You may think it is a funny way to start an article on ‘Caring’ by mentioning the 26th President of the USA, Theodore Roosevelt (1858 – 1919). A distant uncle to World War ll President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Theodore was one of America’s better loved Presidents. A man of integrity and vision, he vehemently opposed all forms of corruption and, ahead of his time, held a life-long enthusiasm for conservation. In 1906 he became one of the earlier recipients of the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. So? Well, some forty years ago I came across a quote credited to this Theodore Roosevelt. It made a deep impression on me then and has remained one of my favourite quotes ever since: “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
Care, or compassion, is one of those fundamental human responses such as mercy, justice, peace and love. These deep emotions stem from an individual person regardless of whether or not they are religious, although it is an undeniable fact that all the world religions major on the care of the poor in order to facilitate the well-being of the whole community. From Judaism’s early writings, time and again we find references to caring for “the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless.” And when a lawyer asked Jesus “who is my neighbour?” (Luke 10: 25-37), Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan ending with the challenge to “Go and do likewise.”
The personal response to the Christian message has always been to put faith into action.
In the UK all mega advances in health-care, education, anti-slavery, (historic and contemporary), prison reform and so on, have their foundation in Christian inspiration. Today we elevate the caring professions and refer to them not as jobs but ‘vocation’. I doubt if there is anyone reading this who has not been the recipient in some form or other of care. Also I doubt if there is any reader who has not shown care to someone.
Early Methodists embraced the example of two high Anglican priests, the brothers John and Charles Wesley. As young men in Oxford they visited the elderly, in London they visited the hell of Bedlam and Newgate prisons, and in Bristol, John organised clean straw and clothing for French prisoners of war. Rev John Wesley is famous for preaching: “There is no holiness without social holiness” and the Methodist church has always sought to be aware of society’s needs both at home and overseas.
Right now Broadstone Methodist church has a corner to collect items for the Poole Food Bank. The Knit & Natter group make a valuable contribution to half a dozen causes locally and abroad and this is to say nothing of the various fund-raising efforts and emergency appeals throughout the year. Most of us care deeply about a specific subject, whether that be Macmillan Nurses, the Royal British Legion or Christian Aid etc. However, for most of the time we see things that we care about but are, by circumstance, unable to do anything about them. For instance, we care deeply about the poor turtle choking in plastic rubbish - we can do nothing to help the individual turtle but reviewing our personal reduction of plastic wrappings and ‘stuff’, we may just save some other turtle from a horrendous end. Or when family or friends live miles away, distance precludes us from giving practical care but never underestimate the power and the comfort of prayer.
How wonderful the caring which happens within a community is continuous, humbling and beautiful. There is a ministry of care for everyone – by a telephone call, a card, some shopping and most heartfelt, lifting the person and situation to God in prayer.
The wide-range of unseen caring is ongoing 24/7. When I was in London I knew of a little girl who rushed home from school at lunch-time to feed her mother who suffered from multilple sclerosis. This young carer was not alone - the latest statistic asserts there are 700,000 young carers in our country, 20,000 of whom are under 9 years of age. To mention another statistic, there are 800,000 children (probably more) whose physical and/or mental restrictions are lovingly cared for at home. Prince Harry has done much to highlight the needs of wounded ex-service men and women, of whom there are around 75,000 who need care in coping with their physical and/or mental suffering. These statistics are but the tip of a gigantic caring iceberg. Each person is created and loved by God.
Richard Gillard was born in Malmesbury and emigrated with his family to New Zealand aged three. It’s now 40 years since the publication of his hymn ‘Brother, Sister let me serve You’ - now a much-loved favourite sung by congregations all over the world:
Brother, sister, let me serve you,
let me be as Christ to you,
Pray that I may have the grace
to let you be my servant too.
We are pilgrims on a journey
and companions on the road;
we are here to help each other
walk the mile and bear the road.
This is, for me, the essence of a Church Family.