Through the storm of the terror attacks in Manchester and London

Today is Pentecost Sunday. Usually, this is one of my favourite days of the year for going to church (along with Easter Sunday and Christmas Day). You can literally feel the excitement and anticipation in the congregation, on what is one of the most joy filled services of the calendar.

But this year is very different for two reasons. Firstly, I’m stuck at home on my own, still recovering from a major operation on my left ankle, which has left me in a lot of pain. And secondly, because I’ve spent most of the night watching the news in disbelief, as a second major terrorist attack in less than two weeks has hit our country.

Whilst the Borough Market attack last night was horrendous and appalling, it was the Manchester Arena bombing last Monday which I found the most gut-wrenching. It’s not just because I’m from Manchester, or that the spot where the bomb exploded is somewhere I’ve walked through many times, and even lead classes of children through. It’s more than that, it’s that this was an attack on innocence, with children and young people being deliberately targeted.

Manchester Arena Steps
Manchester Arena Steps

There was one particular image from the news coverage of that night which upset me more than the rest, the image of parents waiting at the foot of the steps up to the ticket office area, where the bomb had gone off moments earlier. It’s a spot where I’ve stood several times over the years, whilst waiting for my teenage daughter to appear after a concert. My daughter was away at Uni on the night of the Ariana Grande concert, but if she had been at home, then I know she would have liked to have gone to that concert and the realisation that I could have easily been in that photo made me feel very uneasy.

For those who were there, involved in both of these terrible situations, especially the victims and their friends and families, my heart goes out to you all. I don’t know what you must be going through.

When I was regularly teaching I always dreaded events like this and particularly with how to discuss them with a class of children. However, my hardest situations were in trying to explain things like this to my own children. I remember after the twin towers attack on 9/11, my daughter then just back from nursery was puzzled about the pictures she was watching on the TV and begun asking many questions about what had happened. Similarly,  I remember a few years later, after the 7/7 attacks in London, my 4-year-old son saying “Daddy, why has the bus burst?” In both cases, I think my wife and I gave responses along the lines of “Lots of people have been hurt by some naughty men and lots of people are very sad.”

The BBC Newsround website has a great page which gives advice to children who are upset or worried by terror attacks. The end result of the advice given on this page is basically for children to open up about their feelings and talk to a grown up.

But what about the grown ups who are upset and worried? It’s difficult to make sense of such evil acts. And so I come back to Pentecost Sunday. This morning, after watching hours and hours of depressing, upsetting news coverage of the Borough Market attack, BBC1 suddenly switched to a live pre-planned Pentecost Sunday morning service, led by the Archbishop of Canterbury and an amazing band of musicians led by worship leaders Tim Hughes and Matt Redman. After an initial minute’s silence, the packed church erupted in loud song and victorious, joyful, defiant praise. It was a sheer delight to watch. As the service unfolded it became a true antidote to the depressing evil of the night before.

There were three phrases from three different songs that particularly struck a chord with me. Firstly from the song ‘Spirit Break Out’ was the line,

“Spirit break out, break our walls down, Spirit, break out, heaven come down.”

Then from the song ‘The Lord’s my Shepherd – And I Will Trust In You Alone’:

“And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, for You are with me and Your rod and staff are the comfort I need to know”.

And lastly from the song ‘Cornerstone’:

“Through the storm, He is Lord, Lord of all.”

I know that not all of you who read this blog are Christians, so I apologise if you feel that I’m getting a bit too spiritual here. But at times like this when a dark storm of evil comes calling, I find that the only comfort I need to know comes through prayer and worship. As the service came to an end, it felt to me like the congregation were defiantly saying to the terrorists and all their supporters, “Your acts of evil are pointless. Our spirit and our resolve will not be broken. We are strong and it is you who are weak.”