5th April 2013

A routine, sadly all too familiar.   First head home for some bananas, decaf tea bags, phone charger and above all, a good book.  Then onto Fazakerley A&E for a long day ahead and invariably much of the night

Over the last few years Jacqui and I have been directly responsible for five elderly people and each has had to be taken to casualty on quite a few occasions.  They all add up.  Over Christmas 2004 we actually had three in Fazakerley, all at the same time.  We know the procedures, what to expect, only too well.

Last Saturday Jacqui’s Auntie Rita was taken to A&E following a fall in her residential home. And so back in the same cubicle we have occupied innumerable times over the years.

We were impressed with the attention Auntie Rita was given.  Both the doctor and the nurse involved tried hard; they cared.  Some days later we bumped into the young doctor so that Jacqui could personally thank him.

In contrast the doctor and the sister on the ward couldn’t care less. I’m sure they see lots of elderly ladies confused and dishevelled, but no excuse.

You may have come across the NHS three-year strategy, Compassion in Practice, which aims to place caring for patients at the heart of health care.  A complete disregard of patients as human being seems to extend beyond Winterbourne View, where staff abused residents, and Stafford hospital.

It’s a huge problem for all of the caring services – how do you make carers care?    In fact, it goes right across our whole society.  How do you motivate practitioners, such as teachers or police officers, to go beyond the strict definition of their job and relate as human beings to the people they serve?

Many have lost their vocation, if they ever had one in the first place.   This is where Christians are called to be salt. Vocation as a word has lost its way.  Now it simply refers to an individual’s development of talents and abilities in their choice and enjoyment of a career.  So last month Education Secretary Michael Gove announced a major independent review of vocational education for young people.

But the word vocation has a fine Christian heritage – being called by God for a particular service. “There is one body and one Spirit,” writes the apostle Paul, “just as you were called to one hope when you were called.” (Ephesians 4:4).  In fact, you could define a Christian as someone who responds to God’s call – the word appears often enough right through scripture.

And as we respond to God’s call, so we aim to serve him wherever that may be.  We each have a vocation.  It is upto us to respond.

The Bible does not allow us to limit vocation just to those like myself who are paid to serve the church.   Clearly it is for all Christians wherever God has called them to serve in whatever context. I can recall the days in hospitals, for example when most personnel work was done by the ward cleaner:  they kept the place together even if they were the bottom of the pecking order.  They cared.

It makes all the difference to do what you are doing, even when things get tough and people become demanding, when you know that God has put you there. Okay, it may not always feel like that: that’s life.  But at a fundamental level, we need vocation, to understand that we are doing God’s work.

I guess it comes down to obedience and obeying God may well mean the readiness to take a risk (following careful consultation with fellow saints).   Only then we may know true fulfilment – to know in my bones that I am God’s person doing what God wants, where God has called me and relying on God’s resources.  The first step is simply to be willing to obey, or if necessary to be willing to be made willing!  He is more than willing to take responsibility for us.

When that happens, the salt principle takes over.  It sometimes takes just one or two Christians on a ward or in a department to transform the working environment, even in giving just a cup of tea in Jesus’ name to waiting relatives.