An awful accident – and its aftermath
Neil Pickford is provoked by terrible reality.
I’ve got to be honest: we’re normally darned lucky in the Minster. We’re big enough to have a decent-sized team of professionals to keep things ticking over plus a large pool of volunteers to undertake the million little tasks that keep the show on the road. We’re justly proud of the high standards we maintain, the range of things that we do and the way in which we try to nurture future generations through our youth programme.
We set out to do good stuff, we often succeed and things are, in many respects and for many reasons, a lot easier for us than most churches around Britain.
And then sometimes, despite all our good work, life sometimes comes along, scowls at our complacency, smacks us in the mouth – and then kicks us in the stomach as a bonus.
A shockwave ran through the Minster recently when we heard some terrible news. One of the members of our youth family, Alex Lenton, had been seriously injured in a car crash. I won’t go over the details or speculate about his chances of recovery, but I’ll say that it brought a lot of us face-to-face with terrible, brutal and unfair reality, slap in the middle of our smoothly-running lives.
I don’t care how the accident happened and, as far as I’m concerned, there’s nothing to debate about why God ‘makes terrible things occur’ because I don’t think he does – I’m confident in my own mind that ‘We Have Free Will’ and ‘Bad Things Just Happen’. It’s what happens afterwards that helps define Christianity for me.
Immediately we heard the news a prayer station was set up to allow people who cared about Alex to come into the Minster and focus their thoughts and hopes for his eventual recovery. We also remembered everyone else involved in, and affected by, the crash.
Many people now find lighting a candle to be a good way of expressing a prayer and so one of our votive candle stands was set up in St Katherine’s Chapel, along with a large card for well-wishers to sign and a prayer book for people to write down their thoughts. Our various youth leaders were available to talk to anyone who was upset and needed guidance or just company.
Since the accident there has been a stream of people, some who have not been in the Minster before, coming to keep an irregular vigil for Alex: the burned-out candles are being kept to show him how many people have been coming in to pray for him and the writings of well-wishers are being collated for him and his family to read when he’s able.
Now I happen to believe in the power of prayer (and I’m not going to trivialise this by quoting the survival of Bristol City in the Championship this season as an example of this – although them staying up was a bit of a miracle) but even if you don’t share my belief then there’s another clear benefit from the prayer vigil – it’s been good for those who were there.
Instead of the random and uncontrolled ‘grief’ we’ve seen everywhere since the death of The People’s Princess back in 1997 the friends, family and others have had a chance to sit down in a quiet and calm place. They can reflect on Alex and their own reactions without having to explain to people around them why they may – or may not – be crying and, if they want, leave a solid token or memento of their feelings which doesn’t droop overnight.
It’s a mature way, it’s a way that can have great therapeutic benefits for those who take part and, I believe, it will also provide a real benefit to Alex himself.
And that’s one of the reasons the church continues to survive after all these years.