The Queen has spoken of “a very sombre national mood” in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower fire. The images of the fire itself are too unbearable to watch, the glimpses of individuals still trapped in the building engulfed in flames and the heart-breaking last text and phone messages. Then there is the unimaginable agony of those who still do not know the fate of their loved ones, hoping against hope for some good news, that they fear will not come.
Amidst the unfolding horror the best of the human spirit was also revealed in the heroic work of the emergency services and the sheer bravery of the fire crews. The best of humanity was also revealed in the generosity of the local community, responding to the best of instincts to help in whatever way possible.
But over this scene is a growing cloud of anger. How in 21st century Britain could this happen and in the richest borough in the country? Voices had long been raised in warning about the safety of this housing block and we are faced with the frightening truth that may be, just may be, these voices went unheard because they came from the poorer and more vulnerable part of the borough. And to compound this, the local authority seems to have been remarkably slow in offering support and help to those affected. In the shadow of Grenfell Tower are some of the most expensive high-rise flats in the country, built to the very highest specification whilst this tower block was seemingly refurbished to just minimum standards. In one terrible night the inequalities that blight modern Britain have been laid bare.
Much is made of London’s international status, the wealth it generates and the super rich who move in. Less is made of the poor and vulnerable who get caught up in the outwash of this growth, who on minimum wage and zero hour contracts, and priced out of all but the poorest housing, help sustain the city that too often ignores them. And what is true of London is mirrored to different extents in cities around the country.
When the rich bankers got it wrong for the sake of all (or so we are told) the government immediately bailed them out taking the nation into debt. In times of debt austerity becomes the order of the day and when belts are tightened it is too often those already struggling who find the little they have becomes even less. Austerity does not affect everyone equally meanwhile our public services, most needed by the poorest and most vulnerable, are all starting to show the signs of chronic under funding.
When individuals are in crisis, or tragedy hits communities, again and again the local churches will be found there amongst the mix of those helping and reaching out – the Church were it should be alongside people in need. In Norfolk it is estimated that church communities are helping feed some seven thousand people each month. Rightly the churches should feel proud of what they achieve and the part they play in supporting some of the most vulnerable in our communities.
But the Church should also rage, rage that so many people are dependant on food banks or soup runs, rage at the treatment of the unemployed, people with disabilities and asylum seekers, rage at the inequalities that underpin too much of our society.
We are each made uniquely in the image of God, beloved of God, a living temple to the Lord. And when ever a fellow human being is treated less favourably than another, or some thrive at the expense of others, or the voices of the needy go unheard then a blasphemy against God has been committed and the Church cannot remain silent.
Yes the Church needs to be their helping and supporting those in need but it must also loudly challenge the social, economic and political structures that lead to such inequalities. This too is part of bringing in the Kingdom of God on earth. We will not always be popular, some of our friends will leave us and we will be compromised but such is the struggle to grow the Kingdom.
Light candles, say prayers, offer comfort, donate goods, give of your time but also fight to change all that can help end this terrible plight. Rage, rage against the revelations of that terrible night.