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Sunday, 18 August, 2002, 12:01 GMT 13:01 UK
Church becomes tower of strength
Hundreds queued to attend the service
Hundreds queued to attend the service

Just as assistant curate Brin Singleton appealed for silence in the face of the Lord, there was a loud clap of thunder and the heavens opened.

What had been a beautiful summer's morning was transformed by a deluge, with the same suddenness that the town of Soham has been changed by the tragic events of the past fortnight.

Best friends Jessica and Holly
Best friends Jessica and Holly
While the ancient stones of St Andrew's Church provided shelter for the hundreds who had come to pray for Jessica and Holly, the institution of the church itself has become crucial in a town experiencing such deep desolation.

Vicar of the parish, Reverend Tim Alban Jones, told the congregation he shared in the "disbelief that this is happening here", that the quiet Cambridgeshire town had witnessed the "full degradation that human beings are capable of".

But he said the service was about togetherness at a time of sorrow, of the church becoming "the spiritual and metaphysical heart" of the community.

Everyone who attended was invited to take communion.

United in grief

Even the simple act of sharing hymn books - the supply dwarfed by the demand - brought people closer together.

Rev Tim Alban
Rev Tim Alban: "Searing heart-rending agony"

"Make an act of peace with somebody," urged Mr Singleton. Friends, family and strangers exchanged handshakes.

Ian Hardy's 10-month-old daughter Jessica was christened at St Andrews on the day the girls went missing.

He said the service was essential to help heal the wounds the community has suffered.

For Amanda Hellman, 32, it was an emotional experience but one which she wanted her children Samantha, Roy and Joe to share.

Darren Driver, 21, said he and his friends would never normally go to church, but he felt compelled to come.

"We had to be here," he said.

Woman lays flowers at Soham church
For some the emotion was too much

Outside in the churchyard, dozens had laid flowers in spontaneous acts of sympathy with the families of the missing girls.

"Soham's heart is broken," read one.

"We weep for you, society should weep - we have hit an all time low," read another. But amid the despair, there were more words of hope.

"For the homes of Les and Sharon, Kevin and Nicola in their deepest need. May each household be blessed as we pray, and may your love fill each life," Methodist minister Alan Aston said.

Community shattered

"A simple prayer for each of us to make our own. 'Lord grant peace to Holly and Jessica, comfort their parents and strength to us all. Amen.'"

Rev Jones rushed back from holiday after learning of the latest discovery, returning to Soham to comfort the families of the girls.

Through the clergyman they let it be known how grateful they were for the support of the community.

a child lays flowers at St Andrews church
A child lays flowers at St Andrew's church
In the past few days the same phrases have cropped up again and again as Soham expresses its emotions.

People are shattered by events, incredulous; they barely believe such shocking murders could happen so close to home.

They are "so upset", "so shaken", so jarred by the events which have shattered the harmony and ordinariness of everyday life.

"Soham will never be the same again," is also a phrase heard over and over.


We will pull together as we have already pulled together over these last 14 terrible days

Reverend Alan Ashton
But the act of coming together - whether as Christians, as friends or as people who live in the same town - left most glad they had gone to join the service.

Rev Ashton tells how a man approached him in the middle of the week. "I don't believe in God," he told the priest. "I don't think prayer can be real, but can I go into that building and sit?"

"That sums up the strength of the community. We will pull together as we have already pulled together over these last 14 terrible days."

On Saturday Mr Singleton led a wedding service on what in another town would have been a perfect day. One can imagine how the couple agonised over the unfortunate timing.

He said: "I suggested there was a time and a place for everything, and this was the time and place to celebrate love.

"There would be no one who would deny that here in Soham, Jessica and Holly are living in love."



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