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Pray for Manchester


Here is the sermon that Rev Dr Steve Griffiths preached on Tuesday 23 May at our Vigil Service to remember those who died in the Manchester attack:

Luke 7:11-17

After the Manchester terror attack…

There are no words we can say that will make any sense of the Manchester attack last night.

      We want to avoid theological clichés. We want to avoid developing a theology that seeks to defend God in the light of such horror and tragedy. We want to avoid saying anything that, in an attempt to comfort, will only serve to bring more hurt and misunderstanding.

      For us here tonight, we simply want to stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester and all those who have been affected by the attack.

      Perhaps for others of us here tonight, the unfolding of events yesterday and today has raised the spectre of past hurts and memories of personal experiences of tragedy or sudden loss or violence. Some of us may have grown up in a place where terrorism or civil war was a backdrop to a normal way of living; whether in Northern Ireland or the Middle East or elsewhere. Some of us have lost children or other relatives in a sudden or even a violent way. We remember, too, that the Enfield community has been rocked in the last week or so by a series of stabbings and violent attacks.

      Each of us comes here this evening with our own personal history and, as we stand in solidarity with those who grieve today, we need to be mindful of that. We need to realise that our personal histories are sacred space; a place, a history, a journey, where we have walked with God

and often experienced what we have thought is the absence of God.

      So this calls for great sensitivity, not just from me in the next few minutes, but from each one of us, one to another…The experience of loss is common to us all and so we bring that with us as we reflect on the events in Manchester.

      And perhaps, when we think about the horror of 22 innocent people dying and another 60 suffering terrible injuries, there is a certain absurdity about the Gospel reading we have just heard read: the raising from the dead of the widow of Nain’s son. Here we have a story that will bring into sharp relief the experience of all those who are grieving and suffering tonight.

      There is a town called Nain and a large crowd has gathered because there is a funeral – an untimely death of a young man – and the whole town has come out to mourn and stand in solidarity with the boy’s mother.

      And the grief is tangible. The crowd would have been crying out in anguish, as is the way with Middle Eastern funerals, and there would have been hundreds of people crushed in close to the coffin; jostling the procession along with the sheer weight and energy of grief.

      And we are told that the boy who had died was the woman’s only son. The anguish of a mother compounded with the reality that, with his death, the family name would come to an end and her own future, as a widow, was now unsure. Where would she live? Who would care for her? This untimely death had, literally, destroyed her world. There was only confusion and darkness and despair.

      Then Jesus approaches through the gate of the town and, seeing what is happening, is moved to act. He touches the bier, the coffin in which the boy is laid, and orders him to rise up. Immediately, the dead boy is awakened and begins to speak and, as we read, ‘Jesus gave him to his mother.’

      How many families impacted by the Manchester attack are wishing right now that Jesus would come into their town, their village, their home and give their son or daughter, husband or wife, mother or father back to them?

      So the Manchester tragedy, and this passage from Luke, leaves us with the inevitable question: “Where is Jesus when we need him?”

      If he can raise the widow of Nain’s son, why doesn’t he raise the Manchester dead?

      If he is so miraculous and all-powerful, why did he allow these beautiful, innocent ones to die?

      We may ask similar questions for ourselves: why does he allow us to suffer ill-health and mental anguish? Why have some of our loved ones died so young?

      I don’t know.

      I really don’t have an answer to that.

      The truth is that life can be terribly, terribly cruel and there are no easy answers.

      There is no sense, no rhyme, no reason to so much of what we experience. There is no rhyme, nor reason, for the tragic event in Manchester last night. Whatever the political motivation for this event, there is no justification for any such act of violence.

      And if someone says to you about any of the tragedies that you have endured in your life or your own experiences of loss that ‘It’s all in God’s plan’, then that too is an abhorrent thing to say and it makes the bitter pill of suffering even harder to swallow, doesn’t it?

      There have been experiences in my life, and yours too, I am sure, that I just don’t want to believe have been part of God’s plan for me. To think that some of my grief and my suffering has been God’s plan would suggest to me that God can be cruel indeed – and I don’t believe that for one minute.

      The truth is that our lives can be filled with inexplicable suffering and pain, random events that happen for no real reason other than the fact that that is how life is…

      But that doesn’t necessarily point to a cruel and vindictive God. He is not a Genie in a Lamp who can magic away pain and suffering. It is more important for us, when we face times of suffering and trial, to seek the Divine Presence with us in the midst of our pain. And that is what this story from Luke 7 offers us: a glimpse into the truth that, when we suffer the most, God is present with us.

      There are just two points I want to bring out from this.

      The first is that this passage reminds us of the heart of compassion that God has for each one of us when we suffer and the heart of compassion that God has for those who are suffering today as a result of the Manchester attack.

      We read these words: “When the Lord saw [the widow], he had compassion for her and said to her ‘Do not weep’”.

      Jesus was gripped by compassion for the woman. Compassion – the word comes from the Latin – meaning ‘to suffer with’. It’s not just that Jesus felt sorry for the woman: the whole town felt sorry for her. Jesus was moved with compassion. He genuinely suffered with the woman when he saw the depth of her anguish.

      Such is our experience of God when we suffer; that he is a compassionate God. He doesn’t just feel sorry for us when we hurt. He is moved with compassion to suffer with us. When you hurt, God hurts…

      God is hurting tonight with the victims of the Manchester attack.

      And, out of compassion, he says to the woman, ‘Do not weep’. Perhaps that sounds like a weak response. We might have the image of when one of our children is crying about something and we say to them, ‘Don’t cry, darling’, and gently wipe their eyes. That isn’t what these words mean.

      I think Jesus is suggesting that weeping is not the end of the story. Of course, it is appropriate for the victims of this attack to weep and to feel the true depth of the agony and anguish that is tearing their worlds apart today. We know that many will find it impossible to rebuild their lives after this: that is completely understandable and we are not going to minimise the depth of their pain with any trite theology tonight.

      But we do know that weeping is not the end of their story - and weeping is not the end of the story for any of us.

      On Sunday, I will be preaching on Revelation 21 and there is a verse there, a promise for the future that God will wipe every tear from out of our eyes. And that phrase ‘out of our eyes’ is so important. Because it means that the end of the story is one where we will not even be able to cry because God will remove every reason that we have to cry. God will remove all of our pain, all of our mourning, and light will break through into the darkness that we so often experience.

      The end of the story is that God will walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death and will, one day, flood that valley with light.

      So when Jesus says ‘Do not weep’, it is in no sense a denial of the pain of the present moment

but is an offer of hope for the future that is born out of the compassionate presence of God with us; both now and for all eternity.

      The God of compassion stands with us, in our pain, and with all those who grieve tonight as a result of this attack in Manchester.

      But just as profoundly, I think that this passage has something to say to us when we suffer as a community.

      It is not just individuals who are suffering in Manchester today. It is not just families who suffer. Communities are suffering too; school communities, villages, towns, church congregations, uniformed organisations, sports clubs and so many more communities that will be grieving the death of one of these innocent children. Communities are scarred by tragedy just as individuals are scarred by tragedy.

      That is what we see in this passage from Luke 7. We read that there was a large crowd from the town in mourning; the community was in mourning. So it is no accident that Jesus walks into the middle of the community to work his miracle of resurrection.

      Just as the woman celebrates the return of her lost son, so the community celebrates the healing presence of God in their midst. We read Luke’s words: “They glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ Notice that the crowd didn’t say, ‘God has looked favourably on the widow’ – they said, ‘God has looked favourably on his people!’ They knew that a miracle performed for an individual in their midst was a miracle for the whole community. The tragedy of this young man’s death was a tragedy for the community so his resurrection from death was a community miracle too; the compassion and love of God was extended to them all.

      And so as we pray for healing for those individuals and families impacted by this event, so we pray too for healing amongst the communities scarred by this tragedy too.

      Today, we stand in solidarity with the people of Manchester and all those communities ravaged by these senseless deaths.

      We pray that God will bring healing and renewal to those communities in the fullness of time.

      Today is not a day for trite theology. Today is not a day to try to explain away suffering. Today is not a day to even begin to look for a reason ‘why’. Today, the parents and families are in anguish and suffering. Today, communities are feeling violated and scourged by evil.

      Today is a day for us to sit with them, in silence and in prayer.

      As we reflect on their pain, many of us will become more aware of our own pain and the ambiguities of life that we have suffered; the ambiguities of life that, perhaps, we continue to endure.

      We have no answers to the question ‘why’. But we do gain some comfort, some context, some perspective, from our Gospel reading…

      That Jesus is here with us in the midst of our agonies and that he meets us with deep compassion and suffers with us and gives us a hope for the future that has the power to transform our present experience.

      That Jesus is here with us in our community sufferings too; that as any one of us hurts, so we all hurt and the miracle of resurrection and renewal and new life is a miracle for the whole community, not just the suffering individual.

      Our God is a God of the individual.

      Our God is a God of the community.

      He stands with us when we grieve and suffer loss. He stands with all those families and communities who are grieving their loss after the tragic events of last night.

      God weeps over Manchester tonight - but weeping is not the end of the story, it is never the end of the story. Because, in his compassion, death has been swallowed up in victory and he will wipe every tear from out of our eyes.

      We stand in solidarity with all those who suffer tonight and we pray for God’s healing presence in their lives. As they walk through the valley of the shadow of death, our prayer is that they may become aware of God’s light flooding that valley and aware of his presence with them, this day and for evermore.


Organ recitals


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Introducing St. Andrew's...

St. Andrew’s is a vibrant Anglican Church at the heart of the community in Enfield. The church has been established here for more than 800 years – and aims to be a place where people can be warmly welcomed and encounter God in the 21st-century…

As a family, we take delight in our Anglican heritage, recognising that it provides a useful framework for developing a deep and well-rounded spirituality. But most importantly, we are a mission-shaped church; constantly seeking to present the Christian faith in ways that are meaningful and accessible for all who worship here.

We believe that God is at work in Enfield and our task is to catch a glimpse of what he is doing – and then try to follow him in our mission and ministry. We value space and time to pray and reflect and encourage the deepening of spirituality for each individual member.

We have plenty of activities and interest groups within the church family. This website will introduce you to the life of St. Andrew’s in more detail. You can read about our youth work, children’s work, pastoral care ministries, variety of worship services, excellent musical tradition, Bible study groups, discipleship courses, social activities, schools work, overseas support and a whole lot more here!

Most of all, we believe that we worship a hospitable God. At St. Andrew’s, we want to do all we can to reflect that hospitality to the local community and all who visit. We are a church on a journey – we are far from perfect and we have a long, long way to go! But if you want to come along and see if this is a place where you can find God, you will be more than welcome!


Introducing our Vicar...

SteveThe Vicar of Enfield is Rev Dr Steve Griffiths. Steve came into post in June 2014. He has been an ordained Minister in the Church of England since 1993. Before moving to Enfield, Steve had served parishes in Staffordshire, the East End of London, North Essex, and Cambridgeshire. He was also on Faculty at Ridley Hall Theological College as Director of the Cambridge Institute for Children, Youth & Mission (formerly known as Centre for Youth Ministry).

Steve has a particular expertise in children's and youth ministry. He has been involved in training youth workers across the world since 1999. He has been extensively involved in youth ministry training in the UK, Scandinavia, India, South Africa, the US, Central Europe and mainland Europe. As well as authoring many popular and academic articles on youth ministry, historical theology, and pastoral theology, Steve is the author of a number of books including: Discipling Generation Y: Themes from the Book of Revelation, Models for Youth Ministry, God of the Valley, Redeem the Time: Sin in the Writings of John Owen, and East End Youth Ministry 1880-1957.