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‘Generous and kind’: Sir David Amess honoured by MPs and peers

19 October 2021


A photo and candle placed in St Michael & All Angels, Leigh-on-Sea, before a vigil last weekend

A photo and candle placed in St Michael & All Angels, Leigh-on-Sea, before a vigil last weekend

THE light that Sir David Amess held through his public service “may flicker but it will not be extinguished”, the Archbishop of Canterbury said on Monday evening.

His remarks came in an address in St Margaret’s, Westminster, during a service of prayer and remembrance for Sir David, the MP for Southend West, who died last Friday after being stabbed in Belfairs Methodist Church in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, during a constituency surgery (Online News, 15 October). On Thursday (21 October), a 25-year-old man arrested by police following the attack was charged with murder and the preparation of terrorist acts. 

The Prime Minister and the leader of the Opposition were among the 800 parliamentarians of both Houses who attended the service in St Margaret’s. The Lords’ Speaker, Lord McFall of Alcluith, and the Speaker to the Commons, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, gave the readings.

Archbishop Welby said: “In this great tragedy, there is a unanimous conviction amongst all who knew him that Sir David was of the best. . . A friend to his constituents and to his constituency; a wholehearted supporter of causes from the now-achieved city status for Southend to great causes of the future of our nation around Brexit.

“And all with a robust fairness of spirit and charity of heart that won the admiration and affection of all sides, regardless of whether they agreed with him politically or not. It was a charity of heart that came from his deep Catholic Christian faith. . . .

“He was of the best, and his name will be remembered with Airey Neave, Robert Bradford, Anthony Berry, Ian Gow, and Jo Cox, those MPs murdered since 1945, and others — like Andrew Pennington — who have died in the course of public service.”

AlamyMPs and peers file into St Margaret’s, Westminster, for a memorial service for Sir David Amess

The Archbishop continued: “Sacrifice is the rent paid to liberty by those who represent us. But when the cost is seen so visibly, with such demonic horror, what do we say so that we may comfort the grieving and be resilient in tragedy?”

Archbishop Welby’s first response was to say that “the light lit by public service must not be put out. Even in the darkest moments — and especially for Julia and David’s children, this is as dark as could be — light continues.”

The Archbishop then drew on one of the readings, from Isaiah 12, addressed to defeated Jewish captives held in slave labour camps outside Babylon.

“Their King was overthrown, their temple destroyed, their leaders scattered to the winds. Yet Isaiah speaks of future triumph because of the faithfulness of God. Cruel adversity is not final destiny. Darkness does not endure.

Westminster AbbeyArchbishop Welby delivers an address in St Margaret’s, Westminster, during a service of prayer and remembrance for Sir David Amess, on Monday evening

“The light that Sir David held out through his service, inspired by his strong personal faith — that light held by all in public service — may flicker but it will not be extinguished.”

The Archbishop’s second response drew on another reading, from 1 Thessalonians 4, in which St Paul addresses “a small church grieving humanly for those who died.

“Paul tells them that grief is right and normal, but for those who are servants of Christ, like David, grief is accompanied by the certainties of life and justice. Life because Christ rose from the dead and gives life; justice because there is a final judgement where all that is good, and all that is evil, is judged by God.”

Archbishop Welby concluded: “We mourn and grieve, and so we must. We shudder at loss, how could we do otherwise? Yet we also thank those who serve in politics: we need them, we join them in commitment to the light of hope through their service.

“Above all, we hold to the Christian certainty of life, to the joy of justice done. David, full of faith, will rest in peace and rise in glory. Grief remains the deepest pain, but God promises an end in light, and love, and the enduring hope of the resurrection.”

A minute’s silence was observed on Monday afternoon in both Houses of Parliament, before MPs and peers paid tribute to Sir David. Speaking in the Commons, Boris Johnson said: “Sir David was taken from us in a contemptible act of violence, striking at the core of what it is to be a Member of this House, and violating the sanctity both of the church in which he was killed and the constituency surgery that is so essential to our representative democracy.”

Mr Johnson described Sir David as “a seasoned campaigner of verve and grit, whether he was demanding freedom for the people of Iran or courting votes in the Westminster Dog of the Year contest, whether he was battling for Brexit or fighting his way to the front of the parliamentary pancake race.”

He also announced that the Queen had agreed that Southend would be accorded city status.

The Labour MP Stephen Timms, who was stabbed in his constituency surgery in 2010 (Interview, 30 July), was among MPs to pay tribute. Sir David, he said, “was accessible to his constituents. Tragically, he has now given his life. We will rightly reflect on what more we can do to stop that happening again. I wonder if we might ask the police to review our appointment lists ahead of each surgery, for example.

“But we mustn’t give up on the accessibility of members of Parliament. If we do, the sponsors of those who attacked David and who attacked me will have succeeded — that must not happen.”

Speaking in the Lords, the Archbishop of York said: “I considered David Amess a friend. Leigh-on-Sea is my hometown. Southend, now the city of Southend, is where I grew up. This appalling murder happened in streets I know well, just around the corner from where my mum lives.”

Archbishop Cottrell said that Sir David was one of the first to congratulate him upon his translations to Chelmsford and York. He said, to laughter from peers, that when his translation to York was announced, “he thought this was another way of putting Southend on the map, that a boy who went to a secondary modern school in Southend was now the 98th Archbishop of York.”

Archbishop Cottrell suggested that, in recognition of Southend’s being granted city status, a statue of Sir David be placed at the end of Southend Peer.

“He was . . . a deeply, deeply committed constituency MP,” Archbishop Cottrell continued. “He exemplified what that means. He knew the people he served, and in the constituency he was completely colour blind to political difference. He just served the people that he’d been elected to serve.”

Archbishop Cottrell went on to say that “hate cannot win. . . Love is always stronger, it’s always more tenacious. Its patient endurance draws us together.”

The love of which the Archbishop spoke was “not just . . . warm feelings of well-disposed goodwill, but that deeply committed determination to get up each morning and live what you believe in — put the needs of others before yourself, recognise our common humanity.”

It was faith in Christ, Archbishop Cottrell said, “which was the source and sustenance of David Amess’s vision and values. It was this that enabled him to reach across party-political divides, get on well with everyone, exhibit a good-humoured generosity and a kindness that is sadly, sadly often woefully lacking in public and political discourse today.”

He concluded his tribute with words from an article he wrote in The Sunday Telegraph this week: “David Amess didn’t wear his faith on his sleeve. He wore it in his heart. That’s the best place for it. It means it runs through your very being.”

There have been tributes to Sir David from Roman Catholic leaders nationally and in Southend.

The Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, said last Friday: “This death throws a sharp light on to the fact that our Members of Parliament are servants of the people, available to people in their need, especially in their constituencies. This horrific attack, as David was undertaking his constituency surgery, is an attack on our democratic process and traditions.

“David carried out his vocation as a Catholic in public life with generosity and integrity. He served in Parliament for four decades and was respected by all political parties across the House. His untimely death is a great loss.”

The parish priest of St Peter’s Catholic Church, Eastwood, in Leigh-on-Sea, Fr Jeffrey Woolnough, has spoken of how, after hearing of Sir David’s stabbing, he tried to enter Belfairs Methodist Church to administer the last rites.

“A Catholic when they’re dying would want a priest there, and for reasons that only the police know, I was not allowed in,” he told the PA news agency. “I got my clerics on, and got the holy oils, sort of expecting that I might be allowed on the crime scene to administer the oil of the sick. I didn’t know at that time what kind of condition he was in. It was a just-in-case matter.”

Fr Woolnough said that he respected the police’s decision.

The parish priest of Our Lady of Lourdes, Leigh-on-Sea, Monsignor Kevin Hale, told the BBC on Saturday: “I think I speak for everyone in the area when I say we’re utterly shocked and appalled by what’s happened. . . There’s a great sense of incredulity about the whole event.

“Sir David was living in Westcliff, he was a neighbour of ours, but a really good friend of the parish family here; a frequent visitor, a familiar face in the area; a great supporter of everything in the parish and in the locality. He was to be seen at mass, a great Catholic, a great constituency man, and so we’re all utterly appalled. If I can speak on behalf of the Catholic community in the area, our hearts and our prayers go out profoundly to his wife and to his children.”

A statement issued by faith leaders in Essex, on Tuesday, said that the killing of Sir David had “left the communities of Leigh-on-Sea, Southend, and across Essex with a sense of disbelief”.

It continued: “One of the key tenets of our democracy is acces­sibility of our elected representatives and we must do all we can to protect this and protect the safety of those who are elected to represent us. Southend and Essex will be united this week in our grief, but also united in our resolve that we stand against violence and those who act against the values we share across our communities.

“We echo the words of Sir David’s family, who asked people to set aside their differences and show kindness and love to all. This is the only way forward. Set aside hatred and work towards togetherness.”

A statement issued on behalf of the Board and the Moderators of the Faith Communities Forum of the Inter Faith Network for the UK, on Monday, said that the murder of Sir David, like that of Jo Cox MP (News, 24 June 2016) and the stabbing of Mr Timms, “throws into sharp relief the vulnerability of those who serve as our elected representatives”.

It continued: “Causes and motives differ. In some cases, attackers seek to justify their acts through perverse distortions of religious teachings, such as in the case of Islamist extremists (despite the repeated rejection of their views by members of the community in question), or of political doctrine, in the case of far right extremists.

“We must stand firm against hatred and division and in support of safe, free and open engagement of people in a democratic society.”

Read the text of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s address here

Paul Vallely: Grief is a journey without a destination

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