Letter from Manchester

Manchester bomb memorial

 

 

I received the letter below from a friend of mine who is a Methodist minister and serves as a healthcare chaplain in Manchester, England. It concerns how she and others are dealing with the aftermath of the recent terror attack. I think it captures well some of the complex web of issues and concerns – human, religious, and communal – woven throughout this tragic event. With her permission, I am sharing it with you.

29 May 2016

Dear Family, Friends and Colleagues,

In the wake of last Monday’s bomb attack here in Manchester, I’m wondering if you would be willing to keep those I am supporting in both my professional and personal life in your prayers? I know it would mean a great deal for them to know people around the world are praying for them.

Among them is a colleague mother whose daughter attended the Arena concert. Though physically unhurt, this young teenager has seen terrible things. At the moment, neither mother nor daughter can sleep.  Another colleague has a son (whose former classmate died in the blast) and a daughter (whose two close friends were at the concert). A mental health specialist, she is trying to support her two children the best way she can while at the same time fighting strong emotion that comes from realizing how easily her children could have been there at the Arena. My exhausted healthcare chaplaincy colleagues  – imams, priests, pastors, rabbi, and others –  are trying to support devastated families in hospitals across Manchester while also looking after members of their own faith communities, some of whom feel especially vulnerable at the moment.

Please keep Manchester’s refugee community in your prayers as well. They are both grief stricken and frightened. One young man, who himself suffered death threats and torture before fleeing his home country, sought me out to say prayers with him for all the children killed in the blast.

Finally, I mention my dear friend, Karen, who teaches at school in a small village that was home to a teenager who died in the blast. Karen, like so many other teachers across the area, is supporting children from as young as 5 years old who are upset and asking difficult questions.  Karen herself grew up during “The Troubles” in Northern Ireland and shared with me that the attack brings back some horrific memories of her own childhood and its ever – present threats and acts of violence against children as well as adults.

While it’s a tough time for us Mancunians, in ways both large and small, the diverse communities that make up our city are pulling together and determined not to let terrorists create new divisions between us. Manchester is a small town. We know each other. We work near each other. When I meet someone new, I often find we share friends or colleagues in common. I can walk across Manchester town centre on foot in about 30-45 minutes.

It’s a vibrant, interesting city of many committed faith communities and rich, diverse cultural traditions.  We make an effort to meet each other and visit each other’s places of worship. Two years ago, I visited the Didsbury Mosque – where the Arena bomber and his family worshiped – on a Mosque Open Day that held throughout the Greater Manchester area.  There were loads of worshippers of all ages – men, women, boys and girls – on hand for the event. They welcomed me and made a real effort to show me around and chat with me even though I arrived at the very end of the afternoon. We shared cups of coffee, talked about faith and family and our jobs and university studies. They encouraged me to feel comfortable leaving my head uncovered. They said they wanted me to enjoy and experience the mosque community, just as I was. It was a very humbling and wonderful experience. This past week I’ve been thinking and praying for the people of that mosque, and others mosques around the city. I will continue pray for them in the weeks and months ahead.

I hope people around the world looking at the news reports about the Manchester attack will share our grief and outrage 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 – perhaps not this week when it’s all too raw  – I hope we can even begin to understand how to pray for those who sow destruction; those who are exploited and groomed to carry out terrible deeds in the name of religion. However, that’s a bigger, tougher “ask” and we will have to allow time and God to prepare us for those prayers.

Finally, please pray for me too. I feel a kind of adrenaline soaked numbness that shouldn’t surprise me, but does. This is all just far too close to home.  Today, my loved ones and I are just one more family – like others in Britain and across the world – doing our best to get along with people of many faiths and cultures despite the destructive wedge some seek to drive between us with their words and actions.

With love and gratitude for your prayers and support,

Kathleen

She also shared with me this link to a news story which, she said, is one among many that has “has inspired and comforted our tired souls here today.” Well worth reading.

Elderly Jewish woman and 46 year old Muslim man – friends for 10 years – come to Manchester to pay their respects.

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2 comments

  1. Thank you Rita for this very insightful account.

    Kathleen’s reflections on pastoral care after the Manchester attack are very well-written. I especially thank her for including the story of her friend Karen, a teacher who must explain to her students what has happened in a way they can understand. At the same time, she struggles with a first-hand experience of the atrocities of The Troubles. Terror is not confined to one ethnicity or one religion: this is a fact regardless of those who would like to believe otherwise.

  2. Jordan, many thanks for that comment. I agree. I also appreciate that, instead of focusing only on the deaths and injuries caused by the explosion and ensuing chaos, as virtually all of the news reports did, she also calls attention to the psychological wounds and pain that reverberate more widely across the community.

    I’m not sure it’s possible to reflect on the bombing of children and remain aloof. To blow the dust off an old word, the act seems so dishonorable. And meanwhile, the legitimate political and social tools for changing the world peacefully are there for our using. Lord, send out your Spirit and renew the face of the earth.

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