A reflection on the occasion of Baptistcare’s annual Commissioning Service on the 10th December, 2014, International Human Rights Day.
In recent times I have been reflecting hard on Baptistcare’s role in the world, at this time, this place, this moment in history, and what it means to be a faith based organisation in the 21st century.
Our Vision is to ‘transform and enrich lives’; our mission sees us ‘reaching out with the love of Jesus, we work with the individuals, families and communities to achieve spiritual, emotional and physical well-being’. Our Values are as challenging as these two statements; as we talk about dignity and compassion, integrity and respect, courage and justice, stewardship and accountability.
So where do we start on this journey of love? For me, the starting point is with courage and justice in our hearts as we tackle the fundamental issues of discrimination, injustice, invisibility, disrespect and dishonesty and remembering that we are always accountable to God, as appropriate and joyful stewards of God’s goodness to all people.
All our services reflect our determination to ensure that individuals, families and communities have access to what they need, things that are denied because of economic, social, cultural, racial, gender or political bias, because our civil systems are unable to breach the structures and privileging that exists in our consumer world and political realities; and so our role is to break down those barriers, reach out, walk alongside, invite in, make welcome and deliver an experience of God that is palpable, visible, real and life-changing, whether or not you or the person receiving the services believes in God. The Baptistcare experience is life-changing, transformational and enriching.
It is also to know that our story with God and with each other is woven into, through, with and around individuals, in our relationships and our commitments to each other, and bring together our expertise and our professionalism, our conversations, our systems, structures, policies, procedures and behaviours.
Our story of God is evident in the stories we tell each other, in the way we go the extra mile, just as Jesus said: ‘for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
This is an awesome responsibility on us as leaders and members of this Baptistcare community, together with our friends and colleagues, our clients, families and their communities.
So what does this look like in reality? Baptistcare now employs over 1600 people of all faiths and no faith, each of us on a spiritual journey that we share in our relationships with our clients, residents and their families. We work with people who need a service, who need time, healing, recognition, support and assistance – who need us to make a difference in their lives.
Our services exist because there are gaps in the systems, which need filling so individuals can be the person God intended them to be, whether they are young, disabled, elderly, ill physically or mentally, whether they are excluded, restricted, unprivileged, invisible, unheard, and ignored like many people in our current civil society.
Arundhati Roy, a well-known author and political commentator says: ‘once you’ve seen it, you can’t unsee it’ and that is the challenge from Jesus. Once we’ve seen the hunger, the thirst, the stranger, the poor, the sick, the imprisoned, the unemployed, homeless, and uninvited, we can’t unsee them.
Our work is clearly spread out before us. Our accountability for the stranger and the application, understanding and embracing of the politically incorrect in terms of justice, dignity, compassion and respect is orientated towards God, not simply to other people; we are servants of God, not simply servants of others doing their bidding.
I am mindful we do our work often within the confines of a political and economic system that demands particular behaviours, compliance and contractual promises to ensure delivery. As a consequence, Baptistcare is also finding its voice in ways that it can use imaginatively, with courage and with a strong sense of social justice to make sure that those who sit on the margins, out of sight, can be seen and heard and be included.
I am also very aware Baptistcare’s people do their work often out of sight, using every ounce of their professional expertise, their loving compassion and strength of heart in their relationships with each other and with those we serve.
Our community is also representative of the wider community; we are a diverse and inclusive community that is mostly generous and patient. We work with people who challenge us, in our interpretation of our faith, in our expressions of God’s love, in God’s demands that God is Love, without barriers, boundaries or hesitations. People do not need to earn or be worthy of it. Our role is to enable, not define or constrict or restrict, or limit that expression.
Baptistcare’s work is difficult and I know it would be easier simply to see ourselves as an organisation delivering excellent services of high quality, that is competitive, efficient, effective and with a good strategic plan worth supporting. However, that is not our story; that is not our journey, we write a different story – one I hope that sings in our hearts, in our minds, in our actions and in our words. It is a joyful song pointing to a different way of being, a different way of expressing service and being welcoming.
Our theme for the coming year will be about inclusion and welcome as we continue to meet the challenges of change and identity, but I know we will meet them with courage and justice in our hearts, accountable for our actions, loving in our relationships.
As CEO of Baptistcare, it is an extraordinary privilege to be a part of this community. I think we are blessed with being here at this time and in this place, this moment in history, where we can tell that different story, a story that speaks of more than the obvious, that helps us to see the possibilities not just the ‘real world’.
You and I belong to a far bigger reality, a much, much bigger story that encompasses and celebrates the world’s story of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the disabled, the imprisoned and the stranger and re-imagines them as whole human beings, part of God’s creation like us, sharing in the bounty that is spread before us, fairly and equitably, justly, lovingly and humbly.