It was December 24, 2012, and organist Alan Greaves, 68, was walking to Christmas Eve midnight mass at St. Saviour’s Anglican church in Sheffield, England where he was scheduled to play.
On his 10-minute journey, he ran in to two men — Jonathan Bowling, 22, and Ashley Foster, 22. Both had left a Christmas gathering earlier that evening in a foul mood.
According to court records, the two men were looking for trouble and saw Greaves as easy pickings.
They attacked Greaves with a pick ax handle and hammer and he would later die in hospital from his injuries.
But in a powerful testimony, Alan’s wife Maureen Greaves, 63, shared in an interview with the English newspaper, The Guardian, of her journey to forgiving the two men who murdered her husband in the unprovoked attack.
Maureen, 63, currently serves as a lay minister with the Anglican church working with a group called the Church Army. Married for forty years, she and her husband have four children, two sons and two daughters.
She recounted the night her husband was attacked being at his hospital bedside. The attackers had beaten Alan’s face so badly she had to check his hands to make sure it was truly her husband.
Though the police would not find the killers for another two weeks, as she sat by her husband’s side Maureen knew that she needed to forgive those who had done this, because that is what her husband would do.
Alan always found it easier to forgive than she did.
In an interview with BBC Radio 4, Maureen said:
“When you are a Christian and you live your life with God, you have an enormous sense of wonder that God forgives you for your sins. Of course I haven’t murdered anybody but I have done wrong in my life.
One of the wonderful things about Christianity is you have a God who truly forgives you. Therefore it’s through God’s forgiveness and mercy that I have been able to extend true forgiveness to Ashley and Jonathan.”
In 2013, the courts sentenced Bowling to 25 years imprisonment for murder and Foster, whose family lived down the road from the Greaves’ home, to nine years on a lesser charge of manslaughter.
This was not the first conviction for Bowling who had a history of violent attacks including head butting a 48-year-old woman because she told Bowling to stop throwing snowballs at her windows.
The jury was told that if the two had not found Greaves, the duo would undoubtedly murdered someone else that night.
Maureen prayed for the two killers that they would repent of what they had done and receive God’s mercy. She added:
“I don’t want anyone to think I pity them, or that I didn’t want them punished. I just think they are two men who did an evil thing. I don’t know why and I don’t think they really know why.”
As a Christian, Maureen understood that forgiveness is not an option for believers. Because of the great mercy God extended us, we need to forgive all who offend us:
14 For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. (Matthew 6:14 NIV)
Sometimes it is not easy to forgive because of the deep hurts and betrayals involved. If you are struggling, like Maureen, you can follow Jesus’ advice and first try praying for those who offended you.
44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, (Matthew 5:44 NIV)
As we pray, this will soften our hearts and allow us to move to the next stage of forgiving the person.
In an interview with The Guardian, Maureen said that — aside from her powerful testimony on forgiveness — God is bringing good out of this horrific and senseless murder (Romans 8:28):
“In my work [as a lay preacher], I find a lot of people carry pain and if there is a positive around Alan’s murder it is how many people have felt able to talk to me about the terrible things that have happened in their lives too. I think that’s helped everyone.”
- One year after a Christmas murder, a widow’s simple plea: ‘Forgive them’: The Guardian
- Killer, 22, will spend at least 25 years behind bars for murder of church organist he beat to death on Christmas Eve: The Daily Mail
- Maureen Greaves: I feel ‘true forgiveness’ towards killers: BBC Radio 4
- Christian woman forgives men who murdered husband with pickaxe on Christmas eve: Gospel Herald