Déjà vu

The conditions were going to be perfect.  The forecast was for a cold but dry night.  I could just about cope with that.  Plenty of people had signed up for the annual Robes Sleep Out and my own fundraising was going really well.  So as I headed back from leading a retreat on the ‘Four Last Things’ – heaven, hell, death and judgement – at the Society of Mary & Martha at Sheldon (a great place if you have never been there) – I was getting quite excited. This was Advent weekend and we were on the brink of all our festivities happening in the lead up to Christmas.


So I was unpacking and putting on my dog collar when someone texted me to tell me that something was happening on London Bridge.  Déjà vu is a strange feeling when we experience it – ‘I have been here before’ – but we know that it is some strange psychological reaction to a number of random things coming together and passes as quickly as it comes.  But this was different – I had been here before.

I headed off to the Cathedral and crowds of people were heading towards me.  I kept going.  In Clink Street people were running away from the area where the Cathedral is.  I kept going and managed to get to the doors of the Cathedral just as they were being locked.  We often practice a ‘lock-down’, the theory was now being put into practice.  The doors were locked behind me.

The nave was the gathering place.  There were people there who had come to the Friends’ Christmas Fair which had just opened, other visitors to the Cathedral, staff and volunteers all there, unsure what was happening.  A visiting organist began playing some gentle music.  We waited to see what would happen.  Finally we were told by the police to evacuate the building.

We moved as directed to the edge of the Borough Market.  Local people were distressed, we had been here before, just two and a half years ago, and, I know it sounds pathetic, but we didn’t think that it would happen again – you just don’t. Lightening doesn’t strike twice.

We had to make a decision.  The sleepout would have to be cancelled.  It was with huge regret that we did this, but there was no option.  In fact it wasn’t until late in the evening that the police cordon moved and we were able to get to the Cathedral at all.  A huge disappointment but nothing by comparison with what had happened on the bridge.

That bridge which has seen so much of London’s history again witnesses another episode in our life. Now that more is coming to light about what took place in Fishmongers’ Hall, the bravery of people there and then subsequently on the edge of the bridge itself, the response of the police, the killing of the assailant and then the reports of the death of two of those who were injured make you realise that whilst it felt like history repeating itself this was a different event.

But the result was the same.  People dead, lives scared, physically, mentally, emotionally, heroism displayed and the realisation, again, that the unimaginable forces of evil that we have to face up and recognise are around.  As I waited in the streets with others, not knowing what was happening, I was able to talk to local people.  We were all shocked and coming to a recognition that the effects of the events of not so long ago were just below the surface.  And if it was like that for us what was it like for the families of the eight people who were killed on 3 June 2017?

I am sure all my sponsors and all those who sponsored us for the sleepout will understand that there was nothing else we could do.  The work of Robes, our night-shelter and day time drop-in will continue.  But there is other work to do, helping people to come to terms with what has happened in our community yet again.

We talk so much about the values that define us as a community, in the cathedral and beyond, and all of that remains true.  We remain committed to openness and inclusion, to celebrating diversity and not fearing it, to never seeing the stranger as a threat but a welcome guest, knowing always that goodness and love and peace and hope are so much stronger than anything that evil can do.

This is what I see every time I look at Jesus, who lived what he taught and made himself vulnerable in doing so, but ultimately life and love won.  Goodness can never be defeated.

This is the prayer I wrote on Friday evening.  I will continue to pray it.

God of unfailing compassion,
make us strong in the face of terror,
loving in the presence of hatred,
bold in our diversity,
always knowing
that your hand holds us
and your life sustains us,
today, tonight and always.

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