Originally published at the Church Times.
The London Bridge terrorists failed totally in their mission to terrify the capital city, and instead have brought about a resurgence in community spirit, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said.
The three attackers who left eight dead and dozens more injured two weeks ago (News, 9 June) wanted to “demoralise and terrify Londoners, or even the whole British people”, Archbishop Welby said on Friday. “Instead, they produced intense community on a scale we have not seen for years.”
Preaching during a service of hope at Southwark Cathedral for the survivors, their families and those of victims, and the emergency services who responded, Archbishop Welby admitted that nothing he could say could take away their pain and grief.
“To you who suffered and who suffer today, we say that we weep with you. Our hearts are broken by your pain and agony. We do not have adequate words to lift from you that great burden which you are bearing.
“But we will walk alongside you and carry it as we can. We seek to share with you in a way that reminds you that you are not alone.”
The service was also attended by the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, who gave the first reading from Ecclesiastes. In his welcome, the Dean, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, slowly read out the names of the eight people who were murdered, and prayed that, “at a time of sorrow, a time when we can be tempted to despair, may we find hope”.
“Yesterday evening, this nave was filled with people from the local community sharing in a great Bankside iftar with our Muslim brothers and sisters,” Dean Nunn said. “It was an event filled with hope and a determination that nothing will divide us.”
The Archbishop noted that the attack had been targeted at one of the most “vibrant” parts of one of the most cosmopolitan cities on earth, which had been reflected in the nationalities of those injured and killed. Among the dead were a Spaniard, three Frenchman, a Canadian, and two Australians.
“Southwark Cathedral is the focus of a grief which is truly international and immeasurably deep,” the Archbishop said.
On London Bridge, a stone’s throw from the cathedral, a makeshift memorial has been constructed out of hundreds of bouquets of flowers, and thousands of post-it notes of condolence and support.
Many of the messages have been written by visitors from overseas. “Prayers from Romania,” one reads. “Together we stand. Paris — Bruxelles — Londres. One peace, one love,” said another.
Others feature words of defiance: “We will not be afraid!” and “London = home. We stand strong and united.”
Most of the seats in the cathedral were taken by police officers, paramedics, firefighters, and NHS staff; and with them were also a handful of emergency-response Street Pastors.
Archbishop Welby said that the attack had revealed not just the horrors of “desperate and wicked people”, but also the selflessness and courage of the emergency services and passers-by who had responded immediately to the chaos and carnage to protect others.
“To those who are here from the first responders we say this: your dedication and your courage and selflessness are beyond words. We thank you with all our hearts,” he said.
The story of the encounter with risen Jesus on the road to Emmaus was read during the service by one of the first police officers to arrive at the scene of the London Bridge attack.
“Regardless of our faith, when we walk with the suffering and shoulder a little of the burden, we become that figure walking alongside the two disciples,” the Archbishop said. “And hope is born. In all our sorrows and loss and grief, the power of the resurrection is greater. Hope flowers in the desert of suffering when it’s watered by communities of love.”
Towards the end of the service, schoolchildren from the Southwark Cathedral School filed up to the front to light candles on the altar as a harpist played, watched by representatives from each of the faith communities in the neighbourhood.
After a period of silence, the Bishop of Southwark, the Rt Revd Christopher Chessun, read from St John’s Gospel: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
Afterwards, the congregation slowly filed out of the building past the heavy security and police cordon into the heart of the bustling Borough Market, which presses up against the cathedral boundary.
Long queues that had formed at each of the food stalls over lunchtime were winding down, although the cramped space underneath a railway bridge was still full of tourists and Londoners eating in the summer sunshine and the shouts of the traders.
Other than the pairs of police officers slowly wandering past, of the terror that had been played out in the market just a fortnight ago there was no sign.