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Thanksgiving Service for the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust

by Gerry Lynch last modified 21 Jan, 2014 12:45 PM
Sermon preached on 20 January 2014 at St Mary’s, Dorchester at a service to give thanks for the 20th Anniversary of the Opening of the Joseph Weld Hospice and 30th Anniversary of the Community Specialist Palliative Care Nursing Service.

Texts for the sermon: 2 Corinthians 1.3-7; Matthew 25.31-40.

It was about 30 years ago that a young man who was offering for ordination was told to go away and get some experience of the world. He went to work in a Hospice. When he eventually came to Theological College,  I was his Tutor so I asked him what he learnt?  He said, “I learned about life.”

This service is for us to give thanks for the Weldmar Hospice Trust. It marks the 20th anniversary of the Opening of Joseph Weld Hospice and 30th Anniversary of the Establishment of the Community Specialist Palliative Care Nursing Service. In that short history we see how this service continues to develop, with the Trimar Hospice in Weymouth, CancerCare in Dorset and most recently the opening of a base in Sturminster Newton. The Trust is serving the people of North, South and West Dorset. This has been a relatively complex journey and it has happened with a great deal of commitment and effort on the part of dedicated people. As well as giving thanks to God this is an occasion to thank them. The Hospice and its community services help all of us enjoy our God-given life to the end. You teach us not just about death but life, in all its fullness.

The care of the sick and dying has been a Christian vocation from the earliest days. Jesus Christ cured  and cared for the sick and lame.  Consequently it became distinctive, of course not unique but distinctive, for Christians to protect the weak and vulnerable. In the early Church, for example in Christian Rome at the beginning of life weak infant boys, or some healthy strong girls, were not left on the hillside to die as had been the custom.   

A tradition developed out of the life of the Church of hospices that became our hospitals. You can see it in the names of some of our great teaching hospitals: St Bartholomew’s, St Thomas’s ... hospitals of Christian foundation developed the science of medicine which cured the sick and restored life.  Some of the most difficult medical care is of those who cannot be made better. Guy’s Hospital was founded in 1721 by Thomas Guy. He was a publisher of unlicensed Bibles who had made his money in the South Sea Bubble and established a hospital for incurables discharged from St Thomas’s.

The modern Hospice movement is relatively young.  The Roman Catholic St Joseph’s in Hackney dates from 1900 but it was the pioneering work of Dame Cicely Saunders in the 1960’s at St Christopher’s in Sydenham that set an approach to the care of the dying which has changed the landscape in this country and the world in the way we care for those in the last stages of life.

The temptation in the face of incurable sickness is often to run away or to fight what cannot in the end be beaten. What we find difficult is to be still and really present to the sick person we cannot cure. That is part of the Spirituality of the Hospice.

The Weldmar Hospicecare Trust is not a religious organisation but this Thanksgiving Service recognises the Christian culture in which the Hospice serves its community and it recognises the Christian roots of Hospice care.

As a parish priest in East London 25 years ago I was frequently struck by the way people told me that a relative had gone into the local hospice. Often it was said quietly and with sadness, the death sentence being heard as the worst thing in the world.  By the time I was needed to take the funeral people had been transformed. The intensity of relationships, love and care were often such that their experience of death and dying was transfigured.  People would often come away from the Hospice saying it had been a life-changing experience. “I wish we could live like that all the time”.

The fact that death limits our lives creates a sense of purpose within finite time within which we want to make something of our lives. The way we care for one another to the end shows the values and beliefs by which we live.

The value of a life is not measured by its utility: a person matters even if they are not going to be useful. What lasts forever, according to St Paul, is faith, hope and love. When these are present death does not have the last word.

Years ago, a friend who is a Roman Catholic Nun asked me what I would say to God when I die? I was in my late 40’s and far enough on in the midst of life to know that the first thing I would need to say would be, “Sorry”. Sr Margaret looked shocked. She is an expert in Christian-Jewish relations. “Don’t you know the Rabbinic tradition”, she said, “that what God will ask us when we leave this life is ‘Did you enjoy it?’

My sense is that you have enjoyed the achievements of the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust  the last 30 years; and Dorset enjoys your care. The representation at this service shows that people are very grateful. The enjoyment of a gift invites our thanksgiving. So we have gathered to give thanks to God for all you have done these last 30 years and to pray and ask God’s blessing on all that lies ahead.

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