The Danger of Forgetting Fires
Dear Minster and Friends,
A year ago, a devastating fire ripped through a building and a community in West London and now certain reports are coming to light, explaining and describing the contributing factors, the accident itself and the resulting tragedy. The aim of the Grenfell enquiries is to properly track what occurred, seek justice and to learn whatever lessons can be learned to stop this happening again. Latimer Minster has had a mission partnership in West London for a number of years and we were invited in to stand with the local churches, especially Latymer Community Church and the Message Trust, and in some small way lighten the load by providing friendship and some practical and financial help and a bit of project management. We also joined together for an outdoor service on the Sunday after the tragedy. I consider that those who I met at the time were heroes, selflessly giving of themselves to help families, relatives and local residents come to terms with deep horror, whilst also processing this themselves.
The reports that were published yesterday confirmed that no fire testing was carried out on fire doors and that no studies had been made to see how the outside cladding would respond to fire either. The advice was both too late and wrong – telling people to stay in their flats. The lifts were not fireproof and the corridors were not designed to handle smoke. An entire vertical community had been built and planned without thinking about fire, the owners, builders and architects had forgotten fire. They had remembered the needs of electricity, warmth, security and shelter and they were prepared for rain, but not for fire. So far there is little evidence that anyone went callously out of their way to set a fire or cause damage or loss of life – there seems to be no conspiracy, but there was negligence, a lack of care for poorer families and a disregard, a forgetfulness, a complacency which became fatal.
Previous generations took more precautions, often because their memories and customs were aware of the dangers and the power of fire. Cities like London, which had been swept aside, placed memorials in plain sight to remind themselves:
The old farmhouse, at Stampwell was built in two sections – one housed the water and fire and was used for cooking. Next to it was a separate building for living and sleeping. This was the normal way of building through the 1600s and 1700s. Chimneys were swept regularly to stop chimney fires, kitchens were contained in brick and stone. They were used to fire – it powered the trains, warmed the houses and cooked the food.
In our era fire has been put out of sight, mostly hidden in combustion engines, transformed into electricity, or channelled through gas mains. I think this has also altered our spiritual imagination and our appreciation of scriptural images of fire and flame. The Song of Songs speaks of the love of God like ‘an unquenchable, unstoppable fire, unyielding as the grave, of more worth and value than all the wealth of a house’. In Hebrews 12 we are reminded that ‘our God is a consuming fire’ and in Acts 2 – the birth of the church, the tongues of fire and the wind of the Spirit, whip through the gathered disciples and they carry the fire of the Spirit and the torch of the gospel throughout the known world. When we sit around campfires and bonfires we come up close to the natural order of things, appreciating again the crackle, fizz and the sound of the fire, the warmth of the fire radiating out and the glow which transforms each of our faces with dancing orange light. Around a camp fire one half of our body is warm or even hot, while the other side of our body is so cold we might need a blanket wrapped around us. Later in July we will be holding an overnight campout and festival at the Minster – details coming soon.
Over these next few months I would love to invite you to rekindle your spiritual imagination and expectancy – to remember fire, to expect fire. In the days after Grenfell, even though there was grief and a cry for justice, there was also a deep longing for God, and this longing for the presence, power and work of the Spirit remains. Bad fire destroys, good fire changes the world, but one thing is certain – we should never forget the fire.
With much love,
16th June – Women’s Gathering Day Retreat
9:30am – 4pm
To book tickets please visit;
30th June – Minster Makeover
9:30 – 3pm
We will be spending the day as a community to improve our place of worship by tidying up the farm in preparation for The Minsterfest.
Sign up sheets will be on the welcome table on Sunday or speak to Jane if you’d like to get involved!
14th July – The Minsterfest
We are planning a day full of fun activities for all ages and an overnight campout on the farm for those feeling adventurous!
Keep an eye out for more details to follow.