Churches open for quiet reflection on Grenfell anniversary

Notting Hill Methodist Church, with the Grenfell Tower in the background

Churches in the London borough where 72 people lost their lives in the devastating Grenfell Tower disaster were opening their doors for quiet reflection on the second anniversary. 

The catastrophic fire broke out in the early hours of 14 June 2017 and quickly spread through the 24-floor residential tower, trapping many people inside. 

A 72 second silence was to be observed at midday on Friday in memory of the victims. 

To mark the second anniversary, Notting Hill Methodist Church, which sits below the tower, was staying open on Friday to give members of the public a quiet space to reflect.

The Rev Mike Long said: "We want people to know they have somewhere to come if they need or wish to be together, not out of some duty, but if they feel it would help in some small way."

He will be joining other faith leaders in a vigil on Friday evening before taking part in what has become a monthly silent walk that starts and ends at Notting Hill Methodist Church.

"Faith can help people connect with their feelings and give expression to them," said Rev Long.

The Rev Mike Long, pastor at Notting Hill Methodist Church

With the church's close proximity to the tower, Rev Long and the congregation have been intrinsic in supporting the community in the aftermath of the fire. 

In addition to hosting many community meetings, the church has acted as a base for agencies working to support those affected by the fire, and Rev Long has offered pastoral and practical support where needed. 

The church has been in the process of renovating its building to better respond to the needs of the community.

"Major urgent building works more recently mean we have had less resource available but from the autumn with new community spaces including a kitchen, we hope to focus on young people and children as well as the wide spread challenge of loneliness amongst older people," said Rev Long.

In the last year, a new food bank has opened at the church in partnership with the Trussell Trust, a charity that runs a nationwide network of food banks through churches.

An inquiry into the Grenfell Fire is ongoing, with the second phase set to begin in early 2020. 

"Everyone knows there will be a long wait for answers and decisions to be made about the future for the tower," said Rev Long.

"Patience is about actively sticking it out, enduring the limbo. This is hard for many, especially those worried about for example, the long term impact of the fire on the environment."

The second anniversary has been surrounded by widespread anger over the number of residential buildings in the UK that are still without adequate fire prevention systems or have the same kind of cladding blamed for spreading the Grenfell fire more rapidly.

Church of England Bishops David Walker and Graham Tomlin recently called on the Government to intervene to remove dangerous cladding from dozens of residential buildings.

They said that the people of North Kensington felt a "deep sense of betrayal" and that "nothing much" had changed two years on from the disaster. 

"Christian theology knows a bit about limbo – it isn't a position in which residents of dangerous towers should be left," the bishops said in an opinion for Inside Housing magazine.

"The community around Grenfell Tower felt alienated even before the fire, feeling they had little control and say in decisions on housing and the local built environment that affected their everyday lives.

"The fire itself, of course, had a seismic impact on the local community, which continues to live with the devastation that hit them on the 14 June 2017.

"Yet, even now, nearly two years on, things are not much better.

"Grief takes time to take its course, but is complicated when you feel that your brother, mother, aunt or friend died needlessly and that since then nothing much seems to have changed."