On the wall in my office, I have a photo of St Paul’s Cathedral which I picked up when I first visited the Cathedral in 2001. It is a very famous photo taken on 29 December 1940 during the London Blitz, by newspaper photographer Herbert Mason and published in the Daily Mail on 31 December 1940. It is an amazing photo which not only depicts the action but also captures the spirit of a nation.
The backstory to this is that Winston Churchill decided very early in the war, that St Paul’s was a symbol of resistance and must be preserved at all costs. So, from that time there were 24-hour fire watches attached to the Cathedral. On the night of 29 December 1940, at about 6pm an incendiary bombing raid started that was aimed at the square mile of the City of London which included St Paul’s. The small fire watch teams spent the night literally putting out fires in the roof. St Paul’s was still there resolutely on the morning of 30 December.
St Paul’s went on to survive an unexploded 1-ton bomb in its church yard that had to be defused. Strangely a mine that landed near the walls, was accidently activated by the vibration of a passing ambulance while it was being diffused. This meant there was 17 seconds until detonation and the naval officer who was trying to defuse it managed to defuse it with 2 seconds to go! Both he and the pair that defused the 1-ton bomb were awarded the George Cross for gallantry.
The reason I have this photo on my wall is because there are things worth fighting for. There are symbols like St Paul’s that must be preserved. When Winston Churchill made that decision to preserve St Paul’s, he understood that we need things in our lives that we can hang on to no matter what.
Office worker Dorothy Barton, seeing St Paul’s in the morning after the great raid of 29 December 1940, recalled: “I felt a lump in my throat because, like so many people, I felt that while St Paul’s survived, so would we.”
Our culture and society are changing rapidly around us, things that were taken for granted 20 years ago as social norms, are now under considerable challenge. It is said we are living in a “post-christian age” in that things that we regard as important are not viewed in the same light by many. God has been challenging me to look carefully at what I believe and identify the non-negotiables. What are the cornerstones to my faith that I will not let go of? It is easy with so much pressure to go with the flow, like the “frog in the pot” the temperature is going to keep rising. This should not surprise us as the Bible pretty much tells us that this is going to happen. We have been born into this age for “such a time as this” as were Dorothy Barton and the other Londoners in the Blitz.
So as God asked me, I am asking you, what are your non-negotiables, your St Paul’s Cathedral to defend at all costs? What symbolises the essence of your faith? Only you can make that choice. Don’t allow others to make it for you!