This is a story set in two cities – one that is, and one that is to be.
I had intended this week’s piece to be a mildly humorous account of a chance meeting last week with my local MP in Kirkwall, which is the chief town of the Orkney Islands. Through a series of unlikely co-incidences, I met Sir Ed Davey, leader of the Lib Dems, in a car park close to St Magnus’ Cathedral, which in turn gives Kirkwall its city status. He was in Scotland to view a green energy scheme, a topic close to his heart.
I noticed Sir Ed approaching a car and attracted his attention by calling out his name. On his own, save for a couple of colleagues, he turned and after a moment’s hesitation broke into a smile of greeting and recognition . We have had previous encounters in a different time and place. We shook hands, and had a brief, amiable conversation before he was whisked away to his appointment.
Contrast this encounter with the tragic events at Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh on Sea last Friday. Another MP going about his business of meeting, greeting and aiming to help his constituents. We don’t know the precise sequence of events that led to his murder, but some media reports suggest that the alleged assailant was waiting for Sir David Amess in the church. The safe space that we aim to promote and maintain in all our churches was violated. For MPs the debate will now move to improved security and reviewing walk-in surgery arrangements, whilst the country reflects on this further assault on our democracy.
Sir David’s family are of course deeply upset and traumatised, and their grief will be raw for some time to come. Sadly, the creation of the new city of Southend on Sea will always be associated with tragedy. Belfairs will be the place that local people recall as a place of sadness, but also, pray, in some ways a new beginning.
As a result of this event, church members in Leigh on Sea will also have been seriously emotionally impacted, and probably will be for some time to come. Ongoing pastoral care and support will be essential. Furthermore we should also be aware of the vulnerability of our own ministers when they meet people they do not know well, perhaps privately, and take steps to seek assurance that they, too, will be kept safe.