Learning from the15th August 1965 – Lynmouth

On 15 and 16 August 1952, a storm of tropical intensity broke over south-west England, depositing 9.0 inches of rain within 24 hours on the already saturated soil of Exmoor.

A guest at the Lyndale Hotel described the night to the Sunday Express:

From seven o’clock last night the waters rose rapidly and at nine o’clock it was just like an avalanche coming through our hotel, bringing down boulders from the hills and breaking down walls, doors and windows. Within half an hour the guests had evacuated the ground floor. In another ten minutes the second floor was covered, and then we made for the top floor where we spent the night.

Overnight, more than 100 buildings were destroyed or seriously damaged along with 28 of the 31 bridges and 38 cars were washed out to sea. In total, 34 people died, with a further 420 made homeless. The seawall and lighthouse survived the main flood, but were seriously undermined. The lighthouse collapsed into the river the next day.


At the same time, the River Bray at Filleigh also flooded, costing the lives of three Scouts from Manchester who had been camping long side the river. It remains the worst flood in the UK.

There are stories of those who acted with great bravery for example Derek Harper who had just completed his police training clambered over the hills towards Porlock to the only phone which worked to call for help. He was later awarded the George medal for his bravery. The generosity of others was seen in the setting up a fund for the victims of the disaster and raised more than £300,000 by the end of the first month.

Remembering and retelling the story is part of any culture, remembering occurs as parents tell and retell to their children and grandchildren what is most prized in their community.

In Hebrew Scripture or the Old Testament we see the telling and retelling of the stories which belong to a community of faith.  As God’s people journeyed through the Wilderness, into slavery and exile in Egypt then on into freedom in the Promised Land they would remember.  They would tell and retell their stories in exile to remember who they were in order to remember who God was for them, and his generosity and grace. Their continuation as a community was often due to this retelling.

Today I joined the community of Lynmouth to remember and retell the story of the flood 65 years ago of those who fought to save life and of those who died. Some there remember loved ones lost all those years ago and others will remember those affected but who have since died but who are still loved and missed.

We remember and retell their stories, not just out of a mark of respect, not just to give thanks for their lives and for the bravery of others but because in retelling their stories we remember God’s faithfulness and hope for a future where this could not happen again.

Bishop Robert Mortimer preaching at the memorial service said that when it was all over a cross should be erected where the water broke though he said: ‘A cross is a sign, not simply of death, but of death followed by resurrection’. The cross was made from English oak from the Watersmeet Estate felled on All Souls Day 2001.


The cross speaks of the love of God which is in Christ. The author of Romans reminds us that neither death nor life, neither angles nor demons; neither the present nor the future nor any power, neither height nor depth nor anything else can separate us from that love.

The cross speaks about what God did in the past in the death and resurrection of Christ that points to a future where there will no longer be death, tragedy or suffering but until that day is holds us in our present firm and secure – it speaks of hope and it is hope which is the anchor of the soul.  To have hope doesn’t mean that we won’t face suffering or times of disaster but the cross reminds us that in the midst of the chaos Jesus is our anchor.

But hope should also motivate us to be part of that future. In retelling the story of what happened 65 years ago we should learn lessons – lessons about flood management, the construction of bridges and tree planting, the impact of new developments and climate change so that we reduce the risk of such a tragedy happening again. We need to be part of the change that we long to see and learn from the past.

The new exhibition retells the story of that night and of the resilience of those who lived through those days. It speaks of a community who has continued to flourish but I hope it also encourages those who come to that come to question what should be learnt and we can prevent floods like the one in Lynmouth 65 years ago and the mud slide of today which we have seen in Sierra Leone.




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Random Acts of Kindness

Last year as hundreds of firefighters worked around the clock to tackle the fire in Cathedral Green the people of Exeter made sure that they were looked after supplying food and drink – the fire fighters spoke about random acts of kindness similar to those seen more recently around the awful fire of Grenfell tower.

Earlier this year Joseph Rowntree Foundation and Carnegie UK Trust published a report by Zoe Ferguson called ‘The Place of Kindness’. The report showed how random acts of kindness have a significant impact on the quality of lives. Kindness reduces social isolation and improves wellbeing. It also provides the building blocks for community empowerment and is a necessary ingredient of successful communities.

The report suggested that for the public policy realm talking about kindness is too personal and too ephemeral but we all know when someone has been kind to us.
Churches across Devon make posies of flowers or bake cakes to give as random acts of kindness but as the report identifies there are things which get in the way of us doing this more. People are concerned about opening themselves to personal risk and there are policies and regulations which get in the way. In the public sector the dominance of a model of dispassionate professionalism work against kindness as does the desire to measure everything.

It is good to celebrate random acts of kindness, let us encourage each other to take risks and the church to step out in love. Let us encourage the public sector to pursue kindness and not worry about measuring it. The benefits are not just for the individual but for  society.

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Walking in the foot steps of others

This week I have been walking the Via Francigena. It is not for the weak hearted or soft footed! We started at Orsieres in Switzerland and made our away up to 2473 meters to Great St Bernard Pass in Italy before going down to Etroubles and today we finish our walking at Ivrea. My husband tells me this is a practice for walking from Canterbury to Rome when he retires.

We had made all the necessary preparations; carry a light load, look after your feet and drink lots of water. And this time we had not just the book but also GPS! The air was thin at the top and on the way down the temperatures were hot (36degress) and the Way went up and down. Walking in such conditions teaches you alot about yourself and about God. 

The route was well marked but when the GPS failed and you come to an unmarked junction it was the foot prints of  a those who had  a gone before which made the difference!

It was not an easy walk but I would not have seen or learnt the things I did if I had been in a car – the effort and risk was worth it! I reflect that there are those things in life I do that are both a risk and demand much and I am grateful to those in whose foot steps I often tread because through them I learn not just about myself and others but also about God.

By way of a reminder to myself once you have learnt something about yourself we should not forget it. So when my husband retires and sets about walking from Canterbury to Rome I will be in the support vehicle and take day walks!

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    I commit to action that seeks to heal the wrong which has been done

    This is the season of ordinations. Those who have for some time been discerning their vocation will be ordained deacons and priest in the Church of England. As part of the service of ordination of deacons Bishops will say “Deacons are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible”. They and we are called to follow the pattern of Christ.

    Jesus says this about himself: “For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for the cause of many.” We have been called to follow in Jesus footsteps – footsteps of service.

    Christ the Worker by John Hayward

    Christian service, the service into which men and women are being ordained, should always follow this pattern, the pattern of service, the pattern of the incarnation and the pattern of humility.  However, too often service from a position of strength and security runs the risk of becoming an exercise of power.

    Yesterday saw the publication of a report by Dame Moira Gibb An Abuse of Power. The report is as a result of an investigation commissioned by the Church of England into the serious sexual wrong doing of Peter Ball, a bishop of the Church of England and the failure of the Church to respond appropriately to his misconduct over a period of many years.

    The report is shocking and the details of the suffering of these young men absolutely harrowing. The abuse should not have happened, the church should have responded better and as a bishop in the Church of England I am sorry and apologise for our failings and the terrible damage that has been done to these men. There are and can be no excuses.

    Dame Moira does point to the Church having made significant progress in recent years in understanding abuse and in its safe guarding practice, whilst recognizing we have some way to go. Dame Moira also highlights the fact that trust accorded to clergy and bishops can bring an exceptional level of power.

    Protecting all God’s people and Promoting a safe church, two policies developed by the Church of England both point to the reality that the imbalance of power is often at the heart of abuse.

    Apologizing for the past failings, whether as an individual or as a corporate body, requires willingness to commit to action that seeks to make good the wrong which has been done. The Church of England has made significant progress: new practice guidelines outlining a range of individual and collective safeguarding roles and responsibilities underpinning the Church of England Policy statement this year have been developed, Safe Spaces the primary national church response to improve support to survivors is being implemented, Social Care Institute for Excellence have been commissioned to undertake survivor research, and training for clergy and other members of churches have been revised and rolled out to dioceses.

    However, the question of culture change remains – the culture that relates to our power as priests and as bishops – how do we ensure that the culture of deference and power imbalance changes to ensure we are following the pattern of Christ, a pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility, in all we do?

    Our churches must be places where people are accepted with love and compassion and where people are safe. It is our responsibility, my responsibility, to try to prevent abuse and respond well when abuse does occur. For that to happen, we need to follow the pattern of Christ and not a pattern that results in an abuse of power – a life lived in the service of others. I commit to action that seeks to heal the wrong which has been done.



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    Lasting Love

    Love is very important in our culture. The Beatles sang, “All you need is love, love, love is all you need” back in August 1967 which was one of the greatest selling records of all time. Amazon currently lists over 60,000 books with the word “love” in the title. I did a search on Google for the word “love,” I got back over 800 million hits.
    But equally our culture has a poor understanding of love. Watch TV, check the internet, scan through magazines, and you realize that by and large most people’s understanding of love is based on the idea of a contract. Where the contract basically says, “I will love you, if you do that” and if any of the conditions are not met, the commitment is off. Real love, love which gives it self unconditionally is often seen in the acts of the carer.

    The weekend marked the end of Carers Week. Audrey Jenkinson in her book ‘Past Caring’ suggest that if we could really choose our lives there would be a shortage of carers not because we don’t want to care for those we love but because if we could choose our lives we would choose one where our relatives and friends would not suffer.
    If I think the caring situations I have encountered recently none would have chosen this role but all have done what they have done without a hesitation, and with a sense at least of duty, but more often out of love and with profound commitment.

    The six thousand people who find themselves as new carers each day care because they care. The way they care grows. Like being a parent, you don’t start the job with every skill, every piece of expertise in place. You don’t care each day in a state of complete calm. It’s frustrating and frightening and challenging.
    Carers Week speaks of the immense amount of love and service which carers show but Carers Week must also recognize that it is not easy, that it is emotionally draining, that there are times you wish you could stop and times you wish it wasn’t like this.

    As a Christian I believe that we can only love with a lasting love if we are rooted in the love of God which is unconditional, God sets no limits on his love; God does not love by rule or statue; God does not love piecemeal or conditionally; God loves totally and completely, God loves each of us with an infinite and perfect love.
    The love of God is patient and kind; it is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. God’s love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. The love of God bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things.

    For us to love, to care, we need to look after ourselves and find ways in which our love renewed and restored.

    Carers Week is about rejoicing in care well given, it is about challenging when wider society takes advantage of carers rather than supporting them.

    Carers have something profound to teach the rest of society. Faithful, loving and committed service of others is what builds out society. We must not take this for granted but be thankful for the over 6.5 million carers in this country.
    Thank you.

    Lasting Love
    John Patrick Roche

    There is a story to be told.
    It is a story of love.
    It isn’t puppy love,
    young love
    or the many-splendored love of years past.

    It is lasting love: love over time.
    Not sexual,
    but simply love of each other as partners.
    Care is love.
    Care of what was, what is and what will come.

    We walk slower now, can’t see as before,
    and hold hands for warmth and support.
    Aging is not uniform or equal.
    Time takes from each at its will and whim.
    We pray first for the other partner to stay well, then our self.
    Our bodies slow differently:
    Alzheimer’s disease steals bit by bit the light of knowledge.
    Nerve systems weaken and short-circuit, arteries clog.

    One partner becomes the light,
    another helps recognition.
    The story is the carer.
    Care given daily, constantly, wearily
    shows lasting love.

    “Until death do us part” is recalled while time flows onward.
    Love becomes duty; honourable, enduring
    And necessary.
    How does one tell the story of lasting love?
    I tell it by admiring the spouse pushing a wheelchair,
    providing mobility and togetherness,
    by applauding those who read to the other with dimming sight,
    and by praising those who explain,
    interpret and encourage loved ones
    unable to remember their world.
    Any lapses in the past are forgotten with today’s love;
    A lasting love.


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    We need to admit how much this hurts

    This week in Manchester we have unfortunately seen the NHS and emergency services at its best and Lucy Easthope in the Guardian online talks about how the emergency response of Monday night has been planned over many years.  The planning has included “training people to sit patiently with a mother and ask her gently for permission to swab her mouth for DNA, while she prayed to any god she knew that her small daughter, lip-glossed and growing too fast, was currently being sheltered in a Holiday Inn rather than carefully tended in a mortuary we have purpose built for when the call comes in” and developing “recovery lessons” which give rise to the narratives of overcoming and promises that darkness will not overcome the light.


    Like Lucy Easthope I wonder if we should give greater space between hearing the cry of a mother who has lost her child and proclaiming that we will overcome.

    For those that have heard that cry of parent losing a child or have cried themselves will know that it comes deep from within and it hurts.  For those who over the last few days have asked for a DNA swab will know that it hurts. For those who received children at hospitals not knowing their names or the location of their parents knows that it hurts.  For those of us who have just watched the events unfold know that it is hurting.

    For the light to shine in the darkness we must leave space for it and that is the work of grief – we need to admit how much this hurts.

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    #NursingHeros – to light and lead the way

    On Saturday I joined the nurses’ league of the Royal Devon and Exeter Hospitals to celebrate their 85th Anniversary reunion.  I am a great fan of nurses and the NHS having seen some of the best care across the NHS and I am often reminded that the most extra ordinary nursing care is seen in the ordinary acts carried out day after day by nurses.

    Some present had joined the NHS in 1948 the year the NHS was formed and we spoke about the changes we had seen.  Introduction of anti-biotics, increased life expectancy, more people are surviving of cancer although one in every two born after 1960 will be diagnosed with cancer in their life time and babies are surviving when we only would have dreamed of it.

    I have to say that I am not sure I would have what it takes to nurse today – 12 hour shifts, the dependency of patients has increase, expectation of nurses has increased and public expectation has changed. And despite what is good about the NHS many of us will have stories when the NHS and nurses have lacked compassion.

    Compassion is an interplay between the extent to which we recognize another’s need, the extent to which we share the suffering of another and the extent to which our recognition and our feeling prompt us to do something in a way that will be in the other’s best interest.

    Compassion and care have been the concern of those involved in the Health Service across the centuries. Historically, developing the “compassionate character” was the impetus for care, and gave the nursing profession its ethos. In Florence Nightingale’s view, good nurses were good people who cultivated certain virtues or qualities in their character – one of which was compassion. Patients were expected to be the centre of all nurses’ thoughts. Nurses had to always be kind (but never emotional) because they were caring for living people, unlike plumbers or carpenters.

    However, I have often reflected that nurses are a reflection of our society and reflect the compassion of our society.

    A few years ago the Church of England published a report called Making sense of generation Y (Savage, S. Collins-Mayo, S. Mayo, B. and Cray, G. 2006  Church House Publishing ) which tells us that those who were born in the 1980’s and early 1990’s are a generation where happiness is the ideal.

    Happiness is realised though being myself and connecting with others.  Their narrative was about the immediate, immediate relationships and immediate satisfaction.  Absent from their narrative was a sense of anything greater than themselves or anything beyond the immediate.

    It appears that we live in a world which is increasingly defined by individualism. And in doing so we appear to be losing our sense of community where individualism is valued rather than the individual in community.

    But all is not lost if you read beyond the headlines of the Making sense of Generation Y  there is a sense that this generation is not mere materialist hedonists they deeply care about life, life as symbolized in the image of the newborn, children, the planet and animals.  And I believe that all is not lost. There was that wonderful image after the resent London Marathon of Matthew Rees sacrificing his own achievement to help David Wyeth across the line and today is a symbol of that.

    In a world which is becoming more complex nurses are rightly being trained to degree level and further and taking more roles but the demonstration of compassion becomes even more important. The demonstration of compassion is often simple – as demonstrated by our reading – Mark 2 verses 1-12.

    We have five men.  Four of them being stretcher bearers and the firth being the man taken to Jesus for healing; The man on the stretcher could not have got to Jesus on his own and the friends took him with no idea that Jesus was going to make any difference to the man. This wasn’t an easy task.  They had to carry him along what was probable a dusty uneven road, they then had to carry him up onto the roof, then cut a hole in the roof and then lower him down.  A man’s friends help lower him through a Palestinian house roof made of sticks and clay, laid across larger logs. Unsaid is what chaos this must have caused below as stubble and sticks begin falling on those gathered around Jesus. Suddenly, the paralytic lowered on his mat finds himself before Jesus, who surprised by such confidence on the part of his friends, saw their faith – he saw their faith and the story ends with the man being healed and leaving.

    The man found himself in Jesus’ presence not because of his own faith but because of the faith and perseverance of his friends; he could not have got there on his own. They took him there not because they were going to gain and they took him there not knowing the outcome but because of their compassion for him.

    Through compassion nurses have the ability to bring others into that place where they are healed. And yes just like the stretcher bearers in our reading the path is not always easy, hard work, frustration and persistence are characteristics that are required along with passion and compassion. But they like me believe in both nursing and the healthcare provision in this country.

    Having trained at the Nightingale School of nursing I have a complex view of Florence Nightingale however she does continue to be a model for us as nurses.

    Anne-Marie Rafferty (‘We can read Nightingale as a credo for compassion today’24 June, 2011 nursing times.net) writes “ 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.”

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