#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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God has called you by name and made you his own

The sun was up and the rain had stopped and the mobile went off with a call from BBC Radio Devon on time at 7.10am ‘So Bishop how do you feel having slept out last night?’

I have to admit I felt slightly stiff and was glad I could now go home for a shower and breakfast before attending a confirmation service at 11am.  I know that sleeping out for YMCA #SleepEasy17 was not about the real rough sleeping experience it was about raising the profile for the work of YMCA Exeter and about seeking to find space to see something from a different angle.


BBC Radio Devon went on to ask if it was the still appropriate to give something up and suffer during lent.  For me lent is not about giving things up to suffer but rather to give something up to find time to reflect on God and on humanity and maybe hear that whisper of the Holy Spirit.  And there at 3am in the morning as the rain did its worse I reflected on the conversations of the evening – how anxious people had felt about the experience, the stories of why people were there, how people of all ages had come to raise the profile of the issues of homelessness and how easy it is for us to see the homeless as anonymous people, invisible and not people who are known by name.

Then this morning at 11am as part of the confirmation service we were reminded that ‘God has called us by name and has made us his own’

Each year St Martin in the Fields in Trafalgar Square holds a service in memory of the homeless men and women who have died during the past year.     Hymns and prayers are interspersed with reading of the names of those who have died. One such service included the following prayer and leading into the list of those who had died:

“God says, I have called you by your name, and you are mine”  

              God of love, call me by my name.
              Pronounce its syllables with care.
              Speak my full name,
            The name the world knows me by.
              Speak my private names,
              Known only to my friends, my lovers, myself.
              You know me from my beginning to my end.
              Speak my name, and make me yours forever.   

Then followed the names of the homeless who had died on the streets of the city.

[Order of Service in “Worship Live” Stainer and Bell, No 25, Spring 2003]

For those of us to who know a God to whom we are known let us pray for wisdom so we may know how to love with that generous love of God those whose names we know and those whose names are only known by God.

P.S also pray for Revd Gary Deighton who has 6 weeks to go sleeping out in Paignton. He is hoping to raise money for Shekinah Mission, the Christian charity which supports people in recovery. He has set up a local giving page to raise money.



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Moving Forward

 I am not a member of synod, so I listened, as did thousands of others, to the live stream of the debate yesterday. Even from a distance, the hurt, and the love of those seeking to apologise for that hurt was palpable. It was an impassioned debate, full of pain, full of questions, full of a desire to discern God’s will. It made me think that the Church of England can do good disagreement – whatever the headlines promising ‘turmoil’ say today. It was a debate full of grace.

I am so sorry as a member of the reflection group that we didn’t get it right and the fact that we caused distress to so many.  I know that an apology is hollow unless we move on in a different way which learns from our mistakes.

The challenge now is how together we make the debate and vote count for something. Alongside many others today, I am left with some questions.

What does radical inclusive Christianity look like in a church where there continues to be a vast distance between views over sexuality?
How can we clarify what we disagree on and still find common ground which looks radical?
How can we ensure that everyone is included in moving forward?

What we need is time – I know this is frustrating to those who think we have taken far too long already. But we will need time if we are to do better.  Our faith, and our belief in a loving God, demands we do so.

Lord, you have taught us
that all our doings without love are nothing worth:
send your Holy Spirit
and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,
the true bond of peace and of all virtues,
without which whoever lives is counted dead before you.
Grant this for your only Son Jesus Christ’s sake,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

(The Collect for the second Sunday after Trinity)

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to take note


Sitting with a member of clergy recently I encouraged them to reflect on how they normally discerned what God was calling them to do and suggested that is how they were likely to discern God’s movement in this instance. 


This meeting led me to reflect on how the Church of England as a body has discerned God’s movement in the past, and how it is trying to do so now over issues like human sexuality, it has not been an easy or painless process.


Today the meeting of the church’s General Synod begins and the highest profile agenda item will be the report from the House of Bishops on Marriage and Same Sex Relationships after the Shared Conversations. Its publication has attracted a range of responses – some people have felt betrayed and rejected and I recognise the legitimacy of their response but, as one of those on the drafting group, I can honestly say this was not the report’s intent.


The House of Bishops wants to affirm the integrity and value of each person affected by what is said in the report, and offered up the paper in all humility. I still stand by this intention and alongside all my colleagues, who served on the bishops reflection group, are motivated by the desire to find a way forward together.


We are an episcopally led and synodically governed church and the House of Bishops operate within the context of synod and ecclesiastical law. The debate which will take place on Wednesday at synod is a ‘take note’ debate.  I pray that synod members will speak into the debate and as far as I am able I will play my part to ensure the House of Bishops takes note of all the responses.


The report from the House of Bishops has been offered up in prayer and, as others have said, it was not intended to be the final word, but a resource for dialogue.  I pray that Synod will take seriously their role in reflecting back to the House of Bishops the response of the Church of England, and that they will be heard.


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Last week I celebrated Candlemas with the children from St David’s Primary School in Exeter. We thought about darkness and those places we had been when there was no light. We talked about what it made us feel and the children spoke about fear and loneliness.  I spoke about disorientation and the ability to feel alone and lost.

I then asked what could we do to reduce our fear and help us find our footing in the dark ?– of cause the answer came turn on the light!

Traveling along the Grand Union Canal last year we entered into the Braunston Tunnel. The Braunston Tunnel is 2,042 yards (1,867 m) in length. Built by Jessop and Barnes, the tunnel has no towpath and is 4.8m wide by 3.76m high and it is very dark! However it only takes a small amount of light to give orientation and direction.

It is often our small actions which can bring light into the lives of people – the way we say good morning, looking out for the person who lives next door, calling someone up who lives on their own – small ordinary actions which make an extra ordinary difference.

But the challenge for us is not just to do this for people who we love or are like us but also for those who are different – the stranger and the refuge – event those who hate us.

In Australia in the wake of a terrorist attack of the gunman in a Sydney café they began to see an Islamic phobic backlash. This sparked support for Muslims in a campaign called #I’ll ride with you.

It was started in Facebook by Rachael Jacobs, who said she’d seen a woman she presumed was Muslim silently removing her hijab while sitting next to her on the train: “I ran after her at the train station. I said ‘put it back on. I’ll walk with u’. She started to cry and hugged me for about a minute – then walked off alone’. Thousands of people have now joined the spontaneous campaign, offering to meet Muslim people at their local stations and to ride with them on their journey – small actions bringing light.

Next week is Valentine’s Day let us think about we can do to bring light to others and not just those we love!


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Kindness a cure for loneliness

The end of this month will see the publication of a Royal Commission on Loneliness. Conservative MP Seema Kennedy will take the plans forward started by the late MP Jo Cox with her friend and fellow Labour MP Rachel Reeves.

The Guardian News Paper reported that the pair have revealed the huge amount of work Cox had already carried out on the issue, partnering with 13 different charities and exposing evidence of loneliness across a number of different groups.

“Jo wanted to achieve something practical,” said Kennedy. “So this is all about trying to achieve change that is concrete – not just about sitting around and talking.”

Jo Cox

Age UK in Devon showed that 17% of older people who live alone have less than one contact a week, 11% less than one contact a month

The terms ‘isolation’ and ‘loneliness’ are often used interchangeably, but they refer to two distinct concepts. Isolation refers to separation from social or familial contact, community involvement, or access to services. Loneliness, by contrast, can be understood as an individual’s personal, subjective sense of lacking these things to the extent that they are wanted or needed. It is therefore possible to be isolated without being lonely, and to be lonely without being isolated.

For instance, an older person can be physically isolated (living on one’s own, not seeing many other people etc.) without feeling lonely. For some, physical separation is a result of choice. Similarly, one can feel lonely in the midst of other people. Older family members and care home residents may not appear to be physically isolated, but their relationship with the people they live with may not be enough to ward off loneliness, particularly when the death of friends and loved ones takes away the companionship they need.

Various factors have been found to increase older people’s risk of experiencing loneliness and isolation. Some are related to personal circumstances: for example, loneliness and isolation are more common among people who are widowed or have no children. Others involve life events, such as sudden occurrences like bereavement, or having to move into residential care, or gradual developments that give rise to a perception of having become lonelier over time. Poor physical health and mental health are also associated with loneliness and isolation, as is the expectation of future poor health.

The Church continues to have a presence in some of our most rural communities – a sign of Gods enduring love. The Church seeks to build relationships with people and here in the Diocese of Exeter – the Church of England in Devon we are seeking to serve the community with joy.

Therefore I wonder how can the church work better in partnership to help reduce loneliness?

Churches provide an essential social link for many through church services, coffee mornings, the Mother’s Union, in formal and formal pastoral care. It is also often the first point for support after the death of a loved one and increasing they work with others to talk about death and good death.

But maybe the greatest cure for loneliness are acts of kindness. The Bishop of Leeds, Nick Baines, in his blogg on the 11th November 2016 wrote “I reckon kindness is one of the most underrated virtues in today’s world. It isn’t bland or soft or feeble or weak. It isn’t about namby-pambyism or avoidance of conflict. Kindness comes when, even where it isn’t deserved, we dare to offer an opening to humanity and mercy, regardless of cost or reward. It is more than being nice and it can be very demanding in certain circumstances.”

I hope that the Royal Commission will provide encouragement for us as individuals and churches to reflect how we can increase our ability to demonstrate kindness to those alone.

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What Legacy for 2017?

I don’t know what you have been doing since Christmas day but according to the press families across the country have been in front of their computers and on the internet attempting to stave off the post Christmas blues by booking their summer holiday. By the amount of holiday literature through my letter box in the last few days the travel industry clearly believes this is an opportunity. Amongst the leaflets I had information on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn 2011 our family holiday was walking 200km of the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, also known in English, as the Way of St James for our holiday. The route runs in north-west Spain to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela in Galicia where the apostle St James is said to have been laid to rest. It has been a pilgrimage since medieval times but many walk for pleasure as we did (although at the time I had to keep reminding myself that it was for pleasure we were walking!). It is the nature of long distance walks that you have time to encounter people and to exchange stories along the way. It became apparent along the way that many were walking to find themselves – to rediscover who they are or the person they seemed to have lost in the business of life. It also interested me that there were also those who left something of themselves along the way. At points along the way, often under the characteristic sign of the shell, people left something of themselves, comments, shoes, pictures, sun glasses, items which were an expression of their need for others to have known that they have past that way – to leave their mark on the way.

Roads are good places to understand who you are and who others are.

As we face the changing of another year it is natural that we find ourselves reflecting on our journey who we are and what are we leaving on the way?

So often we want to leave a legacy which is about the material – just like the glasses, shoes and comment cards left along the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, so others know that we have passed this way.


But the gospel challenges us to see that Jesus’ incarnation – God with us – offers us an alternative narrative to which we should live and be remembered for – one shaped by compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience forgiveness and love.

During the last decade questions have been asked about what defines our communities and what legacy is it that we are leaving – we have seen inquiries into the behaviour of our media and financial systems, we live with the legacy of the MP expresses, we have seen investigations into allegations of abuse in people’s private lives but also in care homes for the most vulnerable in our society, we have seen inquiries into the care received by patients in our hospitals.

Many have reflected publically on what drives and builds our communities and so often in seeking for a solution and for a means to build compassion and care into our community or to improve our moral framework we look to regulation and legislation or top down initiatives such as ‘The big Society’.

Having worked in government with responsibility for improving the care and compassion of nurses in the NHS and for developing community across England I know that the answer is complex but I also know that it has more to do with the heart and with our actions as individuals than it does a legislative process or regulation or financial reward.

There are wonderful examples of positive community activity which are not brought about by legislation and it wasn’t done for material gain it was about compassion and kindness.

In response to God’s generosity of love in the incarnation we are called to be stirred and motivated to act to bring healing and wholeness, restoration with God and restoration of community. This will not always be easy and at times we will find ourselves in difficult places and it will cost but the incarnation asks us what is the legacy which we leave in 2017?

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