On 14 June, the city of London was rocked by a huge fire in Grenfell Tower which is feared to have killed 79 people.
Theresa Williams lives on the same estate as the tower, and here she shares her incredible story of God’s presence through prayer at the heart of their community:
"Prayer has been so significant for us and for our community at this time..."
It was 2am and the sound of the helicopters and sirens woke me. With a mixture of astonishment and feeling completely powerless, we opened up the church building to provide a place of refuge.
The rest of the morning was a blur. When, 12 sleep-deprived hours later, my friend called to ask, ‘What are you doing about prayer?’ I didn’t know how to respond – I was so focused on the practicalities of dealing with the crisis. Five minutes later my brother called to ask exactly the same question, and it was then that I realised what was going on.
I prayed: ‘God, you’ve got my attention.’
I’ve lived on the same estate as Grenfell Tower for the last six years as part of an Eden team, and now I work as part of The Message Trust’s London hub to help grow mission across the capital. The fire that devastated the tower in the early hours of 14 June has left our community heart broken – since then my church and other local charities from the area have been at the forefront of the response.
In the midst of the chaos of that first day, I spoke with my colleague and friend saying:
’We need to do something – we need to pray.’
So we decided to put up a prayer wall. It felt a bit surreal to be putting up panels in the middle of everything else that was going on. But it soon started to draw attention and a small group formed asking what we were doing. Even as I started to write the words ‘Pray for our Community’ in the middle of it people were already writing their prayers, thoughts and emotions on the wall, and taking the opportunity to grieve.
That night I prayed, ‘God, I give this to you; would you somehow use this prayer wall for your glory.’ The next morning there was a photo of it at the top of the BBC News website.
At that point I knew God was in it.
The wall has been an incredible space for people to have a voice. It’s been a space for people to gather and express themselves in the pain and the loss. It has also been a place for the emergency services who have been so affected by the fire to express their emotion. A firefighter attached a t-shirt to the wall. Words written on it are still imprinted on my mind: ‘We did our best, I promise’.
On the Sunday following the fire, with the help of lots of friends we held an open-air service in our church car park. It was a key opportunity for the community to gather together to pray and worship. We put out chairs on the road, but at one point two fire engines needed to pass through – so in the middle of the service we were able to applaud the firefighters and pray a prayer of blessing over them.
A week after the fire, we came together for nine hours of unbroken prayer. Churches came together – so many different denominations and leaders – and it was an unbelievable feeling of unity.
Prayer has been so significant for us and for our community at this time. Through the prayer wall and by meeting others from the wider church in London, prayer now seems like a really tangible way to stand together: it’s not just something people do in a church or a mosque.
We have prayed so much since the fire – and we’re only still standing because of the love that God has poured out through his church through prayer.
Continue to pray for London and the community around the Grenfell Tower - why not set a reminder on your phone to remember to pray each day?
Main photo credit: Izzy Cockram.