The Church of England’s online service on Sunday 15th May celebrated the work of nurses and healthcare workers as it marked the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale. Indeed, the emergency field hospitals set up during this outbreak have been designated Nightingale hospitals in honour of the pioneer of nursing who worked hard to save lives and control infection during the Crimean War.
The Bishop of London Sarah Mullally, a former Chief Nursing Officer for England, led the service, with the reading from John’s gospel read by the present Chief Nursing Officer Ruth May. In her sermon, Bishop Sarah spoke of the cost that has been paid by nurses and midwives on the frontline of tackling coronavirus, and the need to support them now and in the long term. She said, “This year is the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife. It would have been filled with events to celebrate their contribution to health and society. Instead, Covid-19 means that this year is filled with acts of compassion done by nurses and midwives, for which we are enormously grateful.” People often ask Bishop Sarah about her two careers – one as a nurse, the other as a priest. She says, “I will often respond saying that I have had one vocation, to follow Jesus Christ and to make his love and compassion known.”
Florence Nightingale, herself a Christian and person of real faith, has impacted my own family too. There is a story on my Dad’s side that many generations back a one Hugh Maclure was an acquaintance of hers and in correspondence with her. He wanted to support her work and she wrote back to him in thanks – the letter is probably in an archive somewhere! My Mum trained as a nurse and as a midwife and served for many years in Africa, and her mother before her was a nurse. My Mum says that she remembers learning about Florence Nightingale from childhood, and her life of radical service was a great influence.
The full service remembering Florence Nightingale and featuring Bishop Sarah can be viewed online here.