There was no chance of getting anywhere near St Ann’s Square in Manchester, where a minute’s silence was being observed at 11am today. All the streets leading to the square were jam packed with jostling people.
Silence fell suddenly and with a strange authority of its own. Nobody whispered. Nobody moved. Men and women noiselessly wiped tears from their eyes.
At the end of sixty seconds applause erupted in the huge crowd and went on and on. It seemed they were applauding the communal spirit of Manchester which had refused to give in to hatred. Applauding the victims still in hospital, many in a critical state, enduring their suffering so patiently. Applauding the families who stood vigil so faithfully at their bedsides.
When the crowd dispersed, the atmosphere around the flower shrine in St Ann’s Square had shifted, and conversations turned more readily to spiritual things.
Robert, in T-shirt and wide-brimmed hat, was visiting from Melbourne, Australia. A Rapid Response Chaplain engaged him in conversation and felt led to give him a copy of Billy Graham’s book ‘The key to personal peace’. Robert opened it at random and there and then began reading aloud from the chapter ‘What is sin?’
“That’s what it’s all about!” he said with a sudden realisation. The chaplain then took out the booklet ‘Steps to Peace with God,’ and led him through the Gospel.
Sarah is a Manchester journalist. She came that day to pay her respects and fell into conversation with a chaplain. Her parents had taken her to church as child, but she had gone away from God. And today it was so easy to come back.
“I’d like to be at peace about all this,” she said.
“Can I show you some steps?” asked the chaplain.
“I’m a millennial,” was the answer. “We’re just not sure there’s a God.”
“Would you like to be sure?”
“I just don’t know if I want to make that decision,” said Sarah.
“What’s stopping you?”
There was a long pause.
“So would you like to take that step right now?”
Adam had been sitting for hours in the square, taking it all in. He was heavily tattooed, with pierced cheeks, nose and tongue, and wearing over sized earphones. One cheek was twitching as he struggled with lonely thoughts. But when a chaplain sat next to him, he began to talk.
He was 22 – the same age as the terrorist who had destroyed so many lives on Monday night.
“I can understand how they drew him in,” said Adam. “We see it in the gangs here in Manchester. They always pick on the weakest, most bullied boys. Then they give them somewhere to belong, and they can twist them any way they like.”
“I used to have faith as a child,” said Adam. “But I lost it. Too many bad things happened to me. I remember 9/11: I was only seven at the time. I started asking: how could a God who is in control allow this? How could he allow this to happen to Manchester? Just look at those kids – they were so innocent.”
Adam had grown up in a Christian school, surrounded by Bible stories and crucifixes. So the chaplain took out a crucifix from his rucksack.
“What about Jesus?” he asked. “What if God came and was not in control any more – if he suffered with us? If he went through an agony which was just as terrible as that of the kids in the bomb attack, who knew they were dying and that there was nothing they could do about it? Wouldn’t He be a God worth believing in?”
“Could I challenge you to say a prayer?” asked the chaplain. “Would you pray that if God and Jesus are real, they would reveal themselves to you?”
Adam was silent for a moment, and then in the middle of the square, with strangers sitting all around him, he prayed aloud:
“God, if you are real, reveal yourself to me. Jesus, if you are real, reveal yourself to me.”
Would you, the reader, take a minute’s silence now, and pray that Jesus would reveal himself to Adam, and to all those in Manchester who need Him?
Names have been changed