12 December 2017, The Tablet

Remembering those who died in the Grenfell fire disaster

Thursday's service at St Paul's will focus on remembering those who lost their lives and on offering strength and hope for the future

Remembering those who died in the Grenfell fire disaster

The Prince of Wales, the Duchess of Cornwall, the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and Prince Harry are among those who will be attending the Grenfell National Memorial Service at St Paul’s in London on Thursday, exactly six months to the day after the fire in which 71 people died, including 18 children.

The service will focus on remembering those who lost their lives, on providing messages of support for the bereaved, and on offering strength and hope for the future, for those of all faiths and none. 

St Paul’s has worked closely with the Bishop of Kensington, the Rt Revd Dr Graham Tomlinson, who will give the address, as well as the Al Manaar Mosque, local clergy of different faiths, survivors, the bereaved and the wider community.

The service will include a specially-commissioned banner incorporating the "Grenfell Heart" which will be brought into the service and displayed throughout, before being taken to the silent vigil being planned in North Kensington later in the day.

There will also be music from the Ebony Steel Band, the Portobello Road Salvation Army Band, an Islamic girls’ choir from the Al Sadiq and Al Zahra Schools and the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir.

Faith leaders from different faith communities and Christian denominations will sit, stand and speak together from the Cathedral dais in a show of unity.

There will also be a pre-recorded sound montage of anonymous, real voices from the Grenfell community, reflecting the range of different emotions felt.

At the end, bereaved families and survivors will be invited to leave the Cathedral together through the Great West Door, holding white roses.

Shahin Sadafi, Chair of Grenfell United, said: “December 14th will be a special day for our community. We are coming together to remember the loved ones we lost in the fire, to unite as a community and to start to build hope for the future. We hope we can come together as a nation and show our support to the bereaved families, survivors of the tower and the affected community." 

Dr Tomlin, said: “I am sure that the presence of the Royal Family will be a reassurance and support to those at the heart of this service. My hope and prayer is that the occasion will help us remember those who lost their lives, bring comfort and strength to the bereaved, support those who survived, and offer hope for the future.”

Jacqui Haynes, chair of Lancaster West Residents' Association, said: “The memorial is a chance for all of us to come together and remember what happened. The fire left 71 dead, including 18 children, and daily we continue to see the impact and damage that fire did. We will stand together in memory and support of victims and families.

“We hope that this memorial is fitting and dignified. The people in Grenfell Tower were forgotten about and ignored before the fire and this is a chance for people across the country to unite and stand with us. Life in the shadow of the Tower is a daily struggle to repair our fractured community, lest we forget what happened that night.”

The greatest number who died were Muslim. Many Christians also died, including at least 14 Catholics.

Fr Gerard Skinner, parish priest of St Francis of Assisi Church, Notting Hill, said all faiths and none have, in so many different yet complimentary ways, been supporting and are continuing to support those affected by the disaster. 

Quoting St Luke's Gospel, he said the prayer of the community at St Francis is that the Lord "will give light to those in darkness, those who dwell in the shadow of death, and guide us into the way of peace." 

In an article in the immediate aftermath of the fire, Fr Skinner wrote: "From early on Wednesday morning our church became the most incredible hub. Scores of volunteers spontaneously came to the Parish Centre and began receiving hundreds of bags of clothes and other items that will be of use to those who have lost everything. They sorted the donated items into boxes that were piled high in the church and courtyard. Human chains passed each box from the Parish Centre and courtyard out to waiting vans.

"Children were offering their toys for those who now had none and donors hauled in great suitcases of gifts that they had brought by public transport from as far as Hertfordshire, Essex and Suffolk. Throughout the day Frs Peter Wilson and Peter Scott walked around the parish offering comfort to those in distress; the area auxiliary bishop, Bishop John Wilson, joined them in the afternoon. Meanwhile in the centre other volunteers welcomed anyone who needed a place to seek refuge: some of those who came had lost their homes, others had been evacuated from homes near the Grenfell Tower. Some were looking for loved ones; others were escaping from the media attention at the nearby Rugby Portobello Club where they had been awaiting news of relatives with whom they had lost contact. At midnight I closed the gate to the courtyard in front of the church."

He asked: "And how many must be suffering not only from physical injuries but from having seen and heard things that none of us should have to bear? On the day after the disaster I joined Frs Wilson and Scott in prayer for the victims of the fire at the very foot of Grenfell Tower. Over 24 hours after the disaster began, small fires still blazed, smoke obliterating sight of the higher storeys of the burnt out building. We listened to firemen, policemen and others who were there to support them in their painful work... May God grant eternal rest to those who have died and help us all, especially those must in need, now and in the days and years ahead." 

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