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The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity

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At the Nottingham vigil, presence spoke louder than words

On Wednesday afternoon this week, thousands of staff and students gathered in the burning sun on the University of Nottingham’s main campus.

The family, friends, coursemates, housemates, and teammates of Barney and Grace, two first-year students murdered on a familiar Nottingham street on Tuesday morning, were joined by a multitude of people from the wider University community.

The attacks, which also left school caretaker Ian Coates dead and three more in hospital, have sent a shockwave through our friendly, open city and its student population. I live here. And for me, to be in the presence of thousands of others feeling the same mix of shock, anger, anxiety, and sudden grief was a quiet comfort.

Representatives from the University, the Students’ Union, and the Chaplaincy offered condolences to the victims’ families. Each acknowledged that words fell painfully short. In response, Barney and Grace’s fathers said that the physical, tangible presence of this community, gathered in the campus, spoke loudest.

Jesus, too, took time to be present with the sick, the dying, and the bereaved. We know he could speak words that healed from a distance: he made a centurion’s servant well without even entering his house (Luke 7). But so often, his preference was to show up. Think of Jairus’ daughter, Peter’s mother-in-law, or Lazarus’ grieving sisters, amongst others. Jesus doesn’t want to sort the problem and move on: he wants to be present.

Consider the people you’ll be present with today. What’s possible because you’re there that wouldn’t be possible if you only sent a text? How might your presence be good news?

Perhaps you make a cup of tea for someone who’s feeling anxious. You shake hands with someone before a meeting and say how glad you are it’s not on Zoom. You listen to someone more attentively, mirroring their body language. The team’s banter is different because they know a Christian is in their midst.

As we stood together at the University vigil two days ago, I watched hands held and flowers laid. Words simply were not needed. To be part of the crowd in that place was to be part of a tangible gesture more compassionate than words could convey. That’s why our presence matters.

And that’s why our presence can, in fact, speak louder than our words. Jesus lived as if that were true. As his followers, we follow his example, believing our presence can make a difference, wherever we are.

Tim Yearsley
Head of Innovation, LICC
Associate Chaplain, University of Nottingham


  1. Yes!

    By Ulrike  -  16 Jun 2023
  2. Thank you – such a simple gesture of presence can make a huge difference

    By Chris  -  16 Jun 2023
  3. Thank you. So true. I pray that people will again understand that as human beings we need each other – we are created for fellowship and friendship in person not simply by remote connects.

    By Peter Day  -  16 Jun 2023
  4. Absolutely agree Tim praying for all affected in Nottingham. Thanks for sharing from one of your frontlines this week. I’m trying to get better at doing this *even* on zoom, when 80%+ of my meetings are, what does being ‘present’ despite the distance look like? So far, it’s trying to ask the deeper question, taking time to listen rather than just ‘agenda’, genuine and specific encouragement of others, even if a little awkward via zoom, or thanking people for being there and contributing. I think trying to be more vulnerable than ‘usual’ myself, in order to connect more deeply also helps to be ‘present’ and give permission to others. I recently got attacked by a bee during a relatively formal zoom – knocking previously out-of-shot laundry flying in the process – it definitely broke the ice… thanks again!

    By Josh  -  16 Jun 2023
    • Great point Josh. In-person may always be best, but Zoom is here to stay and we need to find ways to do God’s work on it as well. Only yesterday at work I happened to join a Teams call a few minutes before the meeting started, and had an amazingly good little chat with the one other person who had joined early. Turning up early for meetoids like this, and not dashing away at the end, can be a simple way of getting a bit of quality time with others!

      By Martin Tiller  -  16 Jun 2023
  5. such a heart warming remark from Grace’s father: Love everybody and hate no one. Its been reiterated today: show love and there will be hope again. Saying these remarks for all to hear is so strengthening and binding for us all on our front-lines wherever we are, whatever we are doing. Thank you Tim for being there and Josh for your comments they are so supportive and uplifting.

    By Mary  -  16 Jun 2023
  6. Really thoughtful reflection Tim. I agree, the feeling here in Nottingham is tangible and a great reminder that being there for others is a loving action in itself.

    By Jenny B  -  16 Jun 2023

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