St Olav's Norwegian Church in London was filled to overflowing for today's memorial service. Candles were lit in memory of those who lost their lives in the attacks last Friday. In attendance were Norwegian diplomats, national and local politicians, ecumenical friends and representatives of other faith communities. Canon Andrew Nunn of Southwark Cathedral read a message from Bishop Christopher Chessun, and Bishop Jana Jeruma-Grinberga of the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, led prayers. Along with the Norwegian Chargé d'Affaires, Mr Arne Sammes Bjørnstadm, The Rt Hon Simon Hughes MP, I was able to extend a message of tribute and solidarity. I post the text of my tribute below.
Dear Fr Torbjørn, dear Mr Bjørnstad, honoured visitors, sisters and brothers in Christ.
Someone wrote to me in the past couple of days, reflecting on the acts of terror in Oslo and Utøya, and said, “in these days, the Porvoo Agreement really makes sense”. What my correspondent meant, I think, was that when tragedy strikes a member of part of a family, the family comes together, to comfort each other, to simply be with each other. The same is true of our Churches, now part of one extended family, through the Porvoo Agreement..
Our Lord Jesus built a community of servants and friends – founded on the deepest commitment to him and to each other. It is as a member of your extended family that I am here today, to express the support, assurance of prayer and deep love which underlines that we are one family, one community. It is in this spirit that I am with you today as a representative of the Church of England.
In the face of such unimaginable and terrible violence, the world has observed Norwegians responding with such grace and courage, holding fast to the principles which you hold so deeply. Following attacks inspired by hatred and fear, the natural reaction of many people would be to close doors, put on armour of protection and become wary and guarded with each other, and suspicious of the stranger. In contrast to this approach, the world has been moved by the sentiments expressed by your Prime Minister, Mr Jens Stoltenberg, who affirmed that in response to the attack your country must be more open, more tolerant, more democratic. Here is no word of hatred or fear, but rather a steady looking towards the future. We are inspired by such statesman-like, and indeed Christian words: to hope for and work for a better Norway, a better world, not a more frightened one where hatred and dread hold sway. In the face of a fearful nightmare filled with death, Norway is choosing life. As difficult as it is to speak of gift at a time of such violence, in so many ways, the people of Norway are teaching us, witnessing to us, to hold on to the values the world desperately needs. And so we resist calls for vengeance, and choose justice. We address fear and hatred by building a more open and embracing community. We affirm a future of hope, peace and grace.
One of the mysteries of our faith is how God created human beings with free will. This means the freedom to do good and to do evil. God loves us so much that in the freedom he gives his children he does not take away the possibility that we may abuse that freedom to hurt others. But God our Father’s love and compassion are always with those of his children who are wracked with pain, confusion, grief and sorrow. In a moment we will hear the majestic words of St Paul which attest to the extent of God’s compassion and love for us, words which speak today to our own sorrow. “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Today on St Olav’s day, a martyr who died for what he believed was right for Norway, it is fitting that we gather to honour the memory of people, especially the young victims, who died while doing what they believed in – working together to build a bright future for Norway and her people. It is on this hope and with this witness that God can bring light out of darkness.
Your friends and Christian brothers and sisters are with you today, to affirm your choice for life. As friends and family we gather to comfort each other. We share a word or two with you, we embrace you in an act of peace, and we unite our hearts with yours in spoken and unspoken prayer.
And we affirm our common faith, as St Paul teaches us, that when we feel despair, when we feel anger, sorrow, and separation. In these times, God does not leave us alone.