Tragic death of church organist ‘has united our community’

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THE widow of murdered church organist Alan Greaves says his brutal killing has brought together his local community and encouraged neighbours to volunteer for the food bank and shop the couple opened weeks before he died.

Speaking ahead of today’s one-year anniversary of the attack on the lay preacher, 68, Maureen Greaves said the reaction of residents in the High Green area of Sheffield showed some good had come out of the tragedy which shocked the country.

Maureen Greaves lights a candle at The Parish Church of St Saviour Mortomley, High Green, Sheffield. Picture by Simon Hulme

Maureen Greaves lights a candle at The Parish Church of St Saviour Mortomley, High Green, Sheffield. Picture by Simon Hulme

Mrs Greaves, whose bravery and dignity in the aftermath of the murder won praise from a judge and even Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg, is one of 12 people across the region recognised today in the Yorkshire Post’s Christmas Honours.

The recipients chosen by our newspaper come from fields including education, tourism and policing and are honoured for the impact they have made in Yorkshire in the past year.

Alan Greaves, a father-of-four, was left to die after an unprovoked attack by Jonathan Bowling and Ashley Foster, at 11.20pm on Christmas Eve, as he walked to a midnight mass service at nearby St Saviour’s Church.

The devout Christian died in hospital several days later and it was only after an intense police investigation that his two 22-year-old attackers were convicted and jailed at Sheffield Crown Court.

Mrs Greaves, 64, said: “One of the promises in the Bible is that whatever circumstances Christians go through, there is this promise that God can bring good out of the most horrific circumstances that happen to one of his people. Three quarters of the way through the year I started to ponder this and thought ‘what is God going to do with these shocking circumstances that have happened to me and my family, what good could he bring out of this?’.

“One of the good things He has brought out of this is that as a community we talk to each other more than they have ever done before Alan’s death.

“He has got them together and enabled them to talk to each other. Neighbours have talked that didn’t talk before.”

Mrs Greaves will today mark the attack on her husband, a year on, by taking part in a special Christmas Eve service with her family near the spot where the brutal beating took place.

In January she plans to carry on the work she started with her husband by holding a weekly ‘community family meal’ for those in need and will start a micro-lending scheme she hopes will lead to the establishment of a fully-fledged credit union.

The former social worker, who started the community project at her home with her husband before moving it to a nearby shop, said she was now getting local volunteers coming forward “who probably wouldn’t have volunteered before”.

She said: “They wanted to be part of something that was good where they could use their gifts and skills. I have had people ringing me up, this morning I had someone who wanted to help me with the work.

“It has been wonderful for me that I have never had a sense of God failing me or that I didn’t believe in him any more [after Alan’s death]. I felt a real deepening of my faith rather than a giving up on my faith after what has happened this year. I do believe that God, even for me, is bringing good out of these tragic circumstances.”

The widow’s willingness to forgive Bowling and Foster for killing her husband was reported and praised widely after the murder, and she says she will pray for the pair this Christmas.

She said: “It is my prayer this Christmas time, that Jonathan and Ashley will truly come to know that God loves them and know God’s forgiveness. All people have the capacity to grow and develop and change but from a Christian perspective I believe that God’s love transforms you.”

At the court hearing where Bowling was given a life sentence and told to serve a minimum of 25 years in jail, it emerged he had written Mrs Greaves a letter from prison after admitting attacking her husband with a pick-axe handle.

She refused to read it at the time because she was in “no fit state” and left it with police, but she says she plans to do so at some point. “I have no idea what’s in it or why he wrote it and of course I might find it difficult or easy to read, I might not be able to discern why he wrote it, I won’t know until I come to read it. But I will read it.”