Already this month we have been celebrating (though in a more muted fashion than originally planned) the 75th anniversary of the end of the war in Europe: today (12 May) we celebrate International Nurses Day, the day of the bicentenary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, in whose honour 2020 has been designated the International Year of the Nurse and Midwife.
As it says on the Florence Nightingale Museum website, it’s a time when the “nursing, washing your hands and evidence-based healthcare pioneered by Florence Nightingale have become more important than ever before”.
If last Thursday, after clapping for the NHS, you watched BBC4’s repeat of the 2008 drama about her life, based largely on her own words, you’ll know that Florence was driven by a sense of God’s calling, and that calling made a real difference to what she did and what she achieved. [The film is currently available on iPlayer at this link]
Florence featured again on Radio 4’s Sunday Worship service which was led by the Bishop of London, one-time Chief Nursing Officer, Dame Sarah Mullally. Dame Sarah spoke about the significance of Florence Nightingale for NHS workers today:
“VE commemorates victory on the battlefield after uncountable suffering and loss, but 1945 also marked the beginning of a social transformation, in health, education and housing. Recently we have seen another herculean national effort invoking the name of the nation’s most famous nurse, Florence Nightingale, who also forged her reputation and skills in a time of national crisis.
“So as we commemorate VE day, and reflect on the life and legacy of Florence Nightingale, in today’s service we ask ‘What are we building today? What does the moment require of us, not just in solidarity now but in the years to come, in shaping a more compassionate world?’”
Sarah went on to talk about Florence’s life: “A talented mathematician, she was also drawn to caring for the sick and made no secret of an explicit calling from God – a call to service. She believed that God wanted to change the world … we should not only pray for deliverance, but we should work to bring deliverance.”
Having described some of Florence’s contributions to nursing and statistics, Sarah ended: “In an address to nurses in 1873 in which Florence describes the vocation of a nurse she said ‘Feeling God has made her what she is, she may seek to carry on her work in the hospital as a fellow worker with God. Remembering that Christ died for her, she may be ready to lay down her life for her patients’. The faith which underpinned her lifelong commitment to nursing could not be made clearer than that.”
The whole service is worth listening to, and is available at this link – you even get a sermon by Dr Rowan Williams thrown in!