Like many I was profoundly shocked by the awful news of the violence in the Christchurch Mosque in New Zealand last week. I was however sadly not completely surprised.
I have been aware for sometime that there is a concerted and global effort to threaten our diversity within community. Sadly, this has been magnified and disseminated by western media. Coupled with the wilful and sometimes unintended polarisation and even demonisation by groups and individuals on social media.
Whilst this hatred may appear to be aimed at specific groups, I think it speaks to a deeper malaise in our society of fear and ignorance of difference.
I was therefore pleased to join with friends and colleagues at Great St Mary’s Church on Sunday evening in helping to host a vigil for those who lost their lives in the shooting. In partnership with the Muslim students & residents and the wider Cambridge community, we met outside the doors of the church ,which were open to the community for warmth and welcome.
As with any public event, there was apprehension and uncertainty of who and how many would turn out for the occasion. Not least because this was outdoors, in March, on a Sunday evening, barely above freezing. I was moved however, to witness some 350 people coming together in solidarity for speeches, prayer and silent reflection.
The mood was a heady mixture of anger, grief, love and fear. But within the messiness of humanity and its complex response to violence, there was an opportunity for coming together.
This Lent I am helping to lead a study group on the personal response to God’s call and as I stood buffeted by the chilling wind, handing out candles with my Christian colleagues, there seem to be no better example of gentle witness in the world.
Alongside the eloquent words from students and faith leaders of the city, I was particularly touched by the action of a lone New Zealander who has lived in this city for a number of years and felt that Cambridge is home, as it reminded them of New Zealand. They tentatively wanted to share a song of their homeland and as they did they were joined by other New Zealanders who came from the crowd to form an impromptu choir, who grew in confidence and volume as the cold night air was filled with the warmth of the Maori blessing.
One of the challenges of an outdoor event is the efficacy of candles and on Sunday night we struggled to light and keep lit the hundreds of candles held at the vigil. If it was needed, it reminded me of the fragility of peace and love. Whilst the icy winds of terror and division may well be blowing in our times, my prayer is for us, more than ever, to stand together and recognise that harm to a particular brother and sister, harms each one of us.