In the autumn of 1916 the Church of England called the nation to a National Mission of Repentance and Hope. The Mission was launched by the Archbishop of Canterbury Randall Davidson and Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of York, as an attempt to repent for our sins as a nation:
‘We are to repent not because we believe that we are guilty of provoking this war, but because we, together with the other nations that profess to be Christian, have failed to learn how to live together as a Christian family, how to set forth Christ to the peoples who do not know Him. We are to repent because, in the light of the war, we are learning to know our sins as a nation. Because it is clear that the spirit of love does not rule our relations with one another at home, any more than it rules the relations between the nations.’
As well as repentance, the National Mission projected a much needed message of hope during the grave time of war. The perils of war lowered public morale and tested the faith of many Christians. The Church believed that a collective national effort is required to combat this bleak sentiment. ‘The war deepened the Church’s sense that society needed its pastoral role.’ The Church had hoped to reconnect with the nation and re-awaken Christian conscience:
‘We look forward to a new England, to a new world. Our repentance will open the way for the Holy Spirit to show us how we can help to make that new England, that new world.’
The message of the National Mission of Repentance and Hope invited the nation on a Mission of Witness, to earnestly reflect on their attitudes, weaknesses, and passions, and to repent in hope of a better world. The Church’s sentiment of hoping for a better world mirrored the reason why many conscripted-in a hope to fight to save their country and the world. The National Mission was very much a home front initiative but was also a message for the trenches. The war was an opportunity to renew the Christian faith: to learn the lesson taught to us by war through examining ourselves as a nation and taking the lesson to heart. The words of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in his Presidential Address, sum up the fundamental idea behind Anglican Witness: ‘To be a Christian is to believe we are commanded and authorised to say certain things to the world; to say things that will make disciples of all nations.’
The organisation of the National Mission was an enormous undertaking. The Bishop of London, Arthur-Winnington Ingram, took the role of Chairman of the Central Council and a panel of Archbishops’ Messengers was set up specifically for the purpose of the National Mission. A large body of literature was provided at national level; posters, postcards, resolution cards, pamphlets, hymn books, children’s books, and study guides. The date of the Mission was to be between October and November 1916 with the clergy preparing first and dioceses following with their own arrangements. Once the arrangements had been made, it was decided that the Mission would go ahead with the help of the newly established general Consultative Committee and five Archbishops’ Committees of Enquiry.