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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 14th March 2021.

‘Indifference’

The Lectionary is a book, published annually, listing all the Bible readings set for all the church services for every day of the year, commencing with the start of Advent. As well as listing readings, the Lectionary records commemorations. For example, the 1st of March is St. David’s Day, and next Wednesday, 17th March, we commemorate St. Patrick. The commemorative dates in the Lectionary list not only saints, but also martyrs, bishops, missionaries and other Christians who have made their mark in life and in the world, for example, the Venerable Bede, an 8th century monk and historian (25 May), and William Wilberforce, a social reformer (30 July).

Commemorations can be a bit like buses. You can go for a long time without seeing one and then suddenly three come along at once, such as happened last Monday (8th March). On that day, the following were commemorated: Edward King, Bishop of Lincoln, who died in 1910; Felix, a seventh century Bishop of Dunwich, in Suffolk (after whom Felixstowe was named, and whose remains were preserved at Ramsey Abbey, since Dunwich was swallowed up by the sea); and Geoffrey Studdart Kennedy, priest.

Studdart Kennedy was born in 1883, was ordained in 1908, and became Vicar of St Paul’s, Worcester in 1914. During the First World War, he joined the Army as a Chaplain. He earned the nickname ‘Woodbine Willie’, from the brand of cigarettes he distributed to the troops – whilst simultaneously distributing New Testaments! He was noted for his bravery under fire, and in 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross after entering ‘no man’s land’ at Messines Ridge, in Flanders, to comfort the injured.

Studdart Kennedy was a bit unorthodox in his ministry and his preaching, though apparently King George V enjoyed listening to his sermons. In his later years, he took to writing, and produced some books of poetry. In his poetry he tended to write in dialect, to try to make spiritual matters understood by what we might term ‘ordinary people’. Here is one of his poems. It is entitled ‘Indifference’ – hence the title of this reflection:

“When Jesus came to Birmingham they simply passed him by,
They never hurt a hair of him, they only let him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left him in the rain.
Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do’,
And still it rained the wintry night that drenched him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.”

One of points I think this poem is making is that we can be so wrapped up in ourselves that we can be indifferent or oblivious to the cares and needs of others.

It reminds me of an incident in my own life many years ago. I had attended, as Diocesan Registrar (and long before I was a priest), a big service in St. John’s Church in Peterborough. I was walking back to the Bishop’s Palace, where my car was parked, with three senior clergy. (I can tell this story now, because all the clergy concerned died years ago.) There was a homeless man sitting on the pavement in Cathedral Square, with his upturned hat in front of him. The clergy ignored him. I was going to stop and throw some change into the man’s hat, but restrained myself for fear that by doing so I might embarrass the senior clergy who ignored him. Ever afterwards I thought that I had made the wrong decision for the wrong reason.

Another little episode has stuck with me for most of my life. Many of you will recall the (short-lived) Republic of Biafra, carved out of Nigeria in the late 1960s. For over two years there was war between Biafra and Nigeria, during which almost two million Biafran people, three quarters of them small children, died from starvation caused by the total blockade of the region by the Nigerian government. The Nigerian Government was indifferent to the deaths of all these innocent Biafran civilian adults and children from starvation. The press used to publish photographs of starving children. Many countries did not give official recognition to Biafra and therefore showed indifference to the starving and did not support them in their plight. I was at university at the time, and I can remember seeing in the Students’ Union building a poster showing an emaciated Biafran child dying from starvation. The wording on the poster was: “Ignore the starving and they’ll go away”. The meaning behind the message was not lost on an impressionable 20 year old student.

Sadly, there is so much suffering in the world today, that neither you nor I, individually, can save the world from its sufferings. But whenever we see an opportunity to support people in dire need, I think we have to think twice about whether we are going to be indifferent to their suffering, or whether we are going to make a small contribution towards helping them. For example, if I give £1.00 to Christian Aid, it is not going to make much difference to the people in a country in Africa who are starving, because their crops have failed; but if a million people give £1.00, then it can make a big difference to the lives of those who are suffering.

Jesus encouraged people to help others. It is the love behind the thought and the action that counts. It does not matter how little we can afford: “ … whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple – truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.” (Matthew 10:42) And I am sure we can all remember the story of ‘The Widow’s Mite’.

Fr. Ray