In the hours since a massive blaze ripped through a tower block in west London early on Wednesday, 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.
The Rev. Alan Everett described how events unfolded in the hours after the devastating blaze: “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 says 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.”
Area dean the Rev. Mark O’Donoghue has been at St. Clement’s since dawn yesterday: “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.” The Rev. James Heard, from a neighbouring parish, has been spending time in prayer with those in distress: “I was here most of yesterday. People have been coming in too shocked to speak.”
Designated spaces have been created within the church grounds for prayer and clergy from throughout the area have come to offer support to grieving relatives. St. Clements is providing registration for missing persons.
Its a highly multicultural area with many nationalities represented; theres a high population of Moroccans, Filipinos and eastern Europeans as well as many people from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.
Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the response from the community had been an extraordinary sight. Local Bishop Graham Tomlin says its crucial the clergy are visible: Its 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. Theres an Ethiopian family here who cant 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.
St. Clement’s is a four-minute walk from the tower block.