The Bishop of Kensington remarks on Grenfell
Location: St Helen’s Church, North Kensington
The Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlin, joined survivors of the Grenfell Tower Fire at a service in North Kensington to mark the second anniversary of the tragedy.
‘Two years ago today we looked up at Grenfell Tower. We were shocked, stunned, frantic, many people were running around trying desperately to find those who were lost. We feared the worst, we wept, we wondered how this could happen in a twenty-first century city like London.
18 months ago, many of us sat in the dignity of St Paul’s Cathedral, coming together in the presence of God, trying make sense of what had happened just six months before.
One year ago today, we stood here remembering the 72 who died and looking for justice.
Today we are here again to remember those who lost their lives, to sympathise and support those whose lives were changed forever by what happened on June 14th 2017.
But if we are honest, not much has changed.
I for one don’t underestimate the size of the task facing the Public Inquiry, or the Police, but it is – or should be – a matter of national shame that Grenfell Tower was allowed to get to a state where a small fire in a faulty fridge on the fourth floor could cause so much devastation; that two years on, we are still no clearer on where responsibility lies, and buildings across the country are still covered in cladding similar to that which seems to have caused the fire, with people trying to sleep at night with the fear in back of their minds; and that what happened here could happen to them.
Politically the last two years may have been dominated by Brexit, but the legacy of Grenfell is urgent. This community deserves an increased focus on the attempt to address the challenges that Grenfell raises.
Whoever becomes Prime Minister later this year, my hope is they will make a pledge to address the issues that Grenfell raises – both the short term and longer term issues, as a fitting legacy to those who died here.
At the time of Jesus a Tower fell in Jerusalem, killing many people. Some came to Jesus to ask him what it meant. He said: “unless you change you also will perish.” When something like this happens, it is an opportunity for national self-examination, for national repentance, which of course does not mean just feeling sorry, but a radical change to attitudes and behaviour.
Bad things happen not usually as the result of calculated, deliberate malice, but when we simply fail to pay attention, when we go about our lives thoughtlessly, carelessly, when we fail to listen and take care for the needs of our neighbour, because we are so wrapped up in our own affairs and interests. Tragedies like Grenfell come about in a rather unexciting and mundane way – as a result of simple thoughtlessness, literally care-lessness – a lack of care, or indeed a lack of love to our neighbour.
Grenfell happened because we failed to love our neighbours. We were more interested in other things than the safety and security of those who lived in Grenfell Tower. We failed to pay attention to their needs, because we were too wrapped up in our own.
But it’s never too late to learn.
Fire safety and buildings regulation need changing, and we trust that the Public Inquiry will get to the bottom of what needs to change. But Grenfell offers us a bigger opportunity to ask some more fundamental questions about the way we live together.
Let me ask this: what will be the legacy of Grenfell? What will be a fitting memorial for those who died?
Imagine we resolved to learn the lessons of Grenfell. Imagine in five to ten years’ time, however long it takes, being able to say this:
In our housing policy, we had learnt that the most important thing was the safety, security & wellbeing of those who don’t own their own homes. That Social Housing had become a priority, not an afterthought. The first thing we think about not the last.
Imagine if we had learnt to build not just houses to make as much profit as possible, but communities where people looked out for each other, were curious about each others’ lives, and we had shifted the focus from seeking our own self-interest first to the realisation that we need each other and depend on each other, that it is our relationships that make us what we are.
Imagine ordinary people feeling they had a genuine say over things that matter to them – that there were community councils (or something like them) all over the country enabling ordinary people, not linked into any political party, to be heard on the decisions that affect their lives.
Imagine young people feeling they have a stake in the community they grow up in; feeling they can contribute something important to that community through their talents & skills.
Imagine we had learned to value the presence and contribution of faith communities like this church and other community groups, as crucial for social cohesion and as places we go to find deeper values, learn the virtues that build good societies, and find the perspective of eternity, communities where we can learn to love God and our neighbours.
Jesus had a name for this. He called it the Kingdom of God. We may never fully realise it here, but we can imagine it and it can inspire us to set up signs of it here & now. And if we can imagine it, it can begin to give us hope.
Another word for it is justice. Not retribution, but justice, which means putting things right. Our Christian Scriptures tell us that justice will come. Yes it takes time. We have to be patient and persistent, not resort to underhand tactics to the get it. In the service we will hear the words of that old Sam Cooke song: “It’s been a long time coming. But I know a change is gonna come.” we will also heard the words of Jesus in the book of Revelation : “Behold I will make all things new.”
The marks of the response of this community has been patience, dignity, and persistence. My word to you is: Keep going. The Kingdom is coming. Justice is coming. We may have to wait, but nothing can stop it, as we wait and we work and we pray: “Thy kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” AMEN.’