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Reflections from the Sidelines3 months ago
In this week’s Blog, Bishop Peter Hancock, gives moving testimony to God’s presence and faithfulness through a harrowing year of treatment for acute myeloid leukaemia, and to the remission he is now experiencing and to the healing he has received. Bishop Peter retires this month after seven years as Bishop of Bath and Wells.
During the past months of the Covid 19 pandemic many people have felt isolated and vulnerable. The combination of lockdown, social distancing, separation from loved ones, the inability to engage with normal social interactions and interests, and for many the need to shield has compounded that sense of anxiety and isolation. Whilst online services and zoom meetings have enabled many people to enjoy fellowship and keep in touch with church members, others have not been able to access those things.
A different sort of Lockdown
For me, however, recent months were spent in a rather different sort of ‘lockdown’. Last July I was diagnosed with leukaemia which led to a total of 3 periods in hospital, each a month long, receiving chemotherapy which then prepared the way for a stem cell (bone marrow) transplant. Praise God the treatment has been successful, and I am now in remission. I cannot be more grateful to the NHS and to the Lord for His healing and strength. The care and treatment I received was remarkable and the kindness and concern from hospital staff was exceptional. Because of my need to shield I left Wells, where we live, in November and did not get back home till March.
Whilst in hospital I was unable to receive any visitors and indeed I couldn’t open the windows or doors in order to prevent infection getting into my room. It was a strange experience being ‘locked away’ on my own for long periods of time.
However, throughout this period I was wonderfully upheld by the prayers, support and encouragement of family and friends. People I hadn’t seen for years wrote to me. People I had never met wrote to me. Colleagues and friends sent messages, assuring me that I was daily in their prayers. What might have been a very lonely and harrowing experience was therefore a time of blessing in many ways.
Viewing things from the sidelines
I had time to pray, time to think, time to sleep and time to reflect. Separated, as I was, from the normal business and busyness of life meant that I able to view things from ‘the sidelines’. It was helpful in lots of ways to be able to stand back and look at things from a different perspective. The diocese was being ably led by my colleague, Bishop Ruth, and she was wonderfully supported by many others across the diocese who ‘stepped in’ and ‘stepped up’ to ensure that everything ran smoothly and that clergy and parishes, schools and chaplains received the support they needed, as they too faced the challenges of lockdown and online worship.
Lying on my hospital bed it was clear that the diocese was in good hands and good heart. Here was the Body of Christ working together, using the different gifts and callings which the Spirit had given, in order that the work of the Kingdom should go forward.
Since returning home I have been asked a number of times how I coped with the separation and isolation. The truth is that whilst the treatment was harrowing at times, I did not experience any sense that I was ‘on my own’. It was humbling to receive so many notes and emails from people sending their love, prayers and verses from Scripture. I am sure we are all familiar with the words of Isaiah 40: 29 – 31:
The Lord gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak.
Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall;
But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
They will run and not grow weary,
They will walk and not faint.
That promise of the Lord to sustain and refresh and strengthen us was something that I certainly felt. And when the nights seemed long and prayer was difficult I genuinely felt upheld and uplifted by the love and prayers of others.
Being on the ‘sidelines’ gave me a new experience of God and his presence with me. Once again, the words of Isaiah were a great comfort. Isaiah 41:10:
So do not fear, for I am with you;
Do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Jesus said, I am with you always
As I write this, I am aware that many people have also been through exceptionally difficult times. Many have also been walking through the valley of the shadow of death and others have lost loved ones, family and friends. This global pandemic has been a challenging time for everyone in some way or another.
However, let us seek to put our trust in the Lord and hear again the words of Jesus as he left his disciples to ascend to his Father in heaven: And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age. (Matthew 28:20)
May the Lord be with you and with those that you love.