Patron's opening address
It is my privilege to address you as your Patron as we begin this Conference for 2014. I greet friends I have known in this ministry for many years and I welcome people who are new to the role and those who are seeking God's will for them.
Faith Community Nursing is a God-given call on the Church to care in Christ's name and by caring to extend the love of God to their congregations and to the community at large. In that way I see Faith Community Nursing as part of the evangelistic thrust of the Church because anyone who is a carer is an agent of the Good News.
This cathedral has a special place in my heart as it was back in 1988 that Elaine and I and our two young daughters arrived from England for me to work on the staff here. We thought that we would be in New Zealand for 5 years before returning to UK but obviously God had other ideas! You see in 1993 I was invited to be Dean of Nelson Cathedral and once again, and in obedience to God, we packed up our possessions and moved to the South Island.
Thank God we did because as a result of that move Elaine changed her profession from science teacher to nurse and then caught the vision for parish nursing or what we now call Faith Community Nursing. Because we were obedient we are here today and that makes my heart leap for joy.
The theme for this conference is "Sustainability of Practice" and I don't want to say much about it save this. When God calls us into a particular ministry and we respond obediently then his sustaining love enables us to carry on to fulfil that vision. We are never called into a 'nothingness', a void if you like, but into a relationship where hand in hand with God we serve his precious people in his name. God never pushes us out of the door and says as it were, "I inspired you to this ministry, now get out there and get on with it and don't come running back to me at the first hint of a problem." In fact if anything is true it is the complete opposite of those words, isn't it? "I inspired you to this ministry, yes, so let us proceed together and at the first hint of a problem I will be there to guide you through." I can imagine God saying that, can you?
That's where we find the sustainability for our practice, for our ministries, nowhere else than the very heart of God. Now this isn't a sermon but I don't want to go any further without inserting a quote from holy scripture. It comes from Psalm 55 verse 22 and it is this:
Cast your burden* on the Lord, and he will sustain you; he will never permit the righteous to be moved.
I believe that this teaching is pertinent to the individual and the whole Church alike. Sometimes we carry our own burdens and when we do so we are in danger of burning out and giving the enemy a foothold into the camp. At the fear of repeating myself, let me read to you again the lovely words of Mary Stevenson which teaches us something very profound about this. She wrote:
'One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky.In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints,other times there were one set of footprints. This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set offootprints.So I said to the Lord, "You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?" The Lord replied, "The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you."
There is a lot of truth in this modern parable, isn't there? At its simplest it demonstrates just what the sustainability of God is all about. Think on that as you consider this vitally important subject these next two days.
This year I was privileged to go to England for a time of Sabbatical leave. As many of you will know my work is to encourage and support the people in every one of ou rparishes who minister to older people in the churches and in the community. The purpose of these Sabbaticals is to take time out and to seek for the voice of God in order to receive strength and encouragement and a vision for the next stage of the ministry. To a large degree I believe this has happened so let me fill you in.
Although Faith Community Nursing is not exclusively about aring for older people, my guess is that the majority of your clients are probably in the older age group. The 2013 census demonstrated very clearly that the older population is rapidly increasing and with the fall in the birth rate this means that there will soon be more people aged 65 and over than there will be children. This is the challenge of the age both for society and the Church and especially for Faith Community nurses.
My principal supervisor while I was away was my friend James Woodward who is now a Canon at St George's Chapel at Windsor Castle. Before his appointment he ran a charity for older people in the Midlands of England. James has written many books about ageing and especially about ageing and spirituality. In his most famous book Valuing Age, he included a quote from a man called David Wainwright which I find very challenging. Let me share it with you:
We are the elderlyfoot-soldiers of the church with a job to do. I believe that if we offer our diminishment to Christ on behalf of the church and of the world, our activity will draw the sting of suffering and will also help us remove some of the fear of old age and reveal instead the riches of God.
How true that is. Wainwright underlines the fact, the truth that even as we age, even as we diminish physically and cerebrally we still have a ministry, a service to offer God who first served us. As if to underline this, the well known author Sheila Cassidy, a doctor who was tortured by the Chilean regime in the 70's but whose Christian faith sustained her, wrote this:
It is the lavishing of precious resources, our precious ointment on the handicapped, those with mental illness, the rejected and the dying that most clearly reveals the love of Christ in our times. It is this gratuitous caring, this unilateral declaration of love which proclaims the gospel more powerfully than bishops and theologians ... It is a particular form of Christian madness which seeks out the broken ones, people with dementia, the handicapped and the dying and places before their astonished eyes a banquet normally reserved for the whole and the productive.
Considering these writings and others like them, I began to see the importance of my ministry, the mission I had been invited to be a part of. Thankfully in Nelson diocese we have four parish nurses who are also part of this current mission and their hands on caring demonstrates this sustaining love to those for whom they care. Thank God for new models for ministry.
Now I need to draw my words to a close. May God bless you in your various ministries and always remember that He is with you to sustain you and uphold you in all you do in His name.
My prayers are for the Board of this Association also as we give thanks for all the work they do on our behalf. Don't forget to pray earnestly about the election of the Board tomorrow at the AGM.
I feel that parish nurses are only just now beginning to have an impact on the church in these islands, in Australia, and in other parts of the world. Make sure you are resourced for your ministry and make use of the modules which are there to train and enable you to be the best parish nurses you can be for God.
Finally I want to say this. The final chapter of St John's Gospel is so special and encouraging and I would urge you to read it again and again. Jesus had risen from the dead after his crucifixion and had appeared to the disciples by the Sea of Galilee where they had returned to do some fishing. This final chapter seems to be mainly about pastoral matters, some of Jesus's last words to his followers. First of all he nourishes them with a hearty breakfast, and then he restores Peter to his fellowship three times after he had denied Jesus three times at the Lord's trials.
In doing this the Lord asks Peter if he loved him, if he loved him with the love which comes of God, and Peter with increasing exasperation says, "Yes Lord, you know that I love you." And what was it Jesus said?
"Feed my lambs." "Tend my sheep." "Feed my sheep."
A good minister has an holistic approach to ministry, as does a good parish nurse. We are called to care for people physically, mentally and spiritually because when one aspect is out of kilter then the whole person is at risk. Peter and the Church were commissioned by the risen Jesus to care and that commissioning goes on to this day, this moment, NOW!
Thanks be to God.