As I was thinking about today’s service, words from TS Eliot, the nation’s favourite poet, came into mind:
In the end is my beginning.
Today is charged with mixed emotions. For many it will be relief, that the period of waiting and uncertainty is over. It was just this morning that final confirmation from the Secretary of State was received that the new arrangements will be happening next week. For some it will be excitement that this is a new beginning, new opportunities and new possibilities. For some it will be a headache, especially those who will be managing the transition – they in particular will need our support and prayers as they work hard to ensure the right people and the right things are in the right place at the right time. For others it will be a time of sadness and difficulty as they leave, for the last time, their place of work and volunteering, maybe anxious about their future and their livelihood. Eliot reminds us, ‘In the end is my beginning.’ Eliot was a practising Christian and his words were influenced by his faith that speaks about death and new life which is focused in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From this we learn that in times of change, which may be light for some but darkness for some, there will be hints, reminders of new life and new possibilities, new ways that we may not even have considered. For those for whom this change is difficult, and I am not underplaying the difficulties they may face, don’t lose hope, because I hope and pray that somewhere there will be hints/reminders of something new. ‘In the end is my beginning.’
Today is a time of mixed emotions for the chaplaincy teams, both present and past, who will be stepping down from their duties and I would like to pay particular tribute to Diana and those many volunteers who have played such a key role in this important area. As we all know, hospitals are committed to looking after their patients’ spiritual as well as physical needs – and as we all know the two are closely related. One of my roles of behalf of the Anglican church in west Kent and in Bromley and Bexley is to support and encourage chaplaincy: I have a formal relationship with Anglican chaplains, but I also work with chaplains from other faiths and Christian traditions. I am aware that the support that chaplains bring to patients, medical and administrative staff is well received and deeply valued – and I am aware of the significance of chaplaincy in this hospital. The problem is that it is very difficult, if not impossible, to measure chaplaincy’s effectiveness using the same criteria as is used for other services. How can one measure the effectiveness of standing alongside a dying patient? Of supporting a family who have lost their child? Of being with somebody passing through emotional and mental anguish? But for doing all these things – and more – we are here to thank the chaplaincy team.
Now we look forward to new things, new opportunities and new possibilities. A new chapter is opening for Queen Mary’s Hospital to care for the community and we pray for Oxleas Trust as they manage this transition. We pray, too, for the new chaplaincy that will be working here. Those words in the first reading provide a wonderful framework for what an institution of healing should be. A place that others regard as ‘good news’ – to which members of the community can come with confidence, regardless of the condition they face. A place which ‘binds up the broken hearted’ – somewhere to which they can turn in their distress. A place of ‘liberty’ and ‘release’ – where people can come to be set free to move on to the next stage of their journey in life. A place of ‘comfort’ to those who mourn, – whether they mourn the loss of a loved-one or the loss of a past which in which they have been held captive. A place where, in the words from scripture, ‘they can be given a garland instead of ashes.’ Whatever their news, whatever their future, be it a new injection of life or death, new possibilities are opened for them.
‘In the end is my beginning.’ We thank God for the past, we thank God for all who have given themselves to the life of this hospital. We now move on to embrace the new, confident in God’s support, especially in the tough times. I end with a wonderful prayer of Dag Hammarskjord, a former UN General Secretary tragically killed in a plane crash in 1961:
For all that has been thanks. For all that will be, yes.
Readings: Isaiah 61.1-3,11. John 15.1-5
Queen Mary’s Hospital Sidcup. 27th September, 2013.