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The Church and Grenfell Tower

Author: Bishop Graham Tomlin

Picture: Catholic Church of England and Wales

The Church and Grenfell Tower

Bishop Graham Tomlin explains how the Church has stood by and supported the Grenfell Tower community in a variety of ways.

In the days after the fire, with the smoke from Grenfell Tower still in the air, the Council and the Government seemed unable to respond with the speed and flexibility required.

The institution that did was perhaps unexpected: the Church.

Along with local mosques and community centres, local churches opened their doors and become sites for respite, sympathy, cups of tea, a listening and praying ear, as well  as quickly turning into pop-up depots for donations and the many volunteers who flocked into the area wanting to help.

The Church Already At Work

In time, the relief effort kicked in, but the reason the Church was able to help in the immediate days after the disaster was because it did not need to come in to the local community to offer pastoral support – it was already there.

About a month after the fire, I began some conversations with survivors and bereaved families, as well as local faith leaders about some kind of memorial event, remembering the dead and offering some hope for the future.

What emerged was the National Grenfell Tower Memorial Service at St Paul’s Cathedral on the six-month anniversary of the fire.

"We are all called to love our neighbours"

Even though it was a Christian cathedral and most of the victims had been Muslim, its place as the national venue for commemoration made it the obvious choice. If the church’s first response was pastoral, this was the church in liturgical mode.

A service that combined lament, remembrance and expressions of hope was able to bring those affected together in the context of worship.

As I said in my sermon at the time: “There is something about a Cathedral – it is a place where we are aware we are in the presence of something - someone - bigger than ourselves. As we cross the threshold into this building, it doesn’t matter whether we are politicians, religious leaders, volunteers, survivors, bereaved, residents – we are all equal in the eyes of God. Love makes no distinctions. We are all neighbours to each other and we are called to love our neighbours.”

Ongoing Support

There have many such opportunities to speak into the issues that Grenfell raises.

The fire touched a nerve in our social and political life, shining a spotlight on issues such as social inequality, housing and immigration that few other tragedies have done.

Local clergy have continued to offer pastoral help, chair local Council initiatives, provide space for highly-charged meetings, or assist in co-ordinating mental health provision.

I have tried to keep in touch with some of those who lived in the Tower or bereaved families, offering support in their quiet but dignified campaign to get to the truth of what happened, so that justice can be done, and reconciliation and a better future be won for this diverse but traumatised community.

It has been an unexpected journey, requiring sensitivity, wisdom, prayer, emotion and time.

Although it is far from over, signs of hope and progress are slowly becoming visible for that better future.

  • The Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin is the Anglican Bishop of Kensington.

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