Yesterday I watched an inspiring TV programme entitled “To Provide All People: Celebrating the NHS 70 years On”. The one-hour programme was produced for BBC Wales and was involved interweaving the story of the launch of the NHS, with contemporary stories in the form of a poem (but not a rhyme). It involved some amazing actors providing excellent performances in a presentation that was brilliantly directed in every aspect.
I found it profoundly moving at times and very informative. But I was left wondering how much it had cost and whether the producers had though through how to maximise the benefit provided by the programme. It was aired at the same time on BBC One Wales and BBC Two. But if that was all it was a terrible waste as audience needs to have been multiplied many times.
The programme deliberately, though slightly subtly drew a comparison between the start of the NHS in the face of opposition and times of austerity, with the current situation, which is not entirely dissimilar. It also asked some hard questions as to whether, with the changes brought about in recent years, the founding vision might have got lost.
They say of evangelists that (to paraphrase a hymn) “ten thousand, thousand are their tests but all their sermons one”. In a similar vein, I found myself reflecting on how this TV programme provided commentary on church life for most churches in the UK.
It is almost certain that the majority of our churches came into being as a result of an evangelistic vision that believed that the good news of Jesus ought to be heard and enjoyed by all regardless of status in society, age or gender (much like the NHS). They might also have been established at significant cost and sacrifice. They were not established because they could be afforded but because they were needed (much like the NHS).
Like the NHS much has changed since our churches began. Generally we also face the challenge of limited and shrinking resources. But the circumstances that brought our churches are unchanged. So what is wrong? Why are so many churches declining and so few showing signs of genuine growth (rather than transfers from one church to another)? What might be missing?
The film spoke about compassion; that responding to the needs of those who are unwell comes before all else. We live in a society made sick by sin and sinful selfishness and individualism. We need compassionate churches.
The film spoke about confidence that there was a better way. Have we lost the confidence to speak out about our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. The Bible tells us that it is the message about Jesus that is the power of God to salvation. We have a message that could change the lives of thousands of people for the better, including our neighbours. Why are we silent when we are called to be witnesses - to speak out in evidence of the truth.
The film spoke about change, and the importance of responding to the world around us as it changes. Are we still sitting in pews and running services almost exactly as our grandparents did? If so, no wonder people are voting with their feet and looking for something better!
The film spoke about passion. Are we passionate about Jesus Christ. Are we passionate in our worship? Are we passionate about the message that changes lives? Would you describe your congregation as a people who are passionate about their faith? If not, why not?
Finally, the film spoke about vision. It asked the hard question as to whether the founding vision still existed in the NHS or whether somehow it had been lost. It suggested that if the vision had been lost then there was no future for the NHS as an institution that provided a free service for all at the point of need. It suggested that if that vision is lost then those involved would be un-motivated.
All of these points were woven into a film which also told real stories of the impact that the NHS has on real people from birth to death. But as it ended I was not only lft saying a “Wow” but also wondering how the message of this film with its encouragements and its challenges could reach those who did not see it when it was broadcast. I also wonder, somewhat cynically, whether everything that went into this amazing programme would impact our society so that we will demonstrate by sacrifice and commitment just how much the NHS means to us.
My ministry through Rural Mission Solutions is committed to helping rural churches become effective in their mission, with congregations that passionately love Jesus and love their neighbours so much that they find appropriate ways of mission, and live out the same vision that brought them into being against much the same challenges that face us today. But, like the makers of the film about the NHS, I wonder what the alternative will look like if we fail to get the message.
If you share our concern, please ensure that you find ways to partner with us through earnest prayer, or through financial support, or through doing what you can where you are to make a difference. We know we cannot manage without more active help, and I’m sure the same will be true for you. Can we help one another?
Barry Osborne - 1st July 2018