SUNDAY AND HOSPICE EXPERIENCE Acts 6:1-6
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
© Rev Paul Smith