Hope and Building Community
Just weeks ago, I fought my way through what seemed like an arctic blizzard as I walked towards St Mary’s, Stoke Newington to visit Hackney Night Shelter, which supports the homeless there. As I got past the corner of Clissold Park, I saw a daffodil with its head still sticking out of the snow. It reminded me that, however much if felt like winter, spring would come – that gave me a feeling of hope.
This time last year, London was in the midst of a frightening period, in the wake of the Westminster terrorist attack, which was all too closely followed by further attacks at London Bridge, Finsbury Park, and Parsons Green. London felt as if it was under siege from terror – as soon, sadly, would Manchester. The rest of the country shared in the pain.
I cannot imagine what it was like for those who lost loved ones, and those whose lives have been forever changed as a result. My heart goes out to them and I know that, in this last year, they’ve travelled a difficult journey in unknown territory.
Yet, in the midst of all this sorrow, we have seen acts of generosity which reflect the very best of humanity. The efforts of countless healthcare workers, first responders who ran towards danger, the police, neighbours, members of the public, faith leaders and many more who came together to demonstrate the resilience of our communities in the face of terrorists – they all brought with them hope.
Those who seek to bring terror also seek to break down community. But rather than give in, we have seen people stand in solidarity for the victims, their families and the survivors of those tragic acts – they give us hope.
Building community does not stop with responses to tragedy. In fact, it should be at the heart of exactly how we want to be as a society. In the face of not just terror, but also the political and economic uncertainty we find ourselves in, strong community holds individuals and families together in the face of difficult times. To build community requires us to understand that we have more in common than divides us, and this comes from sharing our stories. We share stories not to tell our own but rather to listen to someone else’s tale; someone who often we may see as different.
In the snowy days we have had in recent weeks, I found myself without suitable shoes so I borrowed a friend’s wellies. Unfortunately, they weren’t a very good fit and I didn’t find getting around particularly easy. That feeling of uncertainty can be similar to the one when you’re trying to understand someone who might be quite different to you. There again, it may not feel easy, but ultimately putting yourself in their shoes – not literally in that case – helps us to understand them. Building community is about understanding we have more in common than divides us – that can bring us hope.
This week, Christians across the world are retelling the narrative of Jesus’s death. We are walking the way of the cross, before the glory of Easter Day as we celebrate His resurrection. Remembering and retelling narratives are at the heart of any culture. Remembering occurs as parents tell and retell to their children and grandchildren what is most prized in their community. We walk the way of the cross in Holy Week to remember who God is for us, his generosity and grace. We recall what God did in the death and resurrection of Christ in the past, which points to a future without pain and death but holds us here and now – that is hope.
Ahead of the anniversaries of the London terror attacks, Mayor Sadiq Khan announced that the hashtag #LondonUnited would be projected on to the Houses of Parliament, London Bridge, Finsbury Park Mosque, and Parsons Green Tube Station. For me, this is about highlighting the UK’s resilience and hope, shining a beacon on victims and heroes, and demonstrating how we came together amidst times of real adversity. A permanent tribute now to those who were affected, to London, and to the country, would be to continue to build lasting communities which demonstrate our commonality and build resilience. There is hope.
This article was originally be published in this morning’s Sun on Sunday Newspaper.