To read that Sister Sarah Kuteh has been sacked by Darent Valley Hospital in Dartford, Kent, for the crime of offering to pray with her patients, is a cause of great sorrow – especially after the Prime Minister said Christians ought to be free to speak about their faith in the workplace. “I am sure we would all want to ensure that people at work do feel able to speak about their faith,” she told the House of Commons. “And also feel able to speak quite freely about Christmas.”
Perhaps speaking about one’s faith shouldn’t extend to an offer to pray? Perhaps that’s considered unprofessional in health care? She had been given previous warnings, and had apparently heeded the advice of her superiors. She is a sister, after all; not a junior nurse. She obviously didn’t get there by being ignorant of standards or incompetent or unethical. Had they instructed her never to speak about her faith? Not even if a patient broaches the subject? Why shouldn’t an offer a prayer be made? Can’t it simply be politely declined, like a course of NHS counselling for depression?
One can only imagine the upset and distress felt by Sister Sarah Kuteh after 15 years of loyal and dedicated service to the health and care of the sick and suffering. She had sought nothing but to bring comfort to others, and sensitivity to patients’ spirituality can have undoubted benefits on their mental, emotional and physical lives. “It is my especial request that the influence of religion shall be felt in and impressed upon the whole management of the Hospital,” wrote Johns Hopkins, hospital founder and benefactor, in 1873. The John Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore USA has a whole department dedicated to spiritual care, as chaplaincy services offer throughout the NHS. Isn’t it the vocational task of senior staff to reify ethos? Don’t all hospital chaplaincies share the same mission?
The purpose of spiritual care and chaplain support is to enable you to utilize the spiritual resources of your faith and traditions as you seek healing. Your faith may give you a foundation from which you can find order in the midst of chaos, hope in the midst of despair.
The provision of spiritual care services is ecumenical and interfaith and respectful of your religious and spiritual preferences as well as your right to accept or decline services.
You see, patients are free to accept or decline. Isn’t that just a grown-up way of dealing with offers of spiritual support? Why should anyone lose their job over an offer of prayer? Isn’t that a bit heavy-handed, not to say draconian?
But let’s not call it persecution.
This is persecution:
A nurse sacked for offering to pray with her patients is a consequence of the rise of aggressive secularism and hard humanism. It is restrictive and inconvenient; dogmatic and intolerant. But, no, out of respect for those who are literally carrying their crosses unto death, and mindful of the ecumenism of blood, let’s not call it persecution.