Last Saturday I received an email from Robert Walker, Assistant to Bishop Bickerton of the New York Annual Conference. It was a request from Kathleen Loughlin, who the team and I met during our pilgrimage to England back in March. Kathleen is a chaplain at a hospital in Manchester and is asking our prayers. I hope you will join me in praying for her and the people of Manchester, England, as well as people around the world who suffer daily because of terror and hatred. May her email be a reminder of how closely we are all connected and the importance of our shared life. Below is an excerpt; names have been changed by request:
Dear Bishop Bickerton,
I’m wondering if you would be willing to share prayers for people I am supporting in my Manchester community mental health chaplaincy work in the wake of Monday’s bomb attack. I know it would mean a great deal for them to know people in the US are praying for them… especially by New Yorkers who have their own experience of devastating terrorism and loss.
My mental health social worker colleague Barbara is the mother of Mary (who attended the concert and while physically unhurt, has seen terrible things). Neither Barbara nor Mary can sleep at the moment. Another colleague, Susan, is the mother of son Michael (whose classmate died in the blast) and daughter Linda whose two close friends were at the concert). A specialist mental health nurse, Tiffney is trying to support her two children the best way she can while at the same time fighting emotion that comes from realizing how easily her children could have been there at the Arena. My exhausted chaplaincy colleagues (imams, priests, pastors, rabbis) are trying to support many devastated families in hospitals across Manchester while also trying to support members of their faith communities, some who are feeling especially vulnerable at the moment.
If you could keep members of the Manchester refugee community in your prayers. They are both grief stricken and frightened. Aman, who suffered death threats and torture in his own home country for his religious beliefs (he converted to Christianity), came to see me in a terrible state on Thursday wanting to pray with me for all the children killed in the blast. He’s only 22 and is completely on his own in the UK.
Finally, I mention my dear friend, Patricia, who teaches at school in a small village which was home to 14 year old Tess who died in the blast. The friend who was with Tess, also from the same village, was severely hurt and remains in the hospital. Patricia, like so many other teachers across the area, is supporting children from as young as 4 years old who are upset and asking difficult questions. Patricia herself grew up during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and confessed to me this morning that this experience brings back some horrific memories of her own childhood and its ever present threat and acts of violence against children as well as adults.
While it’s a tough time for us Mancunians, in many ways large and small, the diverse communities that make up the city are pulling together and determined not to let terrorists create new divisions between us. In many ways, Manchester is a small town. We know each other, we work near each other. When I meet someone new, inevitably we find we share friends or colleagues in common. As you may remember from your visit here that you can walk across Manchester town centre on foot in about 30-45 minutes. It’s a town of many committed faith communities and rich, diverse cultures traditions. We know each other and visit each other’s places of worship…
I hope people around the world looking at the news reports about the attack will share our grief at so many young lives destroyed so brutally. But I also hope they see Manchester’s determination to not let fear tear at the good, important valued relationships and connections we already have here. Quite the contrary, I believe these terrible events are already creating a desire in people here for more connection, more collaboration, and more compassionate relationships with each other. And at some point – not this week when we’re all too raw – I hope we can even begin to understand how to pray for those who sow destruction, who are exploited and groomed to carry out terrible deeds in the name of religion. But that’s bigger, tougher “ask”, and we will have to allow time and God to prepare us for those prayers.
In the meantime, here’s a link to one story, among many, that has inspired and comforted our tired souls here today:
Elderly Jewish woman and 46 year old Muslim man – friends for 10 years – come to Manchester to pay their respects: http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-4546604/Ten-year-friendship-Jewish-woman-Muslim-man.html
Heart-sick, but determined and with gratitude for my continued link with the NYAC, I send best wishes for all the important work and fellowship you will share together at this year’s Annual Conference.
Grace and peace,