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Service marks 10th anniversary of the floods

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Evensong to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Gloucestershire floods

There is a strong sense amongst those of us who have been in the county for less than a decade, that you had to be here to really know just how devastating the floods of 2007 really were. Hands up please if you were here.

You witnessed a national emergency in your own streets and in your own homes, and for some, for many, the waters will never be forgotten. In 2010, when I was interviewed for this job, the unprepared scenario question from the panel was; It is the 2007 Gloucester floods, and the Council has called you in as Dean, to describe what role the cathedral can play in this disaster? Memories were still fresh, and this shared experience meant that everyone who lives or works here, needs to know about the impact and the fear.

Others who experienced the floods first hand have written and spoken about the community response. Combined with the work of the authorities, the response of ordinary people was brave and distinguished. The work of the emergency services and the response of ordinary Gloucestershire people was the ark that saved life so that we might go on. This is something Gloucestershire can be proud of.

Recently, when staying in London, I was nearby another area of disaster. Feeling drawn on the day of silent remembrance, I walked to see the horror of Grenfell Tower. This time it was one place rather than a county, and this time it was fire and not water. The response of the emergency services and the local community was again heroic, and time and reports will tell of how the response of other civic authorities is to be judged. As I walked around, the faces of the dead stared back from posters on lamp-posts and fences. The churches were full of resources and community workers. But there was something missing, and it took some time to realise what it was that was missing, apart from those precious lives. Walking back, it became clear. What was missing was birdsong. Due probably to the ferocity of the fire, the birds had left Grenfell. It was eerie, and felt wrong, and it seemed to lay hopelessness upon disaster.

Whether a disaster is natural, or made by human neglect or inadequacy, it is still life shattering. Such disasters don't just ruin buildings and roads, they attach themselves to the soul. There is something deeply primeval that a disaster brings with it, to shake our foundations, and to put us in touch with our mortality. In these days, we are largely kept from such feelings which is why our historic predecessors in time knew daily that they were only ever two failed harvests away from oblivion. The threat to life and well-being is new to us in this generation, and this is why it comes with such a shock to the system.

Disasters are a spiritual issue. As well as all the practicalities and problems, disasters enter our way of life and take over. They flood our senses and drown any sense of security. The response of God is two-fold. Firstly, the divine response is in the essential goodness of all people, regardless of faith or background, to come together and to offer help. The Christian God is one but is also a God of community in Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and so powerful community response goes to the very heart of God. The helping hand and the gift of simple things, even a bottler of fresh water, is a sign of God's love. And the other way in which God responds is to be seen in the rainbow that we heard of again from the earliest book of the Bible. God's covenant is never to let go, despite whatever may come to overtake us, because God himself in Jesus has suffered the same fate on the cross. Even that disaster could not win in the end, but it was real and painful. The rainbow of God stands for the abundance of his love, his steadfastness, and the diverse, complexity and beauty of human experience.

There are rainbows above Gloucestershire and there will be above Grenfell. They are a sign that our souls are not lost, even in disaster, for God does not let us go. May God bless this city and this county, may he bless us all, and may we all work together so that our public service both reaches out to all those in need and seeks to save all our souls.

The Very Reverend Stephen Lake, Dean of Gloucester


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