What do you say to your communities when their MP is murdered?
"We were creating a prayer station in Wakefield Cathedral for those who had lost their lives in the Orlando nightclub shooting when a news flash said Jo Cox had been attacked in her constituency nearby in Batley and Spen. She was on her way to hospital. Nobody knew then what we know now. The prayer station was changed to include all those caught up in violent attacks. And we tweeted. #prayersforJo
On that darkest of days on June 16th 2016, it was a space and a place to gather that people wanted: a place to come together to express the rawness of their grief. Red raw, uncomprehending. It stopped them in their tracks yet also propelled them to seek each other out, find some kind of meaning; anything that would fill that numbing void where grief had lodged itself.
They found that in a hurriedly organised prayer vigil in the local church of St Peter’s close to Birstall Market Square where she lost her life. Other local churches opened their doors and bought more candles.
As the tragedy unfolded, people wanted space to express themselves. They came to light candles, to sit, to remember. Everyone had a story about Jo; her love, her energy, her passion, what she meant to them. It was inclusive, it traversed faiths, cultures, generations, and in its inclusivity, it proved beyond doubt those words that now immortalise her:
“We have more in common than that which divides us.”
Our churches were open as long as people wanted them, our priests and Bishops shared platforms with their Muslim friends; together they offered prayers and words trying to make sense of the senselessness.
Because what do you say to your communities when their MP has just been murdered.
So over the weekend of the anniversary of Jo’s death, churches across the Diocese of Leeds will open their doors to their neighbours for picnics, BBQs, walks – all part of the 111,000 plus Great Get Togethers planned nationally. And here in her heartland, they are throwing open their doors wide; lighting candles, welcoming in each other, sharing iftars with the Muslim community; holding community picnics and together creating a piece of artwork that says they have more in common.
On the anniversary of her death, people will gather in the Market Square in Birstall, that one year ago was awash with floral tributes for Jo. There will be flowers again, no doubt, and quiet for the passing of the year; but also a firm recommitment to continue going forward together.
On the Saturday there will be other Great Get Togethers in places with unseemly names like Hanging Heaton, Roberttown, Scholes, Cleckheaton, Heckmondwike across the Spen Valley. A vintage bus will park up in Batley Market Place to dish out tea, cakes and chatter.
Later that night tables for 200 guests will be laid for Batley’s Big Iftar in the Market Square and Gardens, with children’s activities, songs and poetry. It will be the local imams that will lead the breaking of the fast, say prayers before sharing food together.
And on the Sunday it’s a picnic in the churchyard of Batley Parish Church with take-away bags for Muslim friends. There’ll be an ecumenical open-air service and then it’s a walk to the local rugby stadium, home to the Batley Bulldogs. They’ve given away thousands of tickets for a family fun day in Jo’s name before their local derby against Sheffield Eagles.
That’s what you say to your communities when your MP has been murdered.
By Jane Bower, comms officer for Wakefield and Huddersfield Areas, for the Church of England blog