CLOSE to 250 people of all faiths and no faith united in Bromsgrove’s historic St John’s Church for An Act of Prayer and Remembrance for Paris.
The moving multi-faith ceremony was opened by the church’s choir singing from the building’s West Door as a candle was brought down the aisle and placed at the front.
Rev Ray Khan, who led the service, spoke about St John’s being a place of prayer and commemoration at the heart of the Bromsgrove community for more than 1,000 years.
That was followed by a recitation from the Qur’an by Hassan Al-Rawni and a testament from a survivor of the Bataclan Theatre terror attacks which took place nine days ago.
In the statement, read by Aska Khan, the victim spoke about the horrors inside the theatre – something he never thought would happen to him.
In the emotive account, he referred to the bodies and devastation, of the ‘demolished futures’ and ‘broken families’ and praised heroes who had helped him during the ordeal – from fellow concert-goers and the police to friends who had since sent messages of good will.
An Act of Remembrance followed that with the lighting of candles by Christians, Muslims, Jews and people with no faith.
Among them were children aged eight, 11 and 12, Coun Caroline Spencer, chairman of Bromsgrove District Council and the chairman of Bromsgrove and District Twinning Association, Roger Westbury.
After further prayers, readings – from The Bible and The Qur’an, recited by seven-year-old Zara Khan, there were addresses by Dr Waqar Azmi OBE, the chairman of the Bromsgrove Muslim Community Trust and Rev Christine Holzapfel, the team rector for the Parish of Bromsgrove.
Dr Azmi talked about how Islam detested the harming of people, animals and even the cutting down of trees.
He went on to speak about those who had died in the terror attacks in Paris, Lebanon and in Syria, which had included Muslims.
“It’s hard to see what religion these terrorists were following.
“Terrorism and extremism has no religion – you cannot blame a whole community or religion.”
Rev Holzapfel said in her address that there was a longing for peace among most people and also mentioned the terror attacks in Paris and Lebanon, along with others in Mali and the bombing of the Russian plane.
She talked about the things that threatened peace, such as abhorrent use of religions, hostility, poverty and the lucrative weapons industry.
She mentioned those who inspired and championed peace, including Mother Theresa and Nelson Mandela.
And she quoted Martin Luther King: “We must learn to live together as brothers or we will perish together as fools.”
A Muslim Prayer for Our Nation was read out by ten-year-old Ayman Azmi and the hymn ‘Make Me a Channel of Your Peace’ was sang.
Four religious representatives – Rev Khan, Rev Holzapfel, Waqar Azmi and Jewish representative Phil Saleh – then congregated on the altar to give a combined blessing.
And, as they exited down the aisle, the service was concluded with the French national anthem.
Afterwards, those who had gathered were invited to each light a tealight candle to remember those who had lost their lives in the recent terror attacks.
And by the end, there were around 180 little lights in the chancel of the church in front of the French Tricolore flag.
Nicole Harris, who is French and has family in Paris and a cousin who works in the police force there, said afterwards: “It was very moving – it was nice to see people from all religions there uniting against terrorism.”
Mr Azmi told The Standard: “It was a very engaging, moving and peaceful service which brought the whole of Bromsgrove district together.”
Rev Khan added: “I was deeply moved by the fact there were people there who represented all parts of the community who came together to remember, to pray and to grieve.”
Coun Spencer said: “A number of people have already said to me what an amazing service it was.
“It was wonderful to see so many people of all faiths, some of no faith and people of all ages come together.”