WATFORD PEACE GARDEN A TRIBUTE TO THOSE WHO "STAND FOR RIGHT"
22nd September 2016
A circular garden, lit up at night, with quiet seating in tranquil surroundings and a three-tier fountain as the centrepiece is now a national memorial and living tribute to all those who have stood for peace in wars past and present.
Officially opened in a moving and thought-provoking ceremony on Wednesday 21 September, the United Nations International Day of Peace, the idea for the garden arose out of a recognition that 130 Adventist men, many of them based around Stanborough Park, the Church headquarters office in Watford, went to prison and suffered severely for their non-combatant values during World War I. Even in World War II, when the government had a much better understanding of Adventist principles, Adventist men had to appear before a tribunal and were then assigned to work of 'national importance'.
The official ceremony took place at the Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist Church with host minister, Pastor Jacques Venter, giving the welcome to the many who attended the service. Music in the form of the First Movement from Haydn's Trumpet Concerto was provided by Matthew Payne, who later played the rather fitting hymn, O God, Our Help in Ages Past as well as The Last Post – following an appropriate minute of silence.
BUC President Pastor Ian Sweeney originated the idea for the peace garden, thoughtfully located between Stanborough Park church and the headquarters office of the Church in the UK and Ireland. In his address he highlighted that while we are citizens of two kingdoms, that when those kingdoms clash, the kingdom of God must take priority.
Other presentations in the programme came from Brian Phillips, pastor and historian who gave his personal testimony of seeking the path of peace rather than national service and Simon Colbeck from the Watford Quakers. With similar pacifist views, Colbeck shared Quaker values on conscientious objection and working for peace, making brief mention of his documentary film, 'Watford's Quiet Heroes'. Norman Tyrwhitt, an honorary freeman of the borough of Watford, brought civic greetings from the town, and expressed the importance of telling the story of those who made difficult wartime choices.
It was Pastor Victor Hulbert, now Trans-European Division Communication director, whose research discovered the 130 Seventh-day Adventist conscripts who refused to bear arms during World War 1 while at the same time maintaining the value of their Sabbath day of rest. He briefly recounted their history, but equally emphasised that while this garden was created as a memorial to their courageous stance in the midst of great ridicule and opposition, it also stood for the larger numbers of up to 20,000 who also stood for peace then – and for those who need to stand for peace today.
Hulbert said, "I felt very humbled to be a part of the day. I set out in 2013 to do some research and tell a story of Seventh-day Adventist men who refused to bear arms. That resulted in a documentary film, lectures, and numerous journal articles." He added, "I never expected it to result in a beautiful lasting memorial like this."
It was a perfect day and place to be reminded of the God of peace. Hulbert expressed his hope that, "this [peace garden] will be a lasting memorial and a place that will provide a space of tranquillity for future generations."
After the short church service, a large group, including a number of children and grandchildren of the WWI COs, gathered outside the garden, cameras in hand, as Garth Till cut the white ribbon. Garth, the son of Willie Till, one of fourteen who were imprisoned, severely beaten and mistreated at Military Prison #3 in Le Havre, France. Till, now aged 87, quoted from memory the words of Church co-founder Ellen White:
"The greatest want of the world is the want of men ‒ men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall."
While he only once, at age nine, ever heard his father talk about his experiences, he saw his dad and the other men to be clearly in that category. Till remembers the trauma it caused his dad recounting the experiences, but clearly states, "He had no regrets. He made the right decision."
This day will always be remembered for the right reasons. Though a memorial of what was a sad and traumatic experience for some, through their courage and faithfulness the Church can honour these men who 'stood for the right'. Now the garden provides us with a reminder of the Christian's lasting legacy of peace and hope for the future.
[Richard Daly / tedNEWS]