London terror attack: hope in the midst of depravity

For several hours after the ISIS-inspired terror attack near the British parliament in central London on Wednesday, Westminster Abbey became a locus of hope for tourists, schoolchildren, MPs and parliamentary staff who were kept there during a security lockdown, said the Bishop of Leeds. This article by Andy Walton was originally published in Christian Today.

The Bishop of Leeds has spoken of his experience of being in the Palace of Westminster during the attack yesterday afternoon.

Rt Rev Nick Baines was speaking on BBC Radio Four’s Today programme, describing how ‘The normality of the day had been ripped apart in acts of wanton violence that beggar imagination.’

The Bishop, who is a member of the House Of Lords, also spoke of the hope generated among those gathered for shelter in Westminster Abbey. ‘The Abbey was filled with conversation as we saw the best of human society and compassion,’ he said.

Here is the full text of the Bishop’s remarks:

I entered the chamber of the House of Lords yesterday afternoon ready to lead prayers. A colleague came in and said there had been an incident involving gunshots. Very quickly the whole of the Palace of Westminster was locked down. Over the next five hours we were moved from place to place, ending up for several hours in Westminster Abbey. The normality of the day had been ripped apart in acts of wanton violence that beggar imagination. The ordinariness of life – tourists posing for photos with policemen at the gates of Parliament, people walking to and from work – collapsed in tragedy and misery. Words cannot comprehend the depths of shock. As news filtered through of what had happened, someone said to me, ‘The world feels less safe today.’

The world of words is not short of explanations or interrogations. Even before we know the facts, judgments are made. This is inevitable in a world of instant communication. But words are also needed as we attempt to grasp what has happened. I turned to the Psalms. This Hebrew poetry collection is not for the squeamish or those who like to keep their religion tidy. One minute these poets are laughing at the absurdities of human beings, the next they are raging at God because of the injustices and cruelties of this world. They were certainly no strangers to violence or horror. They knew what it was to be hunted but they also knew the power of mercy and love and hope. That reflects what many of us in Parliament witnessed yesterday.

While we were being kept secure by a remarkable police force, they were outside dealing with the unknowns of terror and the loss of a colleague. The Parliamentary staff were professional and, as always, courteous. Visitors, including parties of schoolchildren, were looked after by MPs who managed to keep everything calm and human. The emergency services did their stuff with discretion, skill and humanity. Westminster Abbey took in over 1,000 people and made the experience as good as they could.

Yesterday we saw the worst of human depravity, that empty, soulless vacuum from which joy has been sucked. But the Abbey was filled with conversation as we saw the best of human society and compassion. Maybe the Abbey was the best place for us to be – a place not only of refuge and mercy – but a locus of hope. A place whose very stones bear witness to the mess and muck as well as to the glory of human beings who struggle to make sense of it all. Here God is worshipped and here people laugh and weep and think and speak. Here is a space that refuses to stick God in a box, where He can remain unsullied by the realities of a complex life.

Parliament will resume today and life will carry on. But my prayers are for those whose lives are now forever changed.

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