In your hour of need, who do you want holding your hand?


This week I have had an eye problem. I first went up to A&E at one of the London eye hospitals. It was a sobering experience. The poor eye doctor was rushed off his feet and had to break off from our consultation three times as he had to go elsewhere. I had the feeling that I was just an eye with a body attached.

A couple of days later I had an appointment with my eye specialist. He examined my eye and diagnosed the problem. We got chatting about the fact that I am about to become a hospital chaplain.

'That's really good,' he said. 'We need more of those.'

He went on to explain that the best hospital he ever worked in had a nun as a chaplain.

'I can tell you that having a nun to hold your hand as you go through a cataract operation is as good as any aesthetic. People become calm and nowhere near as anxious and that rubs off on the surgeon too. That hospital was beautiful.'

I was very struck by this and especially the thought of a beautiful hospital – made beautiful by the presence of a person of the religious life. There seems to be pressure to squeeze the religious out of the public square. But my ophthalmologist seems to point towards a bigger prize.

By being there, we assert something very important about God also being there. I have a story of my own. It came early in my life as a Christian. Well, at this stage I was a seeker.

My wife had suffered a brain haemorrhage running the London marathon. She was terribly ill and in hospital awaiting a ghastly brain procedure. I think there is no more vulnerable time than this. I was desperate. Christine and I had just started going to our local church. We weren't believers but we liked the vicar and enjoyed his talks and we had made a connection with him.

I decided to ring him as we waited to go through to the operating room. I just wanted to tell someone what was happening. I remember him saying: 'Steve, I'll be there in 15 minutes.'

True to his word he burst into our room. I felt an immediate sense of calm. I don't know how, but I just knew that Christine would be OK. Alan prayed for Christine and for me and held her hand for a while. I was a secular person but seeing Alan with his dog collar on and praying so gently had a profound impact on me.

Now you could say that I was succumbing to superstition. That all I had to do was trust the doctors – and I did at that. But it was way more than that. Alan our minister was there. He was at our side. He continued to be so.

We need boldly to claim the power of being there. And to claim the amazing work of ministers, nuns, chaplains and all those who follow the tough path of ministry.

If I have to have a cataract operation, I want a nun to hold my hand. If I am awaiting a loved one to come through an operation I want a chaplain to be there with me. Don't you?

Steve Morris is the parish priest of St Cuthbert's North Wembley. Before being a priest he was a writer and ran a brand agency. In the 1980s he tried to become a pop star. Follow him on Twitter@SteveMorris214