Don’t look back in anger

Looking for signs of hope in the horrors of 2017

‘Love casts out fear!’ were the words shouted from the stage at the One Love Manchester fundraising concert following the suicide bombing at the Ariana Grande concert in May. Marcus Mumford, lead singer of Mumford and Sons, led the crowds at One Love Manchester in a poignant silence before launching the evening’s entertainment with a soulful rendition of his song ‘Timshel’. After the song Mumford shouted ‘Love casts out fear!’ a direct quotation from the Bible, written 2,000 years ago by John, one of Jesus’ closest friends and followers.

The Oasis song ‘Don’t Look Back In Anger’ became the anthem sung by many after the bombing. At One Love Manchester, Coldplay and Ariana Grande performed the song, raising funds for the families of the victims. (Oasis brothers Noel and Liam Gallagher have both ensured their royalties from the song will be donated to the fund.)

Commenting on One Love Manchester, Krish Kandiah, founder of the charity Home for Good, wrote a blog for premierchristianity.com which highlights a strong theme throughout the event: the power of love over evil.

As well as Marcus Mumford quoting from the Bible, U2’s Bono made a special appearance at the event via video saying: ‘There is no end to grief, that is how we know there is no end to love.’ The re-formed Black Eyed Peas fronted by Will.I.am performed their hit song ‘Where is the Love?’ The song includes a call to ‘practise what you preach… turn the other cheek’ and at the heart of the song is a repeated prayer for guidance from above, asking the question ‘Where is the love?’. And 24-year-old pop star Justin Bieber, also performing at the event, said: ‘I’m not going to let go of hope. I’m not going to let go of love. I’m not going to let go of God… God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst, no matter what’s happening in the world. God is in the midst and he loves you and he’s here for you.’

Krish Kandiah said, ‘The final surprise of the night was Liam Gallagher singing Oasis songs, including “Glass Wall” which includes the words “I believe the resurrection’s on, and you were wrong”. As the people of Manchester expressed grief and defiance, there was a very palpable sense of faith in a resurrection. The message of the Bible, that death ultimately is not the end, is the best hope there is in the face of evil and terror. It was a fantastic evening and great credit should go to Ariana Grande, her team and her manager Scooter Braun, who also gave a very moving speech. The event honoured the dead, the wounded and the bereaved, but it also asked a question to us, will we let love cast out fear?’

Away from the limelight the tragedy prompted an outpouring of practical support for people caught up in the horror and the terrible aftermath of the disasters which rocked the nation from March to June this year. The Westminster attack (22 March), the Manchester Arena bombing (22 May) the London Bridge attack (3 June), the Grenfell Tower fire (14 June) and the Finsbury Park Mosque attack (19 June) left more than 100 people dead, many more injured, and more than 150 families homeless.

Response Pastors

Among the first to help were a group of Response Pastors, invited by the emergency services to give practical support in the immediate aftermath of tragic events. Response Pastors are specially trained teams drawn from the ranks of Street Pastors; Christians who offer reassurance, safety and support through listening, caring and helping, particularly serving the night-time economy helping people get home safely after a night out.

Street Pastors, an initiative of Ascension Trust, began in London in 2003 with 18 volunteers from local churches. Now there are more than 12,000 Street Pastors, in more than 300 towns and cities in the UK, playing an active part in strengthening community life and working for safer streets.

In 2014 experienced Street Pastors began to train for the role of Response Pastors, to provide physical and emotional support in times of crisis; listening, caring and helping alongside other partners to make communities safer.

After the Manchester Arena bombing, Response Pastors from many parts of the UK joined the local teams for several days as people came to pay their respects. During the week after the tragedy, the Response Pastors were able to share compassion and hope with many people, whilst also assisting where requested by the police and other authorities.

One of the team said, ‘Response Pastors helped many to find a way through the media scrum to lay their flowers alongside the others in the growing display of the public’s response to this awful tragedy – and to stand with them – pray with them. We held many in our arms as they wept. They had been through such harrowing experiences.’

Another Response Pastor said, ‘Many of you may have seen photos on the TV of the mass of floral tributes, but the pictures do not do this justice nor can you sense the atmosphere there. Apart from the flowers the amazing number of candles reminded me of a recent message I listened to that the light of God shines through the darkness and the light always overcomes the darkness.

‘It was such an honour to support loads of people who just wanted to talk: individuals, groups and whole families. On the pavements around the flowers were loads of messages chalked. I watched a young lad write just two simple words “Forever Young” and that’s when I needed the tissues!

‘[We had] a fantastic response too from the police. It was quite strange to be chatting with them in all their gear, guns ready. It was particularly poignant when we were asked to help when families of the victims were escorted into the square to see the tributes. (The police wanted a lower profile.) No words, just prayer for them and their families; the crowds so silent too except for tears.’

For the people of Manchester, and only weeks later people mourning the losses at Grenfell Tower, Response Pastors were a practical witness to the power of love putting flesh and bones to Justin Bieber’s words: ‘God is good in the midst of the darkness. God is good in the midst of the evil. God is in the midst, no matter what’s happening in the world. God is in the midst and he loves you and he’s here for you.’