics such as Harvey Cox, Bishop James Pike and Monica Furlong. His works had the blessing of Bishop Robinson, who saw them as part of the movement he advocated towards a more mature and intellectually honest Christianity that didn't require of its believers to accept the mytho-poetic aspects of scripture as empirical facts. They certainly were of this ilk but Werner wanted to go much further.

Werner came to Christianity as a relative stranger from a secular Jewish background in Weimar and then Nazi Germany. In his autobiographical work "Distant Strains of Triumph" (1964), Werner said his family did not think of itself as Jewish until Hitler's rise to power. His father was a decorated war veteran but such honours made no difference to the Nazis and all of Werners' family was sent to Auschwitz, where his parents soon perished. Werner only just escaped a similar fate by being sent to Britain as a guest worker in 1939. When the war started, he was incarcerated as a "friendly enemy alien" but elected to do labouring work in Australia, to which he was transported on the troop ship Dunera, along with a number of notable immigrants. Werner then worked in labour camps at Tatura and Hay before being released in 1942 and returned to Britain. In retrospect, he had no bitterness about his indentured sojourn. He told his students: "There were no fences or barbed wire. We were treated the same as the soldiers, who left us to ourselves. We even had our own 'University' classes run by other internees who were scholars". The contrast between his humane wartime treatment and the harshness meted out to today's asylum-seekers by a more affluent Australia was something that never ceased to appall Werner.

After the war, when the unimaginable scale and horror of the Holocaust was revealed, Werner said he was looking for a faith to make sense of life. At the time, there only seemed to be two alternatives, Nihilism or Christianity. He chose the latter but not through any conventional route. Werner's entry into the Church was the result of a profound existential encounter with the words of the first-century, Rabbi-prophet, Jesus of Nazareth. This began with his reading the Bible in the solitude of the Australian outback. In Jesus words, as presented in the New Testament, Werner experienced a disturbing urgency and power, calling those who heard them out of all our conventional, "civilized" and rationally-ordered structures of division, exploitation and indifference. Werner insisted that the words of Jesus still had an immediacy and potential to speak to everybody, whereas the terms "Word of God" or "Word of Christ" were no longer intelligible or recoverable for most people in contemporary society. As he would later write: "Today we could be met by the simple, 'naked', 'untheologized' words of Jesus, and if we are lucky they will disturb and frighten us -- as life itself" (1963:12).

While Werner had no difficulty affirming Jesus as Messiah, he worried that the label had been used to stifle Jesus, preventing readers of the gospels from meeting Jesus in the fullness of his possibilities and theirs. Unlike Bishop Robinson’s apologetic argumentation, the Pelz’s work represented a poetic meditation upon the possibilities of Jesus for contemporary society. He and Lotte invited people to share their experience of Jesus as a neighbour, Jesus as poet, Jesus as artist, Jesus as rebel and law-breaker, Jesus as artisan of a new humanity, Jesus the Jew and Jesus as prophet, to name only the most obvious.

The words of Jesus, for Werner, demanded a response, envisioning a new life of radical egalitarian communality, a communality in which we become "responsive to each other's needs, take responsibility on our should

Dr Phillip Ablett
St Andrews, West End, Queensland
University of the Sunshine Coast, Queensland, AUSTRALIA
2 June 2006

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Earlier letters

We launched our 'Letters to AO' section on 11 May 2003. All published letters are in our archives.


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