Column: Struck down by catastrophic events both near and far

The crime scene
The crime scene

In the last week or so it’s been very moving to hear the accounts of my colleague in ministry, Richard Kellow, team vicar of Duston and Upton, recounting what he has done among the community since Joshua Bains was killed in Upton.

Working within a community that is grieving because of loss of life and because of loss of security is a difficult business.

In addition to the contribution Richard and his team have made, we should pause for a moment to thankfully remember the work of the police and ambulance service, the local community and those who remained with Joshua in his final moments, something, as the Chron reported, was deeply appreciated by his family.

Whenever such situations arise, I remember vividly the time of the death of Père Jacques Hamel, a Roman Catholic priest struck down by an Islamist extremist while he was celebrating mass in Normandy, France, in 2016.

Programmed to celebrate the eucharist in the church I was then working in, I went to the altar the day after to the news that – a few streets away – armed police had been deployed to deal with a knife-man who was holding others hostage.

The situation did not last long before a resolution was reached by the police negotiators, but for those brief moments it felt very much as if my life, and the life of someone whose name would reverberate around Christianity for years to come, had collided.

It is what some would call a trigger; a terrifying interference in your own life of something historic, separated, or ulterior which, for a moment or two, utterly deprives you of your liberty to live despite what is happening, or despite what has happened.

While Jacques Hamel inhabited a world many miles from my own, it was impossible not to note that the ingredients of the two situations were alarmingly similar, and in a moment of pause, to wonder at the troubling coincidence of it all.

These realisations are momentary, of course; distance in circumstance is everything, but because I am a man who prays, I tend not to give much credence to coincidence.

Proximity to my mind is just as meaningful as actual proximity, and I wonder – among those of you who do pray, whether much the same is true for you?

We are pinpricks set against a world that is larger than our comprehension and time, which is both deeper and further than we are ever able to live.

Amid a juxtaposition of decisions, events and news, what sense of self might we realistically claim as our own?

All those things will claim some influence upon us. Prayerfully, there are no direct answers, but that we might know our own selves better.

For those directly involved, the impact is unquestionable: a family that has lost a love one, a community that has lost its peace.

It is possible for people to be healed of the wound that tragedy creates, but even as we cannot reverse death, we also cannot fail to be different as a result.

Living with the influence of events upon us can be strange and traumatic, but in communities that need rebuilding we still have our sense, our inviolable sense, of self to lend to the effort.

By the Rev Oliver Coss