Association of Contemporary Church Historians

(Arbeitsgemeinschaft kirchlicher Zeitgeschichtler)

John S. Conway, Editor. University of British Columbia

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Newsletter- July 2000- Vol.VI, no. 7-8


Dear Friends,

I trust that all of you in the northern hemisphere are enjoying sunshine and
warm weather, and possibly a chance to relax with a good book on your
holidays. Here are a few to choose from for those who can't tear themselves
away, or find detective stories intensely boring by comparison to church

1) KZG Conference 2000
2) Book reviews: a) Barnett, Bystanders
b) Furuya, Japanese Theology
c) Garrard-Burnett, Protestantism in Guatemala
3) Conference Report: Religion and the Cold War
4) Film Review: Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace.

1) This year's meeting of the Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte fraternity will take
place from 21st to 24th September in Strasbourg, France under the leadership
of Professor Frederic Hartweg. The theme is "Kirche/Religion -
Staat/Gesellschaft. Deutschland - Frankreich. Antagonismen und Annaehrung im
19 und 20 Jahrhundert." Enquiries should be directed to
The most recent issue of the journal Kirchliche Zeitgeschichte, Vol 12, no.
2, 1999 is devoted to the theme 'Europabilder der Kirchen in der
Nachkriegszeit". This contains the papers given at the 1998 KZG conference
in Sweden, and has a number of interesting articles on the period
immediately following the second world war, including analyses of the
policies of the major international church bodies such as the Vatican, the
Lutheran World Federation and the World Council of Churches. This issue also
includes a 100-page bibliography of recent books in our field.

2) Book reviews:
a) Victoria Barnett, Bystanders. Conscience and Complicity during the
Westport, Conn/London: Greenwood Press, 1999 185pp
Some years ago Victoria Barnett wrote "For the Soul of the People" which was
based on interviews with surviving members of the Confessing Church, that
section of the German Evangelical Church which had resolutely combated the
heresies and distortions of their pro-Nazi opponents, the so-called 'German
Christians'. She had obviously expected that such staunch defenders of
theological orthodoxy would also have mobilized their forces to protest the
Nazis' criminal actions, especially the persecution of the Jews. But to her
dismay, most of her interviewees had remained passively silent, as
This disappointment prompted her to undertake a more thorough examination of
the role of bystanders in general during the tragic events of the Holocaust.
She asks all the right questions about the context, not only in Germany but
throughout Nazi-occupied Europe, as well as about the motives, in so far as
they are ascertainable, and also about the ethical and theological issues
which conditioned the bystanders' behaviour, and which she believes are not
so different today. Clearly her hope is to show how the ethical response of
caring for the welfare of one's neighbours is essential if we are to avoid a
repetition of the Holocaust in the future.
Nazi Germany sought to impose its totalitarian will on all the population.
Yet, even in such a dictatorship, we can find instances of independent
thought and action. So the frequently-used claim that bystanders were
powerless or intimidated into silence has to be examined closely lest it be
just a convenient excuse for moral failure. How many of those bystanders
were in fact in sympathy with the Nazis' criminal policies, even if they
were not directly involved? Or to what extent did they "redefine" their
ethical systems in order to view the persecution of the Jews as a "good"? Or
can their individual behaviour be seen as the logical result of the
abdication of free will and the glorification of an immoral state?
So too the institutional responses to Nazi crimes were frequently ambivalent
by supporting state policies and carrying out state orders, by facilitating
complicity and blocking effective resistance by individuals. Certainly, even
in the churches, the few who sought to express dissent or to show solidarity
with the victims, were evidently discouraged by the readiness of the church
leaders to side silently with state authority. On the international level,
efforts to rescue Jews from the Nazi clutches were frequently hampered by
bureaucratic short-sightedness, institutional policies, or indifference,
which were all a form of bystanders. So too was the widespread denial that
it was possible to do anything to stop what was happening. In the absence of
any overarching international institution, or more importantly of any
universally-held sense of moral obligation, the saving of Jewish lives never
gained the priority which we now think it should have had.
Of course, as Ms Barnett skillfully points out, evaluation of the bystanders
' conduct has to be set in its wider context. She rightly rejects simplistic
interpretations claiming that there were really no bystanders since all
Germans were "eliminationist antisemites". On the other side, she admits
that it is impossible to calculate the extent to which the widespread
antisemitism of the day, and not only in Germany, may have impeded more
humane responses to the Jewish plight. Equally she is ready to grant that,
because of the incremental nature of the Nazi onslaught and the total
secrecy of the mass murder programme, the later claim by many Germans that
they had known nothing, cannot be dismissed as a self-serving alibi. Yet, as
Pastor Hermann Maas of Heidelberg pertinently asked: "Was not what we did
see and hear quite enough?"
The real question about bystanders in a totalitarian society is to determine
where coercion began and free will ended. Certainly we can not ignore the
ominous effect of incessant propaganda and the climate of mutual suspicion
which led to so many denunciations to the Gestapo of anyone expressing
sympathy for the Jews. Many church people, especially in the Confessing
Church, withdrew into a private sphere, creating islands of non-conformity,
in order to survive physically and psychologically, which indeed was a form
of inner resistance. But such "internal emigration" ran the danger that it
severed any signs of solidarity with the victims. And as Raul Hilberg
pointed out, such abstention could block any sense that the plight of the
Jews was linked to the bystanders' own.
And yet, there were those who rose above this indifference and took active
steps to rescue or assist Jews. Ms Barnett analyzes what she calls acts of
disruptive empathy, such as happened in the French village of Le Chambon
under the charismatic leadership of the pastor, Andre Trocme. Here was a
deliberate process of active resistance based on religious ethical
assumptions, drawn from the villagers' Hugenot roots. These men and women
could no longer be bystanders, but were impelled by their moral insights to
do what was needed to save Jews. They knew that, in Christian as well as
Jewish tradition, welcoming the stranger is a metaphor for welcoming God.
And the consequences of compassion and charity connected everyone involved
in a new way and thus altered the very dynamics of society. Le Chambon's
goodness, their ethical connectedness, stands as a prize example of how the
demonic forces of genocide, of Holocaust, can be confronted.
Victoria Barnett's penetrating examination of individual and collective
behaviour in the face of monstrous evil will be certain to provoke
considerable reflection and debate. We can be grateful to her for raising
these issues so clearly and coherently. JSC

b) Yasuo Furuya (editor & translator), A History of Japanese Theology (Grand
Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1997), vi+161 pp.
Although there have been several studies of Japanese theology by
westerners, this is the first to have been written by Japanese theologians
themselves. The editor, who teaches at the International Christian
University (ICU) in Tokyo, has divided the history into four periods --The
First Generation, by Akio Dohi; the Second Generation (1907-1945), by Toshio
Sato; The Third Generation (1945-1970), by Seiichi Yagi, and Theology After
1970 , by Masaya Odagaki--each survey written by recognized theologians who
themselves appear within the history. Dr. Furuya contributes an
Introduction and Epilogue which set the context for the studies. A
bibliography and index complete the work.
Each section traces the development of Japanese theology from dependence
on western sources to greater freedom to deal with the indigenous
environment of thought. The first generation, just emerged from a
background of Shinto-Buddhism-Confucianism, made varying accommodations
between their new-found faith and the old traditions. The second generation
began a long process of dependence on German academic theology, though the
Presbyterian Uemura also encouraged his disciples to study British and Scots
like Forsyth and Mackintosh. Social Christianity arose around the middle of
this period in reaction to the individualism of the evangelical churches and
the philosophical trend taken by academic theology. Independent of the
American Social Gospel, its roots were in the student movement and sympathy
with Toyohiko Kagawa's work with labour and the poor. Kagawa's concept of
"redemptive love" represented a key element in the exposition of this
theology. In the thirties, however, leaders of the movement like Enkichi
Kan made a sudden switch to German dialectical theology with studies of
Brunner and Barth.
One reason for the switch, proposed by Sao, was that dialectical
theology was perceived to be "deeper" than Social Christianity. The
perception that Christian theology was not as "deep"--read "hard to
understand"--as Buddhism has plagued the history of Japanese theology down
to this day. Another reason heard during my work with students in the
sixties was that the adherents of Social Christianity were unable to stand
the growing pressure of militarism at the time and interpreted Bath's
theology (wrongly, as it turned out: p. 124) to release them from a social
activism that had become unbearable.
'Japanese Theology' represents another accommodation with nationalism.
With its roots in the thought of first-generation Christian leaders like
Banjo Ebbing, this type sought to deal with the clash between State Shinto,
the Emperor-cult, and Christianity. According to the Anglican theologian
Osaka Tusked (omitted in this survey), Japanese Theology distinguished
between 'reverence' for the great heroes of Japan exalted in State Shinto
and 'faith' in the Christian God and Jesus Christ. Thus attendance at a
Shinto Shrine represented, not worship but an expression of loyalty. This
type of thinking allowed leaders of the United Church of Christ in Japan to
travel in China to defend the right of the Imperial forces to invade China.
Yogi's survey of the Third Generation was of special interest, taking
contextual factors more seriously and written from a standpoint of personal
involvement. That is not to say that it was easier to read. Perhaps
because the author teaches philosophy of religion, the approach is basically
philosophical. Because this generation marks what Yogi and others call "the
liberation from the Barthian captivity," attention has been transferred from
Karl Bath's "deepness" to the even denser thought of Buddhist philosophers
like the Zen thinker, Quitter Noshed. Translation into English poses
problems here. What for instance does Nishida's key term, "the Identity of
the Absolute Contradiction," mean for someone not already acquainted with
the Japanese vocabulary? Yet it is fascinating to see Japanese Christian
theologians turning from European models to their own cultural heritage to
construct a theology that they hope will be more intelligible to their
compatriots. In initiating a dialogue with Zen Buddhist scholars in
particular, the third generation attempts to under-stand the nature of
Christ in terms of enlightenment and Buddha-hood.
Some theologians of this generation, however, saw this process as
verging on pluralism, endangering the claim of Christianity to absoluteness.
So they attempted to express their faith in a way that would be
understandable in Japan yet would guard that claim. In this category comes
the well-known Pain of God Theology of Kazoh Kitamori, as well as other
less famous examples like Yoshio Noro's existential theology.
If the third generation had concentrated on Christology, theology after
1970 is mainly concerned with reflection on the nature of God. Dialogue
with Buddhism continued, but was more concerned with fundamental problems
such as dualism of subject and object, the relation between Christian belief
in God's transcendence and absolute otherness, and the Buddhist doctrine of
'samsara' (nothingness). These philosophical discussions paralleled the
social unrest among students that began in the late sixties and continued
into the early seventies. Theologians were divided by this turmoil. One of
them, Kenos Tagawa, lost his job for siding with the students at ICU, where
Furuya sat on the governing body which expelled him.
Nevertheless, little attempt is made in this study to trace the
relation between social context and theological development. A theme that
runs throughout--from Ebina at the beginning to attempts to restore the
official status of Shinto in the present--is the problem of Christianity's
stand in relation to Shinto veneration of the emperor and the authoritarian
paternalism that governs the whole of Japanese society. Although the
problem is raised in the Epilogue, its relation as the context for
theological development is never explicitly discussed. There is a certain
sense that little connection exists between the arcane discussions of the
theologians--many of them graduates of the elite Imperial University of
Tokyo--and what is going on at the grass roots in the churches. Even though
theologians may have been liberated from their German captivity, the rather
Germanic tendency to concentrate on academic theology remains. Figures like
Kagawa, who wrote from his slum experience, or Tomura and others, who have
been active in the popular struggle against the emperor-cult, are hardly
mentioned. And feminist theology does not even appear.
Another shortcoming relates to the overwhelming concentration on
Protestant theology. The editor justifies this choice by arguing the
missionaries dominate Roman catholic education until recently, so that few
indigenous theologians were produced [pp. 7-8]. The review does cover three
Roman Catholics, all of them interesting figures, but Anglican and Orthodox
are virtually neglected. One wonders if an examination of sacramental and
liturgical practices among these three groups might not have revealed some
movement toward indigenisation that could have proved profitable.
On the whole, however, this is an interesting and important book. It
raises the hope that works by the theologians covered might be translated
in the future, particularly around the Buddhist-Christian dialogue.
Cyril Powles, Vancouver

c) Virginia Garrard-Burnett, Protestantism in Guatemala. Living in New
Austin: University of Texas Press, 1998 248pp
Guatemala, indeed most of Latin America, was on the margin of the Protestant
missionary expansion of the early twentieth century. This area had none of
the romantic appeal of saving China's millions, of following David
Livingstone through the jungles of Africa, or facing the risks of cannibals
in the South Pacific. As a result missionaries were few in number, and
resources spread very thinly. Yet only a century later, Guatemala has the
remarkable character of being at least one-third Protestant, of whom over
80% are Pentecostals or charismatics. Virginia Garret-Burnett's historical
study is a thoughtful explanation of how this development took place, based
on an exhaustive coverage of the sources, both Spanish and English, as well
as interviews and correspondence with some of the more prominent
participants. But she fails to take seriously enough the main division
between the indigenous population and the "Ladinos", i.e. those who speak
Spanish, adhere to "western" culture and participate in the political
processes of the country. This division is not an ethnic one, but is vital
since the two groups have increasingly little to bind them together. It
would seem that the main groups interested in Protestantism come from the
Ladino community, but that generalizations, especially on political
sentiments and sympathies, are difficult to establish with certainty.
In the early years, the Protestant missionary presence was almost
exclusively USA-based. These men and women brought with them the cultural
imperialist baggage of the time, equating "progress" with the adoption of
American religious, political and cultural ideas. Their appeal was primarily
directed against the indigenous Catholicism which they steadfastly saw as
responsible for Guatemala's backwardness, as well as for the downtrodden
condition of the majority Mayan population.
By the 1920s, however, some Protestants began to see that their aims might
be better achieved by encouraging native ministries in their own languages.
Hence an enormous effort was put into producing suitable orthographies and
literatures for a basically illiterate population. But this meant the
necessary encouragement of local leadership, which in turn often led to
conflicts between the foreign missionary and his indigenous parishioners for
national or cultural reasons, Lacking any strong doctrinal control or
resources, these mission churches were highly susceptible to schism, and
hence the growth of independent churches, often tiny in size but locally
based and vibrant in character.
Protestants had at first been favoured by the strongly anti-Catholic Liberal
governments, culminating in the near-Marxist regime of Jacobo Arbenz, who
was finally overthrown by the US Marines in 1954. The subsequent
anti-American sentiments led to checks on US-supported activities, even
though many of the younger missionaries were in favour of Arbenz' radical
social programmes.
By contrast, the subsequent regimes of military authoritarianism led to
decades of civil violence, street murders and mass intimidation, prompting
the rise of a guerilla movement, and consequent scorched earth tactics in
waves of repression. The destabilization of the traditional society and the
visible disintegration of the Catholic church provided a new opportunity for
Protestant growth, especially where these new churches could stress their
anti-communism and hence receive support from sympathizers in the United
States. In this sense Guatemala benefited from the effects of China and
Cuba. But Garrard-Burnett attributes this Protestant growth, and especially
the advance of Pentecostalism, to the effects of the political struggle with
its enormous casualties. These forms of Protestantism offered an apocalyptic
explanation of the miseries so many Guatemalans were suffering, but at the
same time an ecstatic and emotional outlet for their feelings, linked to
hope for a better future. Furthermore, she suggests, Pentecostalism's
emphasis on the gift of the Holy Spirit, the spontaneous worship services,
and the enthusiastic speaking in tongues, i.e. in their own native
languages, rather than in the Latin or Spanish of Catholic rituals, had a
special resonance for the native Indian peoples.
This growth was indeed astonishing, and seems to have been only stimulated
by the catastrophic earthquake of 1976. By the 1980s there were 10,000
Protestant churches, divided into over 300 separate denominations, mostly in
unaffiliated sects headed by pastors whose essential qualification was
divine revelation. The appeal of such churches was, and is, that members
feel they give structure to what would otherwise be a chaotic and evil
world, rendering a larger meaning and cosmic plan from nearly
incomprehensible terror. They also provided the hope for vindication,
justice and empowerment for the many poor and oppressed.
Such groups were encouraged by the short-lived but vivid Presidency of Rios
Montt in 1982-3, the first acknowledged born-again Christian Pentecostal to
achieve power. He did not last long, and the results were ambiguous, since
his troops still continued their oppressive campaigns against guerillas in
the remoter countryside and the attendant forcible pacification of the
inhabitants. But the disruptions imposed on traditional Mayan society opened
the way for new churches to spring up. In the Pentecostal assemblies, the
war's victims found solace through miraculous healings, ecstatic trances and
glossolalia. They also offered the displaced peasant a chance to improve his
or her lot by taking the Pentecostal path "from a dirt floor to heaven". But
above all Protestant congregations offered a new community and a new
identity in place of one now vanished or no longer available.
Nevertheless Guatemala remains a fragile and broken society, under constant
threat of social unrest and horrendous economic disparities. Pentecostal or
neo-Pentecostal churches attempt to fill a spiritual void. The paradox is
that, for the Mayan inhabitants, both Catholicism and Protestantism are
foreign imports. But just as a syncretistic Mayan Catholicism emerged,
perhaps the same will be true for the already flexible Pentecostals. Perhaps
here can be found a new moral basis for the regeneration of society,
overcoming the dreadful legacy of violence and repression with a new
spirit-filled and innovative religious movement.
Virginia Garrard-Burnett teaches at the Institute of Latin American Studies,
University of Texas, Austin.

3) Religion and the Cold War Conference
Natalie Watson reports on a conference held in London in April, which can be
seen as a start of an international group of historians interested in the
field of Religion and the Cold War. This showed that the varying
interpretations of the Cold War are by no means finished, and that the
significance of religion, and Christianity in particular, needs much more
further work. The conference was organized by Dr Dianne Kirby (University of
Ulster) and the Institute of British History, and attended by scholars from
Britain, Germany, North America and Finland. Prof Aila Lauha from Helsinki
has launched her own project on this topic at Helsinki and is working with a
number of other European universities. The topic includes a revision of
historians' attitudes, as was made clear by Prof Hartmut Lehmann (Max-Planck
Institut fuer Geschichte, Goettingen) in a most interesting paper on the
official interpretation of Luther and Thomas Muntzer in the former German
Democratic Republic. Similarly, disparate views on the Russian Church were
expressed. "The situation of the Russian Orthodox Church has worsened in
recent years rather than improving". This was the view of a veteran of the
struggle against the Soviet regime, Fr. Georgii Edelstein, a Russian
Orthodox priest from Kostrama. The Russian Orthodox Church, Fr. Edelstein
claimed, is still run by a hierarchy appointed by the state authorities. The
Moscow Patriarchate, which has always been part of the Soviet state, should
be treated with some suspicion. He called for repentance by the church
leaders, and for the work of such bodies as Keston College, Oxford (the
leading centre for research on East European churches during the Soviet era)
to continue.
Further information can be obtained from the mailing list

4) Film Review: Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace

Bonhoeffer: Agent of Grace

This production of NFP teleart GmbH and Co.KG in co-production with
Production Ltd. (in association with Chum City Television, Oregon Public
Broadcasting, Ostdeutscher Rundfunk Brandenburg, Studio Babelsberg
Independents GmbH, and Wisconsin Public Television) is a ninety-minute
dramatization of Dietrich Bonhoeffer's final years, 1939-45. Bonhoeffer:
Agent of Grace (BAOG) was first shown in Germany, and then aired over PBS
stations in the United States on June 14. (A premier showing was held for
members of the press and selected guests, in New York City on May 17.)
Advance publicity included the honor of 'Best Film' it received at the Monte
Carlo Television Festival 2000.

I believe it is important to preface a review of this sort with two
precautions. First, any dramatization attempting to convey the 'essence' of
such a complex and dynamic figure as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in only ninety
minutes, will rarely satisfy those persons who are well-acquainted with and
already committed to a particular view of this figure's 'essence.' Second,
while a critical review aims to make judgment on the effectiveness of a
production in the interest of truth, it is the case that every production
takes on a life of its own, and one only hopes that viewers are motivated to
further, more in-depth inquiry. These precautions are stated to express the
need for serious critique as well as genuine humility.

Initially, one is struck cinematographically - while viewing BAOG - with the
realization that we live in a post-Schindlerian age. Without the finances of
Hollywood and the theatrical resources symbolized in the name Spielberg,
anyone would be hard-pressed to create an engaging work in this area.
Further, the choice of color photography instead of black and white in BAOG
has serious drawbacks; an earlier documentary on Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Memories and Perspectives, (Trinity Films, Minneapolis) filmed in black and
white, like Schindler's List, remains a classic, in part, because something
of the 'essence' was captured by the use of black and white film. This
of medium, while not changing the content of the presentation, clearly
affects the viewing.

One could fault BAOG for straying too far from the facts of Bonhoeffer's
biography, which were either distorted or omitted, details that are
for authenticity. For example, the exaggerated importance of Bonhoeffer's
fiancé, Maria von Wedemeyer, an overemphasis on the interrogations by
Roeder, the obvious absence of Bonhoeffer's intellectual, spiritual, and
emotional conversation partner, Eberhard Bethge, or the final scene of his
life at Flossenburg when two primary conspirators, murdered with Bonhoeffer
on April 9, were not shown, but omitted; all these are instances of altering

the facts, but for what purpose? Director Eric Till writes: "I didn't get
any resistance (to changing certain details in the story) . . .You can get
bogged down by the truth of it all. At the same time, one is most anxious
not to in anyway distort the essence of the real story itself." Putting
aside now the concern about any distortion or omission of details that could
reduce the film's authenticity, I wish to take issue with Till's
understanding of Bonhoeffer's 'essence.'

After experiencing a preview of BAOG on May 17 in New York City and
the PBS showing on June 14, I attempted to be attentive to viewers'
impressions of the film's essence, as well as hear views of the persona they
experienced in the character of Bonhoeffer, played by Ulrich Tukur. Further,
I wondered what was perceived as the motivating force, the faith orientation
of this 'agent of grace?' I consistently heard three impressions, which
followed each viewing, (Bonhoeffer's) courage, righteousness, and resolve.
>From those viewers I encountered, these qualities were seen as the 'essence'
of Bonhoeffer's life and the importance of his witness.

First, the real Bonhoeffer was intensely aware of his own tristitia, his own
weakness and temptation to compromise. In contrast to any personal courage,
any strength he employed for responsible action was understood to be that
received solely from the presence of God in Jesus Christ. Bonhoeffer would
resist any description of himself that emphasized his own courage.

Second, the real Bonhoeffer revolted against any notion of his - or
- righteousness during this time. He often spoke of Germany's historic
guilt, of which he was an heir and participant and for which redemptive
suffering would be required. Quite the opposite of his own righteousness
regarding involvement in this justifiable deed of tyrannicide, was
Bonhoeffer's self-conscious guilt for an apparently necessary - yet
thoroughly sinful - act against God's command. Christ's righteousness and
call to discipleship were the foundation and motivation for the being and
behavior of this 'agent of grace.' Bonhoeffer would resist any description
of himself that emphasized his own righteousness.

Third, the real Bonhoeffer struggled until the very end with the irony and
ambiguity of his involvement with the conspirators plotting Hitler's
assassination. Questions, fears, and uncertainly were often his companions,
not so much answers, confidence, certainty, and resolve. While he lived -
and wrote about - the necessity to "step out and act" responsibly, one ought
not think of this as a sort of un-dialectical resolve in his personality.

My critical concern in Till's rendition of Bonhoeffer is that the perceived
'essence' of his life and witness seems to be that of heroism, a descriptive
image Bonhoeffer would have vehemently opposed. His faith and actions were
grounded in the gratitude of a fragile, sinful, child of God whose weakness
was bolstered by God's courage, whose self-centeredness was reoriented by
Christ's righteousness, and whose hesitancy and faltering judgment was only
redeemed by the Spirit's resolve.

In summary, Dietrich Bonhoeffer's real 'essence' must always be understood
the light of what God was doing, through Christ, through the Church, for
humanity, for the future. Hopefully, persons viewing Bonhoeffer: Agent of
Grace will be stirred to look further and dig deeper. We must attempt to
insure - like the figure of John the Baptist in the Isenheim altarpiece by
Grunewald who is pointing to the Christ - that the life and sacrifice of
Dietrich Bonhoeffer points to Jesus Christ and not to Bonhoeffer. He would
have it no other way.
John Matthews, Afton, Minnesota, editor Newsletter, International Bonhoeffer
Society, English lanaguage section
The most recent Newsletter no.73 (June 2000) of the International Bonhoeffer
Society, English Language Section is devoted to the memory of Eberhard
Bethge, and prints a translation of the sermon and tributes paid at his
funeral in March.

With every best wish to you all,
John Conway