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Royston churches unite after arson attack on Church of England parish church

Posted on: December 12, 2018 4:38 PM
Firefighters use a drone to investigate an arson attack at St John the Baptist Church in Royston, Hertfordshire.
Photo Credit: Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service via Twitter
Related Categories: Church Building, England, fire, Royston, St Albans

Christians from many of the churches in Royston, Hertfordshire, will gather in the local Roman Catholic parish church on Friday for a united time of prayer following the arson attack on the town’s Anglican parish. Severe damage was caused to the town’s St John the Baptist Church, following the fire, which broke out in the early hours of Sunday morning. The Roman Catholic parish of St Thomas of Canterbury and the English Martyrs is hosting the Churches Together in Royston and District prayer gathering on Friday night. On its Facebook page, the church said: “We offer our deepest sympathies to our friends and neighbours at the Anglican Parish . . . following the dreadful fire there on Sunday.” In their invitation to the prayer service, they add: “Let us work together to be a community of care and hospitality.”

Hertfordshire Constabulary are working with the local Fire and Rescue Service to investigate the cause of the fire. A specialist fire service sniffer dog and a drone have been used to gather evidence at the scene. The officer leading the investigation, Detective Inspector Mike Keane, said this week: “Thankfully nobody was hurt during the incident but the church is of great significance to the local community.

“It is devastating to see damage caused to such a historic building and I would like to reassure the community that we are doing all we can, with assistance from our colleagues at Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service, to find out the cause of the fire in what is a difficult working environment.”

Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service control centre also thanked the local community for their support, saying: “we would like to say a massive thank you for the general community support the firefighters received and to the local pubs for providing refreshments. In particular, The Jolly Postie, Banyers & Manor House. Also, we would like to thank the anonymous member of the public who kindly bought 50 coffees for our firefighters from a fast food restaurant out of his own pocket!”

The Vicar of St John the Baptist, Heidi Huntley, offered her thanks to “our whole community” for the “outpouring of concern and offers of practical help” following the fire, as well as to “our wonderful fire and police services who spared no effort to lessen our loss.”

She added: “The building is obviously very significant for those of us who worship there, but the amazing response has been a reminder of the very special place that the church has at the heart of Royston in every way – geographical, spiritual and communal.”

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Specialist fire investigation sniffer dog Reqs at St John the Baptist parish church in Royston, Hertfordshire, yesterday (Sunday).
Photo: Hertfordshire Fire and Rescue Service via Twitter

The parish is in the process of setting up an online fundraising page; and in the meantime has asked people to join them in prayer, firstly in thanksgiving that nobody was injured and for the response from the community and emergency services.

They also ask for prayer “for strength and comfort for our clergy and for all those grieving the devastation of a place that has played such an important role in their lives” and “for guidance on arrangements for the immediate future, particularly for the Christmas season”.

They continue their request for intercessions “for the grace to acknowledge that God is sovereign, even when things happen that we cannot understand, and which sadden, anger and frustrate us; for reassurance that God loves us and grieves with us – the message of the Christmas season and Jesus’ life and death on earth; for discernment of God’s will for us as we move forward, and for courage to seize the opportunities that he presents.”

The church has announced that services in the coming weeks will take place at a local hotel and school: Banyers House and Meridian School. “Despite the devastating fire . . . St John Parish Church continues to serve the local community”, the church said on its website.

The building currently remains under the control of the police and fire service as a crime scene. Once they hand it back to church officials, work will be done to make the building safe as assessments of the work needed to repair the damage are carried out.