LOVE ALWAYS WINS: Interfaith not Terrorism

Wednesday 22nd March was a day of hope and terror.

In the morning a group of interfaith friends from Sandwell had asked if they could visit the prayer room and talk about Chaplaincy. It is part of their “Faithful Friends: On Tour” ( and is a project where they visit places of religious significance to each of them.

They will go far on their pilgrimage: Israel, Palestine, India and Pakistan.

And Rev Nick Ross chose Worcester, where he worked as a nurse at the Infirmary in Castle Street, and where the Chaplain at that time was instrumental in drawing him on in his faith, eventually to ordination.

And so the group of us, from various faith traditions, sat in the Prayer Room at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and reflected on faith and chaplaincy. Sukwinder Singh spoke of the importance of treating the person as a person; another group member spoke of the priority of love.

And amongst these people, Sikh, Muslim, Christian and others, there was understanding, mutual respect, openness, friendship and love. No sense of threat; no proselytising; just the desire to understand.

Fast forward to late afternoon, and the scenes of carnage in Westminster. Terrible stories of people being mown down by a car and the murder of a policeman. I can’t conceive of the hatred-filled heart that can perpetrate such crimes against humanity. But it was not a surprise to hear that it was a terrorist attack in which ISIS took the credit. And the attitudes of the attacker were as opposed to the attitudes of my morning guests as it is possible to get. Hatred; disrespect; intolerance; enmity.

To those who say that this attack was religion-inspired, I say tell that to my interfaith friends who were full of love.

In fact I came across a lovely quote which says: “If your religion requires you to hate someone, you need a new religion.”

It is my belief, and the belief of all the world religions, that in the end, despite the current expressions of hatred and terror, LOVE ALWAYS WINS.

The Rabbi, The Vicar and the Buddhist…


The Rabbi, the Vicar and the Buddhist…no it’s not the start of one of those jokes.

Rather it is the group of people who gathered in the Prayer Room at Worcestershire Royal Hospital to sign and affirm our multi-faith covenant.

So along with the County’s Deputy Lord Lieutenant representing HM the Queen, the Chair of our Trust and Councillor Jabba Riaz, himself a Muslim, we heard stories from our different faith traditions.

It was a beautiful time.

And the funny thing is that, whilst recognising each other’s different views, the common theme of LOVE, RESPECT and UNDERSTANDING pervaded it all.

Here were people from different faith positions seeking the common good. Here were a group eschewing war and violence and terror, and wanting to pursue peace and dialogue. There was no sense of threat to different views, just mutual respect.

And it struck me how much we need this in the DARK TIMES in which we live.

It seems that political forces at the moment want to isolate human from human. They want to mark out the “other” as dangerous and not to be trusted. They seem to be loving division and even fostering hate, at the expense of understanding and love and tolerance.

All this is in stark contrast to what happened at our multi-faith event. And whilst these things get very little press (we all know that hate sells more papers than love) they are real and happening all over the place.

Now I know that some will say that religion has started more wars than anything else, and that, if true, is a great sadness. But true religion, in all its forms, is peace loving and noble and good.

And what it takes for that to prosper is trust. Trust in our fellow humans, however different their views. Trust that those who are different can enrich our lives and not threaten them.

I hope that our small multi-faith event represents, in microcosm, the Hospitals in which I work and the County in which I live. I know it’s a pipe dream…but realties have to start with dreams and hopes.

All the staff have been marvellous; so caring and kind.” Credit where it is due!


The curtains were drawn as I entered the two bedded bay, called there by a staff nurse.

And there was my patient, let’s call her Mary, with daughter and brother at her side.

It’s amazing how much you can tell from a first glance. Mary was on her journey from this world. She was comfy, free from pain, and when I looked at her I saw dignity and strength.

She was from the Welsh valleys and her lovely family told me a bit about her life and her move to Worcestershire.

I could tell immediately, through the tears and tangible sadness, the love that they held for Mary. Of course, not all families are like this but the vast majority are: grief stricken, tired out, but surrounding their family member with love and support. They told me what a character she was, about her strength and fortitude, and above all about what she meant to them.

But they were not on their own, they said. “All the staff have been marvellous; so caring and kind.” I feel I should repeat that statement in the light of the current reports of the Acute Trust: “All the staff have been marvellous; so caring and kind.”

And, as if by magic, a health care assistant appeared. “How are you Mary?” she asked the semi-conscious patient. And then, turning to the family she said: “Everyone on the ward loves her you know. We all want to take her home!”

This is common on this ward and many others in our hospital. Staff really do care. They form a relationship with their patients. They matter to them and they want to make a difference – especially at the end of a human life. I’d love to tell you which ward this was but can’t for fear of identifying the patient – but they will know who they are.

They will know of the care and dedication which they give day after day. And they will know that is why they do the job that they do. So, in these times of great challenge, I say give praise and credit where it is due.

The Rocking Chair…


For all the world it was an idyllic scene. The mother, in a rocking chair, slowly rocking her 9 month old baby. Cooing to him and singing him lullabies, surrounded by the trappings of the post-Christmas season; Christmas PJ’s, ‘cuddlies’ and toys.

And I sat on the floor, invited there by Parents (as I have been invited to share their story) and marvelled at the scene of the unspeakable love and bond between mother and child.

But, I’m afraid, this was no ordinary room. It was a room in a hospice, and this little baby was severely ill. I had seen him in another place a number of times and, at the parent’s request, had come to see him here as well. I’d been asked to pray for him because now he was close to the end of his life.

As I sat there, it was almost as if I was looking down on this scene from above, and it dawned on me that it was a huge privilege to be invited into this room by the family. To share, in some small measure, something of the journey of this family is an honour that I won’t take for granted. But then I guess that is “chaplaincy” – the invitation into people’s lives in times of crisis.

Then Mom said: “Do you want a cuddle with him?” So it was my turn to sit in the rocking chair, and in amidst all the wires and tubes, to have him stare into my eyes and me look back – wishing things could be different.

We prayed for this little one, and cried, and hugged. And afterwards, in the comfort of my own home that evening, they phoned to say that the baby had passed away.

I don’t know why these things happen. I have no fancy words or explanations. All I know is that being in that place, alongside this family, was where I belonged for a time. Mom and Dad have asked me to take his funeral; and together with them I will do my best to lay him to rest and to honour his contribution to the world. He was loved and, I believe, gave love in return. And now, the rocking chair has stopped rocking; but the picture of love that I saw in that place between mum and baby will stay with me forever.

Dear Jeremy Hunt. Worcestershire Acute is not a “BASKET CASE”.


Dear Jeremy Hunt MP,

I watched you on the TV last night express your concern for Worcestershire Hospital saying that it is “probably the hospital you are most worried about.”

Indeed the recently nationally reported events have been tragic and none more than our hospital staff share in the sadness of these occurrences.

However, we are far from being the “basket case” which the media have painted us out to be, although that is not to deny the serious challenges which face us, and many hospitals in the country at the moment. And if you take time to read social media posts from consultants, medical professionals and experienced nursing and health care staff across England you will see that this is the case.

It is so easy (not to mention lazy journalism) to scapegoat one hospital to deny the reality of the whole situation; and, in fairness, I think that is perhaps what is going on with Worcestershire Acute Trusts media profile at present.

However, I count it a privilege to serve as Lead Chaplain in this Trust and I can’t tell you how amazing and dedicated the staff are in the pursuit of their work. Day in and day out they do amazing things on behalf of the people of Worcestershire, and it would be good if this is recognised too. I know that “hospital does its job” is not front page news, but all this bad news does nothing for staff morale and public confidence in our hospitals – and indeed in the NHS in its entirety.

You are, of course, correct that we are in special measures and await the outcome of a recent CQC inspection. And my hope is that a new leadership team, with our excellent new Chairman and Chief Executive, will bring the improvements which will again restore our reputation to the people of Worcestershire.

But in the meantime, as a resident of this fine county, I can say with certainty that I am happy for myself and my family to be treated on any ward in any of our hospitals and know that they would get kind compassionate and professional care.

Dare I suggest that the real issue here is lack of funding for our hospitals. You will know that at the inception of the Worcestershire Royal Hospital concern was raised by elected representatives that the hospital was too small for its purpose.

Perhaps you might ease our situation by considering how we move on from here in conjunction with the other stakeholders in our health economy.

Indeed, this might ameliorate the current scapegoating of the hospital which I love.

With all good wishes for a Happy New Year.

Rev’d Dr. David Southall
Lead Chaplain- Worcestershire Acute Hospitals NHS Trust

The “Between Times”: A Creative Breathing Space


I like the “between time”; in between Christmas and the New Year. I regularly work this period and, somehow, it gives me a chance to reflect. It is as if the pace of work slows down a bit. There is still work to be done but there also seems to be time to breathe.

With the rush and pressure of Christmas over, there is, dare I say it, a sense of relief around. And because of that breathing space there are new opportunities.

And so I had just walked into the brisk air outside the main entrance, heading for somewhere else, when I rushed past an elderly lady shuffling in on her own. “Just keep going” said one voice. “See if she wants help!” said the other. I asked if she needed an arm to assist her, and she did. “Who are you? The arm assistant,” she asked. I assured her that “arm assisting” was what I did best but that I was also the Chaplain of the Hospital.

Her appointment was down the longest corridor of the hospital and, as we ever so slowly made progress, she told me about herself. She told of her diagnoses of Parkinson’s Disease and macular degeneration. She mentioned her family and their care for her. She spoke about deciding that now was the time to give up her home and transfer to sheltered accommodation.

And I thought what a courageous, inspiring and determined lady she was.

Having reached our destination, helped her book in, and made sure she was OK to get back home, I said my goodbyes.

I know it’s not a huge thing but it lingers with me now. And I’m so glad I listened to the one voice and not the other. Maybe that is what the breathing space of the “between time” offers to us.

By the time you read this, that time will have come and gone. Welcome to 2017! Happy New Year! New hopes, plans, dreams, possibilities. And so it all kicks off again.

But maybe, once in a while, we should allow ourselves to drift into that breathing space again; we never know what we might discover.

Mary, Joseph and the BabyCatcher – For My Midwife Friends


You will know that Midwives are amongst my favourite people. And so this Christmas, with the Big Day approaching, I thought I would pay homage to them. This is especially the case because my Granddaughter Emilia was born last year at the marvellous Meadow Birth Centre at Worcestershire Royal Hospital and is soon to be one year old. In fact, the miracle of her birth has made me look at things in a different way. Sometimes that is what it takes.

And so I found myself wondering if Mary, the young woman with child (so far from her hometown with an older husband) had a midwife. The Bible story makes no mention of one, but in a community where social networks were close knit, surely someone came to this young women’s aid.

But where should we look?

Well it so happens that there is an ancient text called the Protevangelion of James which says that Joseph sought and found a Hebrew midwife. And here is the passage itself:

9. And the midwife went along with Joseph and stood in the cave [where Mary was about to give birth]
10. Then a bright cloud overshadowed the cave, and the midwife said, This day my soul is magnified, for my eyes have seen surprising things, and salvation is brought forth to Israel.
11. But suddenly the cloud became a great light in the cave, so that their eyes could not bear it.
12. But the light gradually decreased, until the infant appeared, and nursed at the breast of his mother Mary.
13. Then the midwife cried out and said, How glorious a day is this, wherein my eyes have seen this extraordinary sight!

It fact you can see her in the icon below.


There she is in the bottom right hand corner bathing the new baby.

And it got me thinking. How amazing to be the midwife whose hands and skill helped Jesus to enter the world and who gave comfort to Mary. How amazing that her hands were the first to touch this precious child.

A Midwife in the right place at the right time: at (for Christians at least) a pivotal point in human history.

But then I thought of my daughters Midwife Lucy. Helping her through labour. With her skill and hands. Her hands which gave the first, albeit brief, human contact to baby Emilia. So I want to join in with the words of this Hebrew Midwife: “How glorious a day is this wherein my eyes have seen this extraordinary sight!”

It’s funny but I don’t know many jaundiced and cynical midwives…I guess there are some but I haven’t met them at my hospital. I have met skilled staff who, even on their difficult days, catch something of the miracle of each new birth. And so to my friends Nick, Judi, Louise, Bryony, Lucy, Norma, Pam, Renate, Davidica, Deb, Rachel, Mel, Trudy and so many many more that I could name, I thank you. You are special people with special hands doing a special job.