Church at centre of solace for the angry and grief-stricken as number of dead in Grenfell Tower fire reaches 79
A minute's silence was held across the UK this morning for the victims of the Grenfell Tower fire disaster as the latest update put the number of dead or missing presumed dead at 79.
The number formally identified is just five, the devastation in the tower block is so immense. Whole families are known to have died.
Firefighters in uniform took time to break from their duties to visit the site and meet, hug and comfort survivors and friends and families of victims at the site itself. Many were close to tears, and some of the families wore t-shirts bearing images of the missing.
That number is expected to increase further and there are fears the total number of dead could reach more than 100.
Clergy and other faith leaders from throughout London continued to help with time and resources at the site and nearby churches, mosques and other centres.
Writing on Ian Paul's Psephizo blog, Rev Dr Gabby Thomas, curate at St Mary with St Alban, Teddington, says, 'How could something so simply prevented be happening in our day?'
Her parish is among those on the outer edges of the Kensington episcopal area,,
'On Thursday, all the clergy received an email from Graham Tomlin, Bishop of Kensington, suggesting that if possible we should wear our dog-collars and walk through the streets, offering a listening ear and prayer for those who wanted it. He said that people were keen to talk.
'On Friday, I made it over to North Kensington and was quite taken aback by what I found. As I wandered about, locals grabbed my arm often accompanied by the words, "Excuse me, vicar" and began to share stories and ask me what church I was from. One man whose friend had died in the fire wanted to show me the photographs he has taken of his harrowing night.
'The need for me to look in depth at every single photograph (there were hundreds) was understandably very great. Another friend joined him and began to tell me about the sound of bodies falling from the tower, and how one man had fallen to the ground under the weight of catching a baby from a great height. I listened, with no response other than tears which I shed with their tears. I felt a strange mixture of sadness and anger at what they had experienced, whilst also being extremely glad to be there with them.
'At one point, a woman spotted my collar and started thanking me for being part of a group of people whom she identified as being those who were standing with the community. She was extremely angry about the response of the local council and said, "you Christians have really stood by us and done what they should have done." I felt really "proud", if that's the right word, to be counted with those who stand by the ones who are suffering. Also, proud of my church, which in her response to this has been getting it right.'
She describes the service on Friday evening at St Peter's in Notting Hill when Bishop of Kensington Graham Tomlin spoke of being with a family as they received the news that their child had died in the fire. 'He noted the various moves through shock, compassion, grief, anger, and the need for hope. Again, as I looked around the full church, I felt a sense that what we were doing in providing a public space for lament and prayer, was really very important.'
And when she went back on Saturday, she was struck by the subdued anger that 'rippled' through the streets.
'People still wanted to talk, and were still very grateful, but they were also extremely angry.'
Bishop Tomlin gathered together a group of 16 survivors and went with them to Downing Street to tell their stories.
Afterwards, Bishop Tomlin said they did feel they had finally been listened to.
He told the Press Association: 'I'm positive because I think it was a real chance for local residents, people affected by this tragedy, to voice their concerns directly to the Prime Minister so that she could hear them.
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'That's why I'm positive about it, because I think in the past local residents here have not always been listened to.'
He hoped the meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May was the beginning and not the end of a process 'that will bring about lasting change'.