Bishops. Lukewarm, Apathetic or Missing the Point?

I always seem to be ranting about bishops, but I also complain about shoddy service, low standards and a ‘whatever’ attitude. I’m sure, since that catastrophic decision to lock all churches, the bishops have been scurrying around, wondering how to pick up the shattered pieces. They have certainly succeeded in turning many of their clergy into successful on-line technocrats though some of the more meditative and spiritual priests may be finding it hard to cope.

Perhaps, rejecting modern methods, those have been reaching their parishioners by that good old fashioned gadget — the telephone. A voice-to-voice call could be every bit as effective as screeds of written pious thoughts.

Of course they’ve gone on working in as weird a world as we are all living in and I’m not blaming them when they appear to be less than firing on all cylinders. That’s the way it is.No matter how much we train or practice some of us rarely come first and ‘I did my best’ sadly, may rarely be ‘good enough’.

The bishop of my diocese wrote in his last newsletter about “Patient Endurance”, an attitude of faith which is described in several places in the New Testament. 

He quoted verses from Psalm 46.  “God is our refuge and strength, and a very present help in trouble. Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth be moved, and though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea.”

I have been hanging on to those words through thick and thin although, in my case it wasn’t so much the earth being moved that worried as me, I myself, being moved! I was turned, every three hours, day and night, to save me from pressure sores, from the moment I got on to Ward 227. Initially it took five nurses to move me, without causing any damage to my spine but after a while one nurse and I could manage together. I used to complain that I felt like a sausage being turned to brown nicely on all sides. 

The Bishop of Oxford, Steven Croft, took a similar line when he spoke at his diocesan conference last month. He didn’t mention ‘patient endurance’ but he focussed on the humility and gentleness of Christ. The only sort of Christ who appeals to the Woke Brigade.

“This is the kind of leadership which draws alongside people . . . liberates the gifts of others. . which does not overwhelm. . . the leadership of gentleness and tenderness and patience.

The Bishop of Oxford

“The humility of Christ is not weakness, finally, but strength, tenacity and determination to effect change for the sake of the kingdom of God, stepping into difficulties to seek to resolve them, not stepping away. But that strength, determination and power will need to be mediated through humility as we face the challenges ahead.There will need to be a great deal of listening as we explore how best to re-open our churchesThere will need to be a great deal of listening, especially, as we seek to rebuild our ministries. 

I’m sorry, Bishop Steven, but in the present state of our nation that is nowhere nearly good enough. 

For five long weeks in Stoke I watched what was going on around me. 

Outside the NHS I doubt you’ll find that amount of getting alongside people anywhere. Everything from high tech procedures and highly skilled techniques to the most fundamental care. There are amazing machines that can detect everything going on in your inner body but only a person, male or female, black or white, young or old, can get right alongside you to cope, with complete empathy, with a ‘below the waist waste’ problem. The same people will grip your hand and breathe deeply with you when pain becomes intolerable and get together to make you laugh when you’re feeling blue.

That’s how NHS staff are. That’s how the Bishop of Oxford wants us to be. That’s how, as Christians, we’d all like to be within our own talents. 

Sadly, gentleness and humility are NOT enough. Nothing like enough anymore, because the Christian foundations of our country have been destroyed.  As well as love and understanding and commitment NHS staff have years of training. Do we? Do we read our Bibles, study theology, and discuss our beliefs? When we do get alongside someone do we know what to say? Do we dare to say it? Would Christ’s miracles have been enough without his words.

Royal Stoke University Hospital

In my weeks in hospital I had plenty of time to think and pray. But there was one person missing.

On the first Sunday I was at pretty low ebb. I was alert and fully conscious but a bit befuddled with drugs and I couldn’t remember my prayers. I even had to have several goes at the Lord’s Prayer before I got through it without getting muddled. So I asked if I could see the Chaplain, but s/he didn’t come. When I asked again a week later one of the nurses told me a chaplain might be able to pop up on Wednesday. They didn’t. There was something called a Faith Centre — I saw on a trip to X ray — but there was no clue as to what it might really be. Three more Sundays went by, plus all the other days in a week, but I never saw sight or sound of anyone claiming to be a cleric.

They are scared of Covid19 of course. Probably all the rest of the staff were, too, though I never heard the word mentioned. I had a broken neck not a virus. In any case, as a hospital Chaplain — a paid appointment, not a volunteer job — shouldn’t they try to rise above their fears of the virus, don the necessary PPE and trust in the Lord for the sake of the sick?