As we start the New Year, we mark the beginning of the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. As a collaboration between the World Health Organization and International Council of Nurses, it seeks to raise the status and profile of nursing and Midwifery recognising their place at the heart of tacking 21st Century Health challenges.
Why 2020? Because it marks the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale whose birthday falls on the 12th May the day I was installed in 2018 as the 133rd Bishop of London in St Paul’s Cathedral. In the crypt of St Paul’s Cathedral there is a memorial plaque to Florence Nightingale where she is remembered simply for her Mercy.
Florence Nightingale is still best known as the doyenne of the nursing profession. She is less known for her contribution to hospital reforms, her contribution to public health, her statistical innovation (in analysis and the presentation of data) and as a theologian (including writings such as Suggestions for thought).
Florence Nightingale was baptized into the Church of England. She made no secret of the experience of a literal ‘calling’ from God, a ‘call to service’ on a precise date of 5th February 1837. (page 8 Florence Nightingale At first hand by Lynn McDonald 2010) She is said to have offered the church her ministry but it would not have her yet her Christian faith continued to shape her work and in an address to nurses in 1873 she said ‘ Feeling God has made her what she is, she may seek to carry on her work in the hospital as a fellow worker with God. Remembering that Christ died for her, she may be ready to lay down her life for her patients’ (page 10 Florence Nightingale by Lynn McDonald)
Florence Nightingales faith is the key to her work: She told her sister in 1853 that:
It did strike me as odd, sometimes, that we should pray to be delivered from ‘plague’ pestilence and famine’ when all the common sewers ran into the Thames, and fevers haunted undrained land and the districts which cholera would visited could be pointed out. I thought that Cholera came that we might remove the causes, not pray that God would remove the Cholera’
For Nightingale, the burnt offering that God desired was action. She believed that God wanted us to act, to reflect God’s glory to the world by making it better, with practical achievements. Healing the sick was doing this, showing God’s goodness by doing His work in the world.
As we enter 2020 challenges remain for our NHS and for both Nursing and Midwives and Anne – Marie Rafferty’s comments in 2011 (nursingtimes.net 24 June 2011) remain relevant
“We can read Nightingale as a credo for compassion today. She recognised that systems needed to foster and institutionalise compassion, and that small touches and details mattered. Leading by example and embedding a code of behaviour that could be sustained even in your absence was and should remain our goal today.The challenges we see in care are not new. We continue to fail the most vulnerable members of our society. We need to acknowledge there is a problem, accept responsibility and understand the dynamics of why some organisations succeed and others fail.Clarity of purpose, moral courage and a coalition for action was Nightingale’s response to the call. We need to do likewise – to light and lead the way.”
As we enter 2020 Florence Nightingale’s faith remains an inspiration as do the words on her memorial in St Paul’s Cathedral “Blessed are the Merciful” .
And so my New Year’s resolution is to:
“act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God” Micah 6:8