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The early Christian Church in Jerusalem had a problem important enough to find its way into the book of Acts.
It’s likely there were other problems, but this one is given as an example and it also serves as an explanation for the origins of one of the church’s initiatives which exist to this day.

The example:
A problem of fair distribution of resources developed. There were two main groupings of people in the early Church: Hebrews (Jewish followers of Jesus) and Hellenists: Greek-speaking gentiles who also believed in Jesus. The dominant membership at the time was the Hebrews and the Hellenists were a minority. An argument was diverting the leadership and ministry of the 12 apostles. They felt that they were spending too much time making sure that there was a fair share of food to widows from both sides of the cultural divide. They saw their true calling more in providing spiritual nourishment and leadership for the church.
So the whole community was called together to tackle the problem. The solution was to appoint 7 appropriate men to oversee the distribution of resources – chosen by the whole community.

The explanation:
This story also explains the origin of the ministry that came to be known as the diaconate: deacons fulfil a practical, serving ministry in the church whilst apostles, bishops or priests are called to a more spiritual ministry. (Though it is important, of course, to understand that both side is complimentary to the other.)

Now the Church could have gone into denial about the problem, but the apostles’ leadership allowed them to listen and deal with the problem. A creative solution was reached which freed all to keep to their calling in the Church and its charity to be fairly shared to those in need, whatever section or culture they were.

What we can take from this today is that those who felt unfairly treated had the courage to speak. Those in the majority culture had the courage to listen. This is an important thing for our modern-day multi-cultural Church and society to hold onto.

Hospice application:
The origins of hospice care can be seen in this kind of light, too. Dame Cicely Saunders worked as a nurse. She saw how the terminally ill in ordinary hospitals could be neglected. But they and their relatives had needs just as much as other patients who would recover after treatment.

There can be denial about dying and death. Its surprising how often even relatives of patients in the hospice whose bodies are shutting down still can’t accept the reality of the situation. Dame Cicely Saunders had vision and conviction to take the dying seriously and so opened up a whole movement and a more positive attitude to dying and death.

One of the ways in which hospices can help individuals and their relatives is to support them through the closing stages of life and help families face the reality of what is happening. Hospice care is about managing pain, even though a patient may be terminally ill. They can be helped to die as pain-free as possible and with dignity. For the patient and the relative there is emotional and spiritual pain involved as well, and part of the way in which this kind of pain can be eased is first of all to acknowledge the reality of the problem, and then, like the people in the early Church, to find positive and even creative ways of tackling the problem.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith



Father, giver of all gifts;
bring joy to our hearts through your Holy Spirit,
that the world may believe the good news
which comes to us through Jesus Christ our Lord.