As I write for the July Gazette, it is still May and the news of the awful events at the Manchester Arena are still fresh in everybody’s minds. Loss of life is always tragic, but especially so in this case when so many children and young people were involved.
Of course, we never know when tragedy will strike. Natural disasters strike, sometimes without warning. With modern scientific methods at our disposal, such violent natural disasters such as earthquakes, floods, lightning strikes, volcano eruptions are often predictable these days, but, even then, their effect can be catastrophic.
What made the Manchester disaster even more horrific was that it was carried out by someone in a cool, calculated way, deliberately targeting children and young people.
Illness, too, can strike without warning. We may seem to be perfectly healthy one minute, and then, almost out of the blue, symptoms appear which might have serious consequences.
What struck me about the Manchester episode was the way in which the city rallied round. So many people rushed to help those injured and lost. Taxi drivers gave free lifts to those who needed to get away and local residents and hotels opened their doors and offered free accommodation. The emergency services reacted in their usual ultra-efficient way.
Lessons can always be learned from tragedies such as the ones that I have outlined and a close community spirit is often created, or perhaps reinforced.
But in all of these tragedies there is hope. There is hope for the future, there is hope in the way in which communities are determined not to be subject to external forces getting their own way.
At times of trouble it is very often quite clear who our neighbour is, and, in many cases, that neighbour is the most unlikely person. When Jesus was asked “who is my neighbour?” he replied by using the parable of the Good Samaritan. It is about a Jewish traveller who is stripped of clothing, beaten, and left at the side of the road. He is eventually given help by a Samaritan although Samaritans and Jews generally despised each other.
So, who is your neighbour? Not necessarily simply the person next door but, hopefully, the person who will offer help in times of need. As the well-known hymn says:
When I needed a neighbour Were you there, were you there? When I needed a neighbour Were you there? And the creed and the colour And the name won't matter Were you there?
With best wishes to you all.
Licensed Lay Minister and Churchwarden