Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and do not forget all his benefits
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
Back in the early 1990s I trained as a nurse at St Bartholomew’s Hospital in London. I wouldn’t have imagined several years later, I’d be ordained in the magnificent and nearby St Paul’s cathedral (I didn’t even attend church regularly at that point and the idea of donning a clerical collar would have been too much to comprehend at the tender age of 18!). Since that time I’ve embarked on my own journey towards healing and wholeness and I am amazed at what God has done. My life has changed, I am changed.
Reflecting on those early years in nursing, the idea of the ‘healing presence of God’ was not something on my radar, especially when assessing patients for admission into the hospital. As newly qualified nurses, we were careful to fill out the assessment documentation thoroughly to help us provide individualized care and yet, when it came to the question concerning a patient’s ‘spirituality’, the paperwork was often completed with a cursory ‘C of E’ (which usually meant they’d expressed some distant affiliation with the Church of England and attended services as little as I did!).
It’s only during recent years that I’ve come to value the richness of the Christian heritage upon which the hospital was founded, after one man’s vision from God to build it along with a priory. During that time, spiritual care underpinned every aspect of the work but as the centuries went by, the hospital and priory became separate institutes, medical knowledge developed, culture changed and church attendance declined. Spiritual care was usually the domain of chaplains only, prayers at the start of the day on wards stopped and by the 1990s, any conversation with patients about one’s own faith would have been frowned upon. Sadly these day, offers by nurses to pray with patients has in some cases become a cause for disciplinary action. I realise that great sensitivity should be used when exploring spiritual matters and there will have been plenty of situations where healthcare professionals have imposed their own beliefs insensitively and in some cases completely inappropriately. However, there is a strong sense of ‘the baby being thrown out with the bath water’ and now the existence of some undervalued chaplaincy services are threatened due to funding priorities elsewhere.
In January 2014, I took on the role of director and chaplain of the Harnhill Centre of Christian Healing in England and enjoy a new freedom to offer the spiritual care I’m called to give. The clerical collar is a key to a door which was not open to me before. I have permission to share my faith with those who seek healing and I see lives changed as the healing presence of God becomes evident through the care and prayer ministry of the Harnhill team. I often think about the faithful followers of Christ who founded many hospitals and healthcare projects worldwide, caring for those with dis-ease in body, mind and spirit and it reminds me of being part of that bigger story. It’s a story of witness to the God who never changes and through whom a journey to healing and wholeness remains the invitation.