Friday, November 09, 2007

The death of a Good Samaritan

Cranmer mourns the passing of the Reverend Edward Chad Varah, CH, CBE, the founder of the Samaritans. His one telephone line grew into a world-wide organisation which has assisted countless millions and doubtless averted thousands of suicides.

He was never a conventional clergyman. He was frequently criticised for helping individuals rather than spreading the gospel, yet Cranmer takes the view that an organisation founded on the principle of unconditional love encapsulates the very essence of the gospel. The understanding of the incarnational nature of the Christian faith has developed with the growing awareness of the ways in which political commitments and social action affect mission in particular cultures. The mission of the Church is to be born anew in each context and culture, because the gospel is foreign to every culture. If the gospel is the story of God’s dealings with the world, it is a universal history, with significance for every person in the world. If Christians cannot communicate it in terms that are meaningful, then the gospel ceases to have meaning within that culture. Christians should therefore be a living testimony of God’s dealings with humanity, which in turn will raise the questions to which the gospel is the answer. Political and social analysis have joined anthropology as tools of discernment in the struggle of the Church to be faithful to the gospel and relevant to the particular historical moment. Thus, taken from Jesus’ dispute with religious leaders of his day (Mt 16:2f), reading the signs of the times is a missionary imperative which demands theological reflection in the concrete praxis.

The Reverend Chad Varah's vision was born from the tragic death of a young girl who committed suicide at the age of 14. He asked the undertaker why the girl was being buried in unconsecrated ground, and was told she had killed herself because she had mistaken menstruation for a serious disease. As a result, the Samaritans were especially dedicated to helping young children with problems. He said: ‘Little girl, I didn't know you but you have changed the rest of my life.’

As vicar of St Paul's, at Clapham in south London, he realised that a significant number of people coming to see him were talking of suicide. He thought a special telephone line might help people in distress, and the Samaritans grew rapidly, complemented by a dramatic fall in the suicide rate. The Samaritans now has 202 branches throughout the UK and the Republic of Ireland, manned by some 15,500 volunteers, and supports ‘Befrienders Worldwide’ - a confidential listening service with 400 centres in 40 countries.

The Reverend Chad Varah wrote on his autobiography that ‘Church people were all too often narrow-minded, censorious, judgemental, intolerant, conventional’. Seeing in a mirror darkly, he also revealed a belief in reincarnation, yet now he is face to face with the truth, and fully knows even as he is fully known.


Anonymous John Fisher said...

Your Grace should know that Reverend [surname] is an American solecism: it is as bad as calling a knight "Sir Smith".

9 November 2007 at 10:29  
Blogger Cranmer said...

Mr Fisher,

Quite right. His Grace has corrected, and thanks you for your attention to such minutiae.

9 November 2007 at 11:00  
Anonymous Dr. Irene Lancaster FRSA said...

What a lovely piece. My daughter used to work for them when she was a student at Leeds University many years ago.

I'm sure helping sad and lonely people gave her the strength and compassion to engage in her present work of reonciliation among disparate groups.

Thanks very much.

9 November 2007 at 11:17  
Blogger Snuffleupagus said...

Inspirational. Thank you.

10 November 2007 at 13:37  

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