Last Saturday, passing a parked ambulance and fearing the worse I stopped and banged on the back door. Finding no one at home I went to check on one of the vulnerable people I knew in the block it was outside and found my worst fears realised as the front door was opened by a paramedic. After a quick chat with the the soon to be hospitalised person I left wondering how we might provide some more consistent care for them.
That afternoon I received a call from someone asking me to pop in and visit their ageing relative for a chat as they were struggling a little now that they were on their own. Of course I said I'd visit and this made me think about the earlier ambulance thing. Amazingly, yesterday at the Parish church I was asked whether I remembered one of the former members who was there when I was Curate. Having responded in the affirmative I was regaled with a tale of woe regarding their situation at home and the circumstances that led to their eventual move to an old people's provision.
It is right and proper that we help people to remain as independent as they can be in their own homes and yet this is a costly exercise that the state cannot, no - will not - pay for and so we come up with this touching base exercise, the twelve minute visit, that has attracted the label 'Flying Care Visit'. The person starring in the Saturday Ambulance visit was in receipt of this but had had the visits cut because of funding, a situation that meant they were due to be seen to be alive in the morning and again in the evening but the middle of the day visit was to be gone. Now, fortunately for them, they were poorly when the early visit was made and so help was quickly forthcoming but what would have happened had they been taken ill at say, eleven?
I'm concerned that we are engaging in the kneejerk response here and missing the point, which is that if we are to encourage and support those growing older or suffering from severe medical condition to stay at home then we, and here whilst I mean society knowing it will end up as Church, needs to be engaged and active. The provision of but a few different people looking in and checking on a more regular basis will provide companionship and a check in one and will avoid the situation before us - and I know that the funding isn't there to provide more visits and the desire (and ability) to pay is non-existent too - but perhaps the desire should be ours (the church).
The Bible leaves me in no doubt that I am responsible for the care and welfare of those around me and I know that if everyone who has tutted at the reports of Flying Care this morning committed themselves to be involved, to check on family, friends and neighbours we'd see an end to these stories and have a community too.
I write this knowing that I am as guilty as the next man (or woman - nothing sexist here) and would like to challenge those who are members of churches (and especially those who lead them) to call their fellowships together and see how they can make real what today they are bemoaning as lost.
James 1.27 talks about what 'real' religion (which is relationship and not rules) is in this way:
'If you think you're 'religious' because you use the right words and talk a good game then you're wrong. It's nothing more than hot air and has no value before man or God. What has value before God, and man, is that you reach out to the homeless and loveless; the old, infirm and the shut-ins as they live out their lives. And as you do, watch that you do not become, as the world is, hypocrites and seekers of a good self-image'
The reality is that the way we provide care is wrong and the greater truth is that it will not get better unless we use action rather than words - sounds like a call to the Church to me.
Or will we use smoke and mirrors too?