By Madeleine Davis
OLDHAM had been “rocked” by the deaths of Alison Howe and Lisa Lees, mothers who had been waiting to collect their daughters at the Arena, the Vicar of St Mary with St Peter, Oldham, the Revd Derek Palmer, said on Wednesday.
A “steady trickle of people” had been to pray and light candles at the church, he said. One mother whose daughter returned from the concert had come to give thanks.
Although there had already been a backlash a mosque in the town was set alight in the early hours of Tuesday, and Muslims were “anxious and fearful” Mr Palmer sensed a desire to “pull together and be united”. Those who remembered the riots in Oldham in 2001 “don’t want that to happen again”.
A statement by the Oldham priests-and-imams group expressed “sadness and outrage” at the bombing, and said that “the action of those whose purpose is to destroy lives are not representative of any faith.”
The group is co-led by the Revd David Hanson, Assistant Curate of Christ Church with St Saviour, Chadderton, and Imam Shakir Mansoor of Manchester city-centre mosque. Mr Hanson said that five imams were among the Muslims who sat in silence at a vigil at Christ Church on Tuesday. Muslims he had met were “horrified and sad and angry and upset on a number of levels, because it seems to be done in their name and they want to distance themselves from it, and they feel that sadness for the families so tragically affected”.
The “raw anger” in Oldham was “understandable. But what we are trying to do is say: ‘Let’s not direct that anger towards each other. . . We need to be standing alongside and supporting one another at this time.’”
Mr Mansoor said that the attack was a “very, very disturbing situation. . . We are trying to encourage people to stand together, and hold events so people can easily get together and show our solidarity and commitment, our unity, so that the mindset that wants to divide the community does not succeed.”
About 200 imams had joined him at Manchester Central Mosque on Tuesday, which produced a statement condemning the attack.
“Even though the perpetrators claim to be Muslim, but have nothing to do with our religion . . . we have to oppose it and condemn it, simply because we do not want anybody to do these things in the name of our religion,” he said.
The imam of the mosque attacked on Tuesday morning reported no further retaliation.
Meanwhile the raising of the national terror threat to its highest level has had implications for many churches. On Wednesday, it was announced that Birmingham Cathedral would be closed for 24 hours, “subject to review”.
The Acting Dean, Canon Nigel Hand, said that Cathedral Square would be “a place of prayer, reflection and hope in the coming days”.
Unlike other cathedrals, Birmingham did not have its own cathedral police, and was “under-resourced in terms of security”, with no “frontline staff” dedicated to it, the director of resources, Anna Pitt, explained.
In the heart of a busy city centre, in an area where there had been “significant numbers of terrorism-related arrests”, and with no means to stop visitors and search bags, the decision had been taken to close while additional security was put in place.
Holding services outside, under the observation of police, was “a visible sign that our faith is strong and endures. The church is not just a building but the people, and that endures for us. . . We are doing everything we can for business as usual, as far as our worship and witness is concerned.”
It was later confirmed that Birmingham Cathedral would reopen on Thursday.
Increased security measures were announced by York Minster on Wednesday, including “high visibility patrols” by its cathedral constables, and the immediate introduction of random bag searches. Large bags and suitcases will no longer be allowed inside.
In Manchester, Dean Govender confirmed that, before Monday’s attack, in response to “recent threats”, he had decided to employ two security officers and put bag searches in place.