Who Cares?

I’m still shocked from only watching half of the Panorama programme broadcast on Wednesday revealing the abuse of patients inside a hospital for vulnerable adults.  The footage of treatment by abusive staff at Whorlton Hall was sickening to watch as patients with autism and learning disabilities were mocked, taunted, intimidated, provoked and physically restrained by staff, who it seemed took perverse pride and delight in the inventiveness of their (until recently) undetected cruelty. Sixteen members of staff have been suspended and the hospital is now closed.

At this point I’m reminded of those working in the care sector who are genuinely loving, thoughtful, professional, respectful and caring of those in their charge.  In 2017 I worked very briefly for a care provider and learned so much from people who saw it as their ‘calling’ to provide at times intimate care for the weak and vulnerable.  I had the privilege of working alongside people who daily toileted, cleaned, dressed and fed the people they supported.   

Artur, originally a teacher in Poland, could only find work in the UK as a support worker. He survived on the minimum wage, whilst working a challenging 40-hour week contract including weekends and evenings. He joyfully approached difficult sensitive jobs such as wiping bottoms, changing colostomy bags etc. He was under constant scrutiny by his managers but was motivated and fulfilled because he believed he was making a difference to people’s lives. Artur was not a Christian.

Another man was ‘Greg’ big bearded, long haired, scruffy – looked like he walked out of a Pantera concert circa 1990’s. Greg in his own limited time off would mow lawns and tidy gardens of the people he supported.  Why? Because he wanted to help. Greg was not a Christian.

Dave, a tall bald goth who also ran his own vintage clothing stall and hosted mini festivals on his field on Dartmoor told me- ‘you think it’s bad for you to wipe someone’s bottom, how bad is it for the person we support to have to be wiped’? Dave is not a Christian.

Mairi works for a charity that supports adults with learning disabilities and regularly tells me about the amazing staff who go above and beyond what’s expected of them to serve and help. It’s a job, yes, a poorly paid one, but it’s not about the money.

When we lose sight that people are people, or we only see the differences rather than the person, we can dehumanise and justify our action.  The Bible tells us all humanity is made in the image of God, regardless of ability or disability and many such support workers recognise this, even if they don’t know they are recognising a person’s God like-ness.

You can really see this if you come to RBC on a Wednesday evening, when the Include Choir are on site. The Include Choir is an independent charity for people with and without understanding and speaking difficulties. I’m often around when they are practicing and it’s wonderful to hear songs like ‘I get by with a little help from my friends’ being sung with gusto and volume through the building.

I love hearing the chat going on in the foyer, one guy reciting classic blues brothers lines all evening.  ‘We got both kinds of music here, country and western’ – he even got the accents right!

What I love is the joy and celebration of who they are – they are in fact, ‘beautifully and fearfully and wonderfully made in the image of God’ (Psalm 139 & Genesis 1) and they are being loved and celebrated – again by many people who are not Christians.

It’s not just the Christians who have the monopoly of loving, caring, accepting, and including, but certainly all Christians should strive to be all these things and we can learn a lot from those who see humble, poorly paid service as more worthwhile than high-powered, money making, ambition driven careers.   When we humble ourselves to serve in thankless and sometimes demeaning roles, like Artur, Dave or Greg, we are reflecting something of the image and purpose of God in us, whether we know it or not.

Brighton

I started the week with Mairi in Brighton attending the HTB leadership conference (LC19) . The main conference was taking place at the Royal Albert Hall London with satellite video link venues in Brighton, Bristol, Birmingham and Edinburgh. We had been offered free tickets and having having heard such good reports from previous conferences we were eager to try it out for ourselves. St Peter’s church is an impressive classical church building near the town centre. Inside it has been modernised whilst keeping some of the beautiful original features. As we found our seats a timer was counting down on the screen before the worship band burst onto the stage with growling guitars, lights, and dry ice to lead the congregation in a time of singing and celebration that reminded me of the big stadium gigs I used to go to when I was younger. Its amazing to see an old church building buzzing and teeming with life and energy as the mostly millennial congregation got totally immersed in the experience before the speakers came on. 

The aim of LC19 was to inspire and equip people for leadership in all walks of life, including the church, home and workplace over two days with a variety of inspiring and challenging different speakers. For me the most helpful session was a Q&A with Gary Grant founder of The Entertainer toy store. These sort of conferences can be quite ‘churchy’ so it was so helpful to hear from a retailer who stands by his faith based principles and doesn’t compromise to make money. Gray became a follower of Jesus when The Entertainer just had three stores. Its now the biggest toy retailer in the UK. Since coming to faith Gary resolved that his stores would not be open on a Sunday and would not sell toys that were against their principles which led to big potential losses when they declined to sell Harry Potter toys. Interestingly, whilst initially shopping centres did not want to know a store that would only be open 6 days a week, they have been so successful that they are being invited to open new stores because they make more money in 6 days than other shops do in 7. Its made me think again about working on a Sunday, I understand some people ‘have to’ but do they really? Is there something to be gained by saying no to the Sunday shift, the football team and the other Sunday activities?

His philosophy is ‘RIG’ which stands for reputation, integrity and generosity. “Guard your reputation, put it before all else. Reputations take a long time to gain and are lost very quickly.  The way that you go about doing things is important. We’ve had some massive company collapses, and the reason is that some of the senior executives in these businesses were being pushed to achieve the unachievable. So in order to do that, they dropped their integrity.”

However, his key message was about generosity, “Money can do so much when its active…… ” So keep your money active – don’t keep huge reserves and savings, be generous with your money and time.” What an impressive challenge in this day and age, even more so because it is coming from the retail/business world rather than from the church. We have been recipients of some amazing generosity of late and can attest to how wonderful it is to receive and give. What struck me was Gary wanted to talk more about generosity than the success of the business. That;s what he wants his legacy to be.

Reputation, Integrity and Generosity: not bad values to guide us through the complexities of working life today.

I won’t be at RBC this weekend but leave you in the capable hands of John and Sian in the morning – finishing the worship mini series and Rosie in the evening, continuing the Hosea series.

Have a good weekend

Run

Tomorrow morning I’ll be joining with about 300 people at Reigate Priory for the 9am weekly 5km Park Run.  Park Run is such an interesting, brilliant phenomenon; each weekend over 170,000 people take part puffing and panting their way through the 621 different locations across the world.

It’s an amazing achievement that an event that started in Bushy Park Teddington in 2004 has grown so rapidly but still based on the same simple, basic principles formed from weekly, free, 5k, for everyone, forever.

At the start of every Park Run, newcomers are invited to their own briefing where a volunteer welcomes them and explains the course, so they know what to expect. The pre-run briefing celebrates visitors and ‘milestoners’ – people who are running a significant number run ( 10, 50, 100 etc.) Notices are given along with words of encouragement and then the run begins.

Volunteers are positioned around the course to cheer the runners on some, offering hi-5’s and always letting us know that we are doing really well.  At every point the team encourage and enthuse, ‘congratulations, well done, good run’ etc. etc.

Imagine if we did that on a Sunday, half way through the service the stewards cheer you on …. ‘you can do it, only half an hour to go, keep going, no gain without pain’.

Truth to be told I don’t really like running, but I love the sense of community and that is why I go back most weeks. No one judges on speed, weight, age or looks, I feel part of something and I feel welcomed and accepted.

A few weeks back on a Sunday morning I preached about the importance of church as a community and drew attention to the fact that that the New Testament early church was an attractive, inclusive community that people wanted to join, despite the risks and threats of the time. At the end of the sermon I posed the question, ‘how can we help RBC to continue to grow as a welcoming, inclusive and attractive community?’ And I have been overwhelmed by the responses as people have engaged with this question. It also has broken my heart to hear the stories of people who have felt excluded or they’ve just slipped through the net of the church community.

This Sunday not only do we have a baptism service, which is fantastic, but we are also hosting our first ‘creating community’ lunch conversation to help us start to implement some of the ideas buzzing around.  There are still spaces if you want to come and tell your story.

If Park Run appeals to you, then why not join the growing group of RBC park runners tomorrow morning at 9am at Priory Park.

Jog on

RBC Park Runners