I can only imagine how the survivors and family members of victims from the Manchester Arena must feel this week as they marked the first anniversary of the devastating attack that claimed the lives of 22 victims last year.

Watching some of the short videos from the BBC, covering the events in Manchester, it has struck me that many of the emotions I might have expected to feel – anger, anxiety, fear – have been little on display. Instead, I have felt love, hope and compassion. In fact, I’ve seen more demonstration of the fruit of the spirit in the responses to this act of terrorism than I have seen in some internal disputes in the church.

One thing that seems to have played a part, time and again, in the ongoing healing of survivors and family members, is the importance of being with others. One father, who organised a motorbike ride in memory of his eight-year-old daughter Saffie, spoke about the effect of seeing her young classmates greeting the riders.

Members of a survivors’ choir talked about the support they have all gained from spending time with each other over the last year, including on the anniversary. A head teacher stated that a memorial garden would be a place for everybody”, and Mayor of Greater Manchester Andy Burnham declared that nothing will divide us”. NHS staff recalled the support they received at the time of the attack, a taxi driver explained why he gave free rides throughout the night, and a tattoo artist spoke about the bee tattoos uniting people across the country in support of the victims and survivors. And a trees of hope” trail provides the opportunity for people from across the world to leave tributes and messages of support and unity.

Unity is one of the key reasons the Evangelical Alliance exists. We are not made to be alone, but to live and serve God in loving community. Romans 12:15 – 16 tells us to rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another”. My Bible titles this section Love in action”. Certainly, Manchester has united to demonstrate love in action over the past year. Christians do not hold a monopoly on love, or on community or unity, and people of every faith and none have been part of Manchester’s journey. But, as it says in 1 John 4:7 – 8, we who know God, know love. We, the people of God, are called to love and unity time and again throughout the Bible, and these qualities should be part of our DNA: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22 – 23).

We may not all be in a place to demonstrate love and unity with the people of Manchester, but we can follow their example in other ways. This week also saw the Royal College of General Practitioners call for a national campaign to combat the public health epidemic” of loneliness. It does not surprise me, but it deeply saddens me that this is the state of our nation.

Christians have been at the forefront of many public epidemics, whether it’s ending slavery or addressing poverty. I know that Christians crossed the country to support those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire and the Manchester Arena attack. I know that there are Christians attempting to address issues of loneliness in their local community. When the church loves God, we love others. We reach out to the lonely, confront the epidemics, soothe the broken-hearted and share the saving love and grace of Jesus.

So what are the opportunities before you today, to embody the fruit of the spirit and to live in unity, in community, with those around you? Can you gather your community around you in love? Can you strengthen the arm of the church by finding ways to work more closely with the other Christians in your town, village or city? 

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