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.

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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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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.

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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.
Amen

(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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