Baptist churches in London sought to minister to victims affected by Thursday’s terrorist attacks, while taking inventory to see whether their own members or loved ones were among the dozens killed and hundreds injured in four bombings on the city’s mass-transit system.
Claire Coleman, who attends Eltham Baptist Church and works near the Aldgate tube station, narrowly missed the first explosion. It occurred at 8:51 a.m. on an underground train leaving Aldgate about 100 yards from the Liverpool Street station, killing a confirmed seven victims.
“Its just so weird, if I hadn’t had the instinct to get the earlier train I would have been on that tube,” Coleman told the British newspaper Baptist Times.
“It was such a horrific experience, but it was my faith which kept me calm,” she said. “It was good to pray–it definitely helped me being religious in that situation.”
Allan Davies, pastor of Westerham Hill Baptist Church, said one of the church’s young men, a student, lives within 100 yards of the explosion that ripped the top off a double-decker bus near Tavistock Place at 9:47 a.m., but he was not at home.
Davies said other church members work in the city close to other bombings but all were safely evacuated from office buildings, taking up to six hours to find their way back home. One parishioner was about to board a train when her office called and told her to return home.
“Our prayers are for the families of the bereaved and their friends, for those receiving medical support and intervention, for the medical staff, for the teams at work at the bomb sites seeking forensic evidence and for those who have and will have the dangerous task of repairing the subway,” Davies told EthicsDaily.com.
Stephen Latham, minister of Westbourne Park Baptist Church, close to the Edgware Road bomb site and its five confirmed fatalities, said most people seemed to want a place to talk and share their stories in the aftermath.
“We put up posters in the street to let people know we were open,” Latham told the Baptist Times. “A number of people came in, mostly to talk, but some to pray.”
Paul Martin, regional minister for the London Baptist Association, told the Times he talked to two people who came in off the street to his office, located in Bloomsbury Baptist Church.
“The first person who came in had no religious affiliation at all, but felt it was a safe place to come in to,” Martin said. “Another person witnessed the bus explode nearby.”
Martin said the bombings “have reinforced the importance of this church being open, providing somewhere for people to sit down and reflect, and pray if they want to.”
Unlike citizens of the United States, who largely were caught off guard by terrorist bombings of Sept. 11, 2001, Londoners are not totally unfamiliar with bombings.
For Mike McDade, minister at Blackheath & Charlton Baptist Church in Southeast London, it brought back memories of 1993, when Warrington Town Centre was bombed, killing two children and hurting about 100. At the time minister for the town centre, McDade spent the rest of the day at the hospital and subsequently ministered with victims for periods of months and even years.
“When I first heard the news I prayed that it was an accident, but thoughts of Warrington came flooding back,” he told EthicsDaily.com in an e-mail. He said he was brought to tears as news came in. “I new how folk would be feeling, and my thoughts were with those clergy who would respond,” McDade said.
McDade later was put on standby to minister to victims if needed and has already changed his planned worship service on Sunday. “My words will be simple; just to say that many will have and will be traveling to the Garden of Gethsemane saying, ‘Please pass this cup from me,'” he said.
David Hague of Pawsons Road Baptist Church in Croydon, about 10 miles from the bombings, said as far as he knew no one in his community was involved.
“London faced many trials during the Second World War and more recently during the period of IRA bombs here in the capital,” Hague said. “We will survive this and put it to the back of our minds.”
“This does not mean that we are not praying for the bereaved and injured, because we are,” he continued. “But if we let this affect us, the terrorists will win.”
Patricia Took, another of the four regional ministers who serve London Baptist Association, predicted that, based on past bombings, after an initial shock and an outpouring of sympathy for victims and emergency workers, the city will soon be back in business. But she said it will be harder for tourists who have come to relax and visit.
Forty-eight students in England as part of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s Oxford Summer Studies program reportedly canceled a trip to London scheduled on Saturday, citing speculation there might be repeat attacks.
Students and faculty from Baylor University arriving in London just before the blast found out about the bombings while riding on a charter bus to their hotel. All 25 students and two faculty members were accounted for and safe, Baylor spokeswoman Lori Scott Fogleman told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.
“I understand that they all have chosen to continue in the program,” she said. Another 156 Baylor students and 13 faculty members are scheduled to arrive in London over the next few days.
London Baptist Association’s Took said she does have one concern that many other Baptist Christians will share: “to protect our Muslim neighbors from any backlash of anger or desire to scapegoat.”
“We will be working hard to prevent that,” she said.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com. Shaun Lambert of The Baptist Times contributed to this story.