Thursday, March 22, 2018

#LondonTogether

As I came back from meeting on March 21, 2017 I was called by a colleague who told me that I should look at the news. Almost the same time my phone buzzed with a message from the police chaplain.

I lead for the Faith Sector across Greater London for what is known as "resilience". That means that I chair the group that tries to make sure that people of faith respond well in the face of major incidents.

That afternoon I was in touch with the police chaplain was with his colleagues providing support for officers, and with the chaplain to Parliament who was locked down with MPs and peers, staff and all those others who had been in the Palace of Westminster at the time of the attack.

Every incident leaves us with a lot to learn. A few days after the attack I had a conversation with the lead chaplain at St Thomas's Hospital about a vigil they were holding. Thousands of patients and staff had seen the incident and that community needed help to process what had happened.

The shows of unity, the vigils and the photocalls, the appearances on the television with other faith leaders (I discovered that Sky make you up when you go on TV but the BBC do not) are outward and visible signs of extraordinary hidden work.

In the incidents which scarred last summer faith communities stood up in what is sometimes called "bottom-up resilience" getting churches, community centres and Faith buildings open and supporting the emergency services and the public. Helping them to do that, keeping information flowing from them and to them, ensuring that offers of support helpfully deployed, making sure that the messages are clear and well understood, and above all trying to keep them safe is part of what I end up doing when something happens.

I remember on the day of the mercifully abortive bombing at Parsons Green telephoning the local church to be told that I could not speak to the vicar because he had gone down to the tube station where something appeared to be happening. The church was already open offering teas and coffees to people stranded and to police ambulance and fire service personnel. We had just started to tweet that out when I got a call to say that the church was now inside the inner cordon.



As John Barradel, Town Clerk to the City of London Corporation and lead for local authority resilience across Greater London, has said, there is a person of faith on every street in London. The faith communities are not only those who offer support, but those who need it. We have a network of buildings and infrastructure which is almost always in use and at the frontline when something happens. (Who can forget the contribution of the faith buildings around Grenfell tower?) We can help to interpret what is going on in people's minds in the world in which geopolitics can only be understood if you grasp the motivations of religion.

But perhaps above all the contribution faith communities is that we are still there days months and years after something happens. In an arresting phrase of the senior officer of the London ambulance service, the faith communities are still there helping and rebuilding communities when the emergency services have gone home for "tea, inquiries and medals."

London indeed stands together, not only when something happens and thrusts our unity into the spotlight, but also day-to-day as unsung and unremarked work goes on to ensure that our communities are genuinely resilient because genuinely united.

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