A Magnificent Month!
Today we’re celebrating this past month – the talks and walks, the workshops and concerts, the hospital visits and the Senedd reception – all a part of our ‘God Bless the NHS’ campaign. What a month it has been!
For me, this month has reminded me about how wonderful people can be – about the divine spark which is in each and every one of us. Sometimes this can be hidden or obscured, of course but this month, the kindness of strangers, the support of friends, the dedication of those who tend to our health…all these have been at the forefront of our celebrations. The wonder of humanity. Which we are right to celebrate here for God made us and loves humanity so much that God became one of us – took on our flesh and blood to share our life and death; to teach us how to live; show us that we are loved; to point to the hope of life beyond death! And when he came to us as the human, the healer from Nazareth, he spoke to those who weren’t considered fully human – the ill, the female, the foreigner, the child…and he shared good news with them.
As a congregation, we then watched two clips of our friends at Coedylan, learning what they had learnt and celebrated about the NHS through workshops and the concert held at the church. The pupils were simply amazing!
Readings: Psalm 139:1-18; Luke 9:1-6
The passage from Luke…or, more particularly, Mark’s version of it, followed us round last week. It was first read and reflected on at St Asaph Cathedral where we prayed before starting the walk in Rhyl. And it was appropriate for us to visit the Cathedral before heading to the beach as it was the Bishop of St Asaph, back in the 16th century who ordained Father Camillus, a former soldier whose experiences in war led him to dedicate his life to caring for the ill and who is, today, the patron saint of the sick and all who care for them. So in this small but beautiful Cathedral, Sue Walkling and I thought on this gospel event and after hearing the instructions to take nothing for the journey – ‘no staff, bag, bread, money, extra shirt’ – Sue joked, ‘maybe we have overdone things a bit’!
Much from this passage echoed different parts of our walk across Wales…being sent out from village to village; hopefully proclaiming good news; witnessing healing…but it’s the question of hospitality that Bethan and I found most compelling.
“Whatever house you enter, stay there until you leave that town. If people do not welcome you, leave their town and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.”
Shake the dust off your feet. Well, with the weather being as it has these past few weeks, we shook quite a lot of dust off our feet. Jesus’ disciples would have known that when leaving non-Jewish cities or lands pious Jews often shook the dust from their feet to show their separation from Gentile practices.
Here, then, Jesus is turning things upside down once again by saying – if these towns don’t welcome your message of a God who welcomes, includes and love all people, then use the actions of the pious to distinguish your message from that of the pious. I see it, not as some act of condemnation and judgment but more of a case of – we won’t be brought down to your level. If you act in exclusive, pious, unwelcoming ways, we’ll show our dedication to be inclusive, down to Earth and welcoming by shaking off the dust from our feet, by not following your practices. You might say it was a first century version of the American theologian – Taylor Swift’s – declaration that the players gonna play, play, play, play…the haters gonna hate, hate, hate hate…but I’m just gonna shake it, shake it off. Wise words, Tay-Tay.
For Bethan and I though, it was the vulnerability of being the guest asking for help, hospitality that gave us greatest pause for thought. Most often as churches, we’re the ones used to be the welcoming host, inviting, perhaps even expecting, for others to come to us, where we can show just how wonderful we are. But in our cross-Wales walk, as in our gospel passage, we were the ones going out, needing shelter, being fed…it was a fascinating experience and perhaps the biggest lesson learnt for us is the importance of not assuming what your guests might want. Over the week we were given such generous hospitality; shown such kindness…but there were times when all we really wanted was a shower and some peace. As you’ll hear in a bit, we absolutely loved meeting all the people we walked with but the sometime distance between what we wanted and what was given gave us pause to think that perhaps that’s something we do as a church. Instead of asking sisters and brothers how we can bless them, we sometimes assume we know what’s best for them. Instead of listening to the stories, hopes, cries of others; sometimes we’re too busy telling them our story. To love the other – whether here, amongst family – whether as generous host or vulnerable guest – perhaps we first have to listen to the other. To listen to where they’re coming from. To try to hear beyond any difference of accent or miscommunication and to really meet with them with no ulterior motives.
In her book, ‘An Altar in the World’ the brilliant Barbara Brown Taylor puts it like this;
“The hardest spiritual work in the world is to love the neighbour as the self – to encounter another human being not as someone you can use, change, fix, help, save, enrol, convince or control, but simply as someone who can spring you from the prison of yourself, if you will allow it. All you have to do is recognize another you “out there” – your other self in the world – for whom you may care as instinctively as you care for yourself. To become that person, even for a moment, is to understand what it means to die to your self. This can be as frightening as it is liberating. It may be the only real spiritual discipline there is.”
We’re going to sing a hymn now which we also sang at St Asaph and which reminds us of the need to be guest as well as host; the served as well as the servant…
Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You; let me be as Christ to you; pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.
After the hymn, noting that end of term often meant bringing games in, watching films and doing things a little differently, Bethan and Phil shared the following reflections on their walk
Just in case you missed any of that here is the text !
God Bless the NHS!
Back in May last year, after Michael Sheen’s speech;
NHS Celebrations seemed just within reach.
And now, a year on, having crossed this great land;
What has become clear; what we can all understand,
Is that events like these require effort and skill;
A pinch of inspiration; a big dash of good will.
So to all those who participated in ways great or small,
We must say ‘diolch yn fawr’ – huge thanks go to you all.
On Saturday we drove up from Ponty to Rhyl;
At Saint Asaph Cathedral, we prayed for the ill.
We visited Glan Clwyd, ate chips near the bay
And then met our kind hosts, the first on the Way.
The next day at Horeb, we gathered together.
We ate, sang and prayed; we frowned at the weather.
Then David, a doctor, who’s known Bethan a while;
Led us on our way; walked more than one extra mile.
The sun, it was fierce; the path, it was long.
So approaching day’s end, we burst into song.
Then the righteous of Ruthin, they spoilt us walkers,
As we bathed in their welcome; soon learnt they’re good talkers!
Breakfast with others churches followed a restful night.
And as all good disciples, they passed on the light.
Over aqueducts, through tunnels, we trundled that day.
And passed into England with a ‘boo’ and ‘hooray’!
So to Oswestry, where Alan welcomed us in,
And his home brewed beer gave Bethan reason to grin.
We were treated, by Churches Together, to dinner.
And the curry we went for…boy, that was a winner!
Day four we met Naomi, Communications Queen
Who glows with positivity and loves Bruce Springsteen.
With Nick, she took us to meet the ward staff,
Who spoke of their work with great pride and a laugh.
After this visit, joy-filled, we kept going,
The Dyke, it kept rising; the sun it kept glowing.
That day was a slog – we both hobbled for miles;
And Bethan rediscovered her hatred for styles.
But then – on the horizon – a shadow…something scary?!
No, a helper from God – the Reverend Mary.
Just as we were wilting, and starting to crack;
She told us home was near and could she take a rucksack?
So we headed to Chez Turnock; then there were well fed.
And following some chat, we all headed to bed.
Next day, after chapel, we waved all farewell.
And aimed for Presteigne, via Knighton, as well.
It was here, post-visit from our French Support Corps,
That the walking team soared, from two to, well, four!
At day’s end a banquet and church crowd awaited us.
And – for some present – the football deflated us.
But we weren’t down for long, for that very next morning,
Amidst World Cup blues, after stretching and yawning,
As a brief burst of rain gave way to dawn chorus;
The biggest of breakfasts was laid down before us!
Prayers were then prayed in the church for a while,
As new friends said goodbye with a hug and a smile.
Day six and Glasbury was our distant destination,
Knowing nothing of the lodging that would cause a sensation;
For this night, after welcome from Kathy and Clive,
Kathy took us all for a short country drive.
We imagined a shed in the woods, bare but nice.
What we got was astounding – a small taste of paradise!
Having slept so deeply in log cabin heaven,
We had eggs for breakfast, fuelling up for day seven.
First stop was the Memorial Hospital in Brecon,
Where a long photo shoot with several poses did beckon!
Meeting nurses working there was heartening – moving even;
As they spoke highly of the hospital and a team they could believe in.
Special praise went to Gemma – who supported us too –
For her baking and care for the whole Brecon crew!
No cake for us there, but at Talybont – tea!
As we caught up with friends and were filmed for S4C.
Up, through the Beacons, we then ascended with elation
And awaited our lift at Torpantau railway station.
The Brecon Mountain Railway staff were so very kind
To give us free tickets; to help us unwind.
So we took many photos of us and their team.
Whilst friends from the church bought us each an ice cream.
To Merthyr, to Prince Charles, we all headed then,
Hearing stories of hospital heroics again.
One nurse there told us it had been a tough day.
She thanked us for chocolates and re-entered the fray.
Friday night in Ystrad saw a Love Island tutorial
The next day began at the Nye Bevan Memorial.
More walkers and supporters joined us by the stones,
Bringing with them, fresh feet, wise heads and old bones!
We marched through Tredegar where Bevan’s vision was inspired
By the community’s compassion and care he admired.
May his passion for justice and equality rise again,
Across these fine isles – town and country, hill and glen.
Passing through Merthyr, our company swelled,
Some joked of our looks and the fact that we smelled!
But we took it in jest as Ponty came close
And Bethan battled bravely with her blistered old toes.
That night, in our church, a standing ovation
For the walkers who trekked across Bevans’s great nation.
But the Tredegar Town Band were the ones to applaud,
For soul-stirring music so loved and adored.
Sunday brought rest…well, for most of us lot,
The exception was Bethan – onwards did she trot.
In our worship we thanked God for 70 years
Of kindness and healing, of blood, sweat and tears.
On Monday we focused on primary care,
And were wowed by the staff dedication seen there.
The evening brought a different tone, talk negative and sour
But that’s more than enough about recording ‘The Hour’.
On Tuesday – the big one – the Senedd in sight,
Just one final walk with quads sore and calves tight.
By Bevan’s statue in Queens Street some twenty were ready,
To walk to the Bay, pace gentle but steady.
There, as expected, the Tenovus choir
Were lifting crowd spirits ever higher and higher.
Some schoolkids turned up and joined in the throng,
They were naturals on stage, started singing along.
Mick Antoniw came out, then Vaughan Gething as well
And we each gave a speech saying – ‘please go and tell
Of your thanks for the doctors, your love of the nurses,
How healthcare should not be dependent on purses
Or wallets or figures in a bank account;
For our true value’s not about the amount
Of money we earn; but instead right from birth,
We’re all children of God, have inherent great worth.
Whilst our care for the ill shows who we are as a nation,
So woe betide those who breathe denigration
On our NHS, on its wonderful workers.
Or who call those in need ‘lazy leeches and shirkers’.
We’re better than that. We’re stronger together.
And in spite of their lies we’ll stay strong and we’ll weather
The storm of austerity, apathy, greed.
We’ll keep helping each other and all those in need.
We’ll fight calls for dismantling our beloved institution
We’ll respond to their cruelty with a love revolution
So we’ll plan a party; put on finest dress,
As we celebrate the birth of our great NHS’.
Or something like that – I can’t quite remember.
But we all spoke in unison – church minister, assembly member.
And that was the last of the tentpole events
Though this week you’ll find us amongst stalls and tents
At the Royal Welsh show and there’s much more to come
But for now I must thank you for all that you’ve done –
For supporters and the steering group, for walkers and drivers;
For the churches and hosts; bed and breakfast providers;
For the craft and chat ladies; the artist, the knitter;
For the media team on Facebook and Twitter;
For the furniture movers; the Soroptomist gals;
For route-mappers who led us along paths and canals;
For the band, politicians; Tuesday kids’ club, Sunday preachers;
For the primary school concert – the pupils, the teachers;
The stewards, the parents, the carers, the poet;
But the biggest of thanks, and – don’t you just know it –
Must go to the heroes who look after our health;
Who care for us all – regardless of wealth.
Who tend to our wounds; heal both body and mind;
Who see beauty and brokenness in all humankind.
As Christians we believe the Divine Healer works through you;
And pray that God gives strength, rest, hope and grace to you.
But let’s not get hung up by things of theology;
Rather let’s jump straight back into biology.
We’re so very grateful for all that you do;
And want to remind others of your brilliance too.
So thank you, diolch, merci and shukran.
You’re angels all – every woman, every man;
Every single staff member of our great NHS –
You’re appreciated; you’re amazing; Huge love and God bless!