Being prepared to face the media.

news van

This time yesterday morning Paul Knight was no doubt having his breakfast, thinking about the day ahead.

No doubt as vicar of St Peter’s Birstall he was preparing for this Sunday’s services with the theme ‘Celebrate freedom.”   Just another Friday, usually a quieter day.

Then the unthinkable happens just down the road in Market Street.  His MP, the remarkable Jo Cox is attacked and killed.  Any everything at once changes.

There is a profound sense of shock and bewilderment.  For Mrs Cox is not just the local MP;  she is a local.  People knew her from childhood. This could never happen here in an ordinary West Yorkshire town.

Very soon the media arrive.  It’s a huge story and so everybody comes.  Soon Paul is being interviewed on national television, at the best of times a difficult call.  But no doubt he too is as shocked and appalled as anyone.  Each interview he gives is a one-off; no retakes.

He has no time to prepare for the one event which may define his whole ministry.

At such a crisis the parish church comes into his own, however multi-cultural the community.  A prayer vigil is hurriedly arranged, to become an evening service which draws a huge congregation.

This morning the Yorkshire Post reports
“Young and old and from different religious backgrounds, they came to remember Mrs Cox and mourn her devastating loss but also to find solace in their faith and one another’s company.

“Those at the church included Labour MPs Yvette Cooper, Rachel Reeves, Dan Jarvis and Caroline Flint as well as the leader of Leeds City Council, councillor Judith Blake, and Leeds councillor Alison Lowe.

“They listened as the Vicar of Birstall, Rev Paul Knight, said the day’s numbing events were a reminder of the “fragility of civilisation”.

“But he said that, even in times of despair, it should be remembered that ‘there is no escape from the love and mercy of God’”.

I have often said, not least to my curates, that as vicar of Christ Church there is always the possibility of being on News at Ten tonight.  You just never know. In fact, only this Tuesday I advised a fellow vicar to have some television training for such an eventuality.

This happened to me, though on a much smaller scale 24 years ago when the daughter of a church member was murdered in New Orleans.

In fact, you may remember just five years ago my colleague Tim Barton, the vicar of St Michael’s Dalton in Skelmersdale, being interviewed on the national media.
Tragically (and it is usually a tragedy) no sooner had he taken the wedding service, he was taking the funeral for the groom who had been killed by a shark while on honeymoon in the Seychelles.

Here the scout motto comes readily to mind: be prepared.  As Robert Baden-Powell explains:  “The meaning of the motto is that a scout must prepare himself by previous thinking out and practicing how to act on any accident or emergency so that he is never taken by surprise.”

I like that – previous thinking.  Think beforehand before it happens. Of course surprises are, by definition, not anticipated.  So rather than worry (when we imagine in detail a situation we fear) work out what we should do and hardwire this into our brain.

A good example is when the cabin staff give the safety briefing before takeoff, run through in your mind which exit you would use in an emergency and how you would get there.  There is solid evidence that this makes all the difference in a real emergency.

Similarly Jesus urges us to stay alert, keep watch, be ready.

So he prepares his disciples for being arrested and facing trial for following him.  “But make up your mind not to worry beforehand how you will defend yourselves. For I will give you words and wisdom that none of your adversaries will be able to resist or contradict. “(Luke 21:14f)

In other words rather than worry, decide now how you are going to respond to the situation.  Be prepared to rely on the Holy Spirit.  Understand now that I am not going to let you down then,  Jesus tells us as he tells them.

And above all, we need to be prepared for the greatest event that we will ever encounter.

As Paul exhorts the Corinthian church, he exhorts us:
“Sooner or later we’ll all have to face God, regardless of our conditions. We will appear before Christ and take what’s coming to us as a result of our actions, either good or bad.

“That keeps us vigilant, you can be sure. It’s no light thing to know that we’ll all one day stand in that place of Judgment.”
(2 Corinthians 5:10-14 The Message translation)

So we pray for the family of Jo Cox.  We thank God for her life and wonderful example.