'A clear sign of the demonic' – Archbishop of Canterbury on London's Islamist terror

Justin Welby preaches at Thy Kingdom Come at Winchester CathedralDiocese of Winchester

Jane Austen had an apt phrase for everything. Winchester's most famous daughter is buried in the city's cathedral.

There, 3,500 people gathered yesterday to mark the end of the Archbishop of Canterbury's Thy Kingdom Come initiative.

To one side, away from the Matt Redman music, the hands raised in praise and the throng of all ages, were words that Jane Austen had written in her Book of Common Prayer.

'Have mercy, oh gracious Father, upon all those that are suffering. Give them patience under every affliction, strengthen, comfort and relieve them.' In the wake of the terrorist attack in London on Saturday night, in which seven people were killed and 48 others were injured, it seemed appropriate.

Between Ascension and Pentecost, hundreds of thousands of people in 85 countries have been praying for people they know. Three million people have joined in on social media. Two million have watched the daily videos posted online.

It was all meant to end so triumphantly in the closing, commissioning service in Winchester Cathedral: sending people out to continue to pray.

Then three terrorists created carnage in central London.

So the mood among the congregation – all standing, except for the very old and very young – was expectant when the Archbishop of Canterbury stood up to speak.

He said that the terrorist attack had been 'a clear sign of the demonic and chaos'.

The Church, he said, was 'only a club, and not a very good one' without the Holy Spirit.

But, with the Holy Spirit, 'the club becomes the greatest army in history. It grows into an army without weapons, an army of peace that overthrows empires and brings revolution with hope. 'The Holy Spirit,' he said, 'brings order out of chaos.'

For two hours people stood, sang, prayed, and frequently cried. This was not solely an event for the young, though a local girl, sitting her GCSEs this week, read a prayer.

All ages were gathered in a sign of very British unity. The elderly with sticks or crutches, sat in the side aisles. A toddler carrying her toy panda danced behind an artist drawing a dove in chalks.

A young woman, her hair in dreadlocks, wore a sweatshirt bearing the logo, 'Keep Psalm and carry on'. And at one point, I found myself sitting next to a bishop on his knees on the stone flagged floor, deep in prayer.

Many more sat outside on camping chairs, wrapped up against the chill evening air.

Winchester Cathedral has seen it all, of course. Its choir is world famous. It has the longest nave in Europe.

But beyond the grandeur, the local people who worship there are good at facing adversity. When it looked like the cathedral might collapse into the surrounding water meadows, when cracks started to appear in the early 1900s, the cathedral seemed in danger. A deep-sea diver, William Walker, worked under the cathedral every day for six years, shoring it up with bags of concrete. 

Its West Window was smashed during Henry VIII's dissolution of the monasteries. The local people, undeterred, collected the pieces, and years later, tried to put it back together again. They couldn't make all the pieces fit, so the picture is lost in a kaleidoscope of bits and bobs of colour.

And yesterday, simply by turning up to pray, the 3,500 local people were saying that they would not be cowed by terrorism and that they put their trust in God. Perhaps there is hope, after all.