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Local church helps victims of London's towering inferno

‘I opened the church at half-three in the morning’ as an emergency relief centre

In the hours since a massive fire ripped through a tower block in West London early on Wednesday, the nearby St Clement’s Church has been rapidly turned into an emergency relief centre. It sheltered more than 100 residents as the blaze raged and has subsequently been overwhelmed with donations. People have given clothes, bedding and toiletries for the residents of the tower, many of whom fled the block in their nightwear and have lost everything. Volunteers from churches throughout the area are running the relief operation.

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“Because of this church’s longstanding community outreach work,  it is a highly trusted place.” – Alan Everett

Minister at St Clement’s Alan Everett described how events unfolded in the hours after the devastating fire: “I opened the church at half-three in the morning and within minutes the local community started bringing in supplies – the tables are now completely overflowing. The response has been overwhelming,” he said.

St Clement’s has now reached saturation point and has simply run out of room to store any more supplies. Everett said St Clement’s has always had a strong emphasis on community outreach work and this tragic event has brought people together in a very strong bond: “Because of this church’s longstanding community outreach work,  it is a highly trusted place. We are trusted by people of all faiths. This response is the social gospel. In the wake of the tragedy, people might ask: ‘Where is God?’ God is present in the hands that are reaching out to help.”

“There’s an Ethiopian family here who can’t find their five-year-old son.” – Graham Tomlin

Area Dean Mark O’Donoghue has been at St Clement’s since dawn on Wednesday: “I have spent the time sitting with and listening to people who are desperately looking for friends and relatives. This is a church showing Christ-like compassion and care,” he said.

James Heard is a minister from a neighbouring parish who has been spending time in prayer with those in distress. He said: “People have been coming in too shocked to speak.”

Designated spaces have been created within the church grounds for prayer while clergy from throughout the area have come to offer support to grieving relatives. St Clement’s is providing registration for missing people. Grenfell Tower is in North Kensington, a highly multicultural area in West London. Many nationalities are represented; there’s a high population of Moroccans, Filipinos and Eastern Europeans as well as many people from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the response from the community had been an “extraordinary sight.” Local Bishop Graham Tomlin said it was crucial for the clergy to be visible: “It’s important to open the doors of our churches and of our hearts and to offer whatever help we can.

“This church is at the heart of the local community and we have here with us families anxiously awaiting news of relatives. There’s an Ethiopian family here who can’t find their five-year-old son. Our local Filipino chaplain is also very involved as there are a number of Filipinos in the tower block missing.”

Anglican Communion News Service.

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