This week the place where I live was violated. Children from our city and our region were cruelly killed and maimed. As you are no doubt aware, Manchester is living through one of the most difficult weeks in its proud history. And in the heart of this city my colleagues and I at Northern Baptist College have been getting on with the job that we believe God has given us, the same job that the college had been doing for over 150 years, preparing people for servant leadership in the Church of Jesus Christ. It hasn't been easy.
On Tuesday, our staff team travelled out of our shaken city for an away day. We spent most of our time naming, discussing and praying for each of our students. Today, back at Luther King House, our home base on Manchester's famous curry mile, we have been interviewing four people who believe that God is calling them into Christian ministry, calling them in other words to devote their lives to helping people to follow Jesus, helping people to love, to serve, to pursue peace and to work for justice.
To be involved in such a process is always a profound privilege. This week it seems a particularly fitting way to be spending our time.
Well, because the slaughter on our doorstep has reminded us just how much our city needs communities of people committed to living the Jesus way. When some might be tempted to let anger turn into hatred, Manchester needs people who will remember that each of its citizens, whether red or blue, whether African, Asian or European, whether Sikh or Christian, Jewish or Muslim, whether northern-born or less fortunate, every last one of us is first and foremost a human being, created by God, bearing the image of God (however distorted) and precious in the sight of God.
As one of those charged by my denomination to form the next generation of church leaders I have to make sure that all our students remember what churches are for. No one can be allowed to leave our college in any doubt whatsoever that our churches must never become self-interested, seeking only their own wellbeing, neglecting the communities that God has called them serve. They must never be allowed to think that mission is only about growing bigger and bigger churches. They must never be allowed to devote themselves to growing disciples simply for the sake of growing disciples without asking what disciples are for, what difference disciples are supposed to make in the wider world.
We need leaders who will help churches become what they were always meant to be: communities of the prince of peace, the healer, the lover of outcasts, the one who would eat with anyone whether he was supposed to or not, the one who wept for Jerusalem. Any church that does not seek the welfare of its city is a contradiction in terms. Any church that forgets to build bridges of reconciliation forgets whose church it is. Any church that is content to let outsiders stay out has lost its way and lost sight of its Lord. Any church that thinks that this kind of stuff is none of its business is plain wrong.
That's what I have to remember. That's what this difficult week has reminded me. I pray to God that I will never forget. I pray that you will never forget either, even if you are not fortunate enough live in Manchester.
One of the things that people often say, when they are touched by tragedies such as the one that happened on our doorstep, is: 'I wanted to do something but I felt helpless.' If that's you then thank God you're are not helpless. If like me you name Jesus as your saviour, there's lots you can do. Here are six suggestions for starters.
1. You can resolve to remind yourself each morning that every person who lives in your village, town or city is a child of Adam and Eve and therefore your brother or sister in God.
2. You can commit yourself to helping your church to become the kind of church that behaves a bit more like Jesus.
3. You can identify someone in your community from another background, another race, another religion and simply get to know them. If that sounds scary, start by smiling and saying, 'Hello'.
4. You can find a group that is working to build bridges in your community and join them, whether they carry a Christian label or not.
5. You can go on praying the prayer that Jesus taught us pray, '... your will be done in my part of your earth as it is in heaven' and then act like you mean it.
6. And you can, if you would be so kind, pray for me and my colleagues in the heart of our hurting city that we might be able to grow leaders who know how to grow churches who know how to grow the kind of communities that will gladden the heart of God.
Rev Glen Marshall is Co-Principal of Northern Baptist College, Manchester.