Not quite tomorrow

Well I thought I was going to carry straight on .. but a couple of days got in the way.

Our summer has been a little strange. Many of you know that I was diagnosed with prostate cancer at the end of May. There was some family history so Alison and I were alert to it. I shall be having radiotherapy in September. I’m very well at present and carrying on doing most of what I do – although glad that things are quieter during the summer.

I haven’t written about it up to now. I think it takes a while to get yourself straightened out. I’m thankful and humbled by the prayers of people right across our church and beyond – and the kindness and candle-lighting of many good friends – and laying on of hands and anointing.

I’m not going to write a sort of ‘cancer-diary’ That somehow gives it an importance which it doesn’t merit – although I said to my GP that I have seen enough to make me entirely respectful of the reality which cancer represents. But I do find myself reflecting on a couple of things which I may write about as we go.

The first is the experience of being prayed for.

The second is the need to explore the space between pastoring people who are living with cancer and having that experience yourself. I must have travelled that road with dozens if not hundreds of people in my time. But it is different.

The third is how the way in which people react to you changes. People are kind and caring – unfailingly so. But at a deeper level it’s worth thinking about what happens when somebody who has needed to express – among other things – clarity and firmness in leadership begins to express vulnerability as well. That seems to me to be about the interesting question of how – if vocation is alive – what you are and what you are becoming is shaped, expressed and put to use in ministry.

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17 Responses to Not quite tomorrow

  1. Caroline Walker says:

    Thoughts and prayers with you David. I have no doubt you will beat it!

  2. Tim says:

    That’s got to be a blow… will also be thinking and praying for you.

    (It’s a good thing for all concerned to be reminded that leaders are human; a handful of examples from the last decade’s politics are memorable for it.)

  3. Deborah Kenny says:

    Our thoughts and prayers are with you, Alison and all your family. God Bless always xx

  4. Jane Wallman-girdlestone says:

    Bishop David,

    Thank you for your candidness and authenticity. I’ve had a cancer scare but much as I might imagine, empathise and project I know that your journey is yours alone to take. You have the inner resources for this I have no doubt and the love and engagement of those who love you most. You are now captain of your vessel and I hope you will call upon all you need and not hold back. As you know it’s a privilege to be allowed to care. It’s also important because of your public profile, that people know when they should not overtly care for you. (In the nicest sense possible, of course.). Unless you’ve had a long illness or disability, it is difficult to imagine just how exhausting it is to have conversation after conversation asking how you are.

    I have lived with disability and in recent times have become a wheelchair user. I have lived with the quandary that people often feel. Should they be helping me or letting me support them. The key for me has been to create authentic relationships whenever possible. Some of this involves education and debunking misconceptions and even prejudice. I don’t need to prove my worth or gifted ness but sometimes I have to find ways to give direct or subtle signals that I am on top of my game. The people most easily offended by this behaviour are serial carers who see me as a ’cause’. The vast majority of people are switched on enough to see the cues for what they are and soon forget about my disability and treat me as a colleague.

    Sometimes I have to give people permission not to care. I can’t handle everyone being concerned all the time, it drives me nuts. Equally, someone who spends time with me and never acknowledges the ‘elephant in the room’ can be equally exhausting. I make it very clear where I go for support and love. I discourage people who are looking for meaning in my faith, my disability, my journey by encouraging them to make their own. I talk about what’s wrong with me in the same breath as I talk about other news that day. My illnesses and disabilities are at times a huge challenge to me, but only to me and mine. For most people, rightly and healthily so, it is of tertiary importance.

    Whatever illness or disability we have, we have a unique and valuable vocation. Illness makes us feel vulnerable and scared. The greatest change it has made to my leadership style is that I have changed how I judge people and situations. I no longer see an ability to carry on no matter what as admirable. I see leadership as less about holding things together and realising a vision and more about enabling a process to occur safely and creatively of which I am a part and not necessarily the driver. I value in myself, not my many achievements, although I’m proud of those, but i try to celebrate that I can now let things go; relax control; laugh at myself and play at work as well as out of it. Good work is fun.

    Sadly disability and illness hasn’t made me a great role model, mature to my pain or the saint with insightful ness. Instead it’s helped me realise all I have is now; that I don’t want my lasting memories of my life to be frustration and feeling knackered; and that I have been given a very special opportunity, I am being invited to be limited and therefore highly focused in what I do in the service of God. I have been invited to be a disciple with a very specific story to tell and teach. I feel with great encouragement in my heart that you, Bishop David, have been given your own very powerful story to tell. Enough already? Sorry I went on a bit! 🙂

  5. rachel Mash says:

    I love you and will be praying for you.

  6. Sue Phillips says:

    David I’m sorry to hear you are ill and pray you will make a good recovery. Your comment about how people react differently is interesting. How we get embarrassed about things that frighten us or we don’t know how to deal with. I don’t know the right things to say to you but the words are only carriers of the message.
    I am very interested in your idea of the space between experiencing difficulties directly oneself and indirectly by pastoring or counselling people. Part of it is the being on the receiving end which underlines how much we all need help and support. It also addresses the question of how we can empathise with a person when we haven’t experienced his particular pain. I firmly believe we can, but there is no doubt it is different when we have experienced similar affliction.
    My thoughts and prayers are with you and Alison. God bless you all.

    • david says:

      Thanks Sue. I think my conclusion is that to empathise and to have the experience yourself are just two different things – but that that doesn’t negate the attempt to empathise. That’s provided of course that one doesn’t come off with the facile, ‘I know how you feel’

  7. Irene Kingston says:

    All the best, David. I’ll be in Enniskillen in a couple of weeks for the Beckett festival, so I will do a little candle-lighting while I’m there.

    • david says:

      Thanks Irene. The best thing about the candles is that they keep going after you walk away! Had a visit from Tim Smith and family last week

  8. Brian Ralph says:

    I do recommend (if you are not aware already) that you read the blog of Bishop Wright (Dunedin, New Zealand)
    Available Light http://vendr.blogspot.co.nz
    He faced the same situation as you in late 2008 (so you would need to go to early posts) before he became our bishop in 2010.
    My God bless you in your treatments

  9. Neil Robinson says:

    David

    I dont want to dwell on your news but will be thinking and praying for you in the days ahead. I know that you in yourself in your character will get stronger as each day appears as you are a strong person who is able to fight anything on your own merits and with the support of Alison and the family you will get through this.

    May God wrap his healing and loving arms around you.

    Psalm 18:2 –
    The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, My God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; My shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

  10. Eamonn says:

    As ministers, we only occasionally get the opportunity to be ministered to, but when it happens, it is a priceless gift. This is not to trivialise what’s happening, or to engage in a facile ‘look on the positive side’, but it is to say that there is more than one dimension to your current experience. Blessings and prayers daily.

  11. Peter Chillingworth says:

    Best wishes to you and Alison. There are many people praying for your speedy recovery, some of them you haven’t met.But like me have been interested in your written thoughts and “thought for the day broadcasts”.
    I wish you a speedy recovery, get well soon David.

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