Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Hymns in a hospital

Sharing the gospel in song

Believers are to go into all the world and openly present the good news to all humanity (Mk. 16:15). Each Sunday evening a group of believers faithfully carries out this command, by presenting the gospel in song to the patients in Royal North Shore Hospital, a major public hospital in Sydney, Australia. They also bring patients the comfort and assurance of their faith, the reality and ability of their God, and a reminder that He is there to help them in their time of need. Many prayer requests come from the patients who are touched to know that after being visited by a team member they are prayed for. For some patients it is their last opportunity to receive Jesus Christ as Saviour.

The Choir

At present the choir consists of nine singers. The longest serving member is the organist, who has served for 65 years. The choir visits three floors of the multi-story hospital, singing traditional hymns for about 20 minutes in each lounge area followed by a brief message from the Bible. There is a nurse who sings with the choir whenever she is on duty.

Some patients have no hope for physical recovery and not long to live. The Christian faith provides hope and peace at time of despair.  Singing can have a similar impact on the patients as it did on the prisoners at Phillippi (Acts 16:25-30). The hymns requested most by the patients are: What a friend we have in Jesus, The Lord is my shepherd, Amazing grace, and How great Thou art. One patient said he liked the music, but not the words, because he was an atheist.  However, on a later visit he requested a hymn and said that members of his family were praying for him.

The Visitation Team

As many patients are too sick to come to the lounge area to hear the choir, the hospital board gave approval for some to visit in the wards while the choir was singing. They have a great opportunity to witness for Christ in personal contacts and in times of prayer. They also leave a bookmark that has a suitable Bible verse. It is a privilege to be able to do this as many hospitals do not allow the distribution of literature.

A long history

This ministry was started in 1901 by a young commercial traveller who was a good singer, organist and speaker. He gave much of his time in serving the Lord by ministering to others. One of his many business contacts was a nursing sister at the hospital. When she discovered that he was a Christian she said “the patients in the hospital are very lonely and need to hear about God”. He responded to the invitation by getting two others to sing along with him. This ministry has continued for almost 100 years with full hospital support.

A cancer patient

One evening a women dying of cancer requesed Jesus wants me for a sunbeam. She had been seeking the words and the music to this hymn, but her priest had never heard of it. After singing this song the choir gave her a copy of the words and music. She had tears in her eyes as her twin sister wheeled her away. When the choir arrived at her floor the next Sunday she was waiting with the words and music in her hand. She said, “I have sung this song and read the words all through the week and I have read the Bible verse on the bookmark you gave me”. She professed to have trusted Jesus Christ as her Savior. She died within two weeks.

Prayer with the needy

On another Sunday, a Yugoslavian woman was found kneeling beside her husband’s bed; all life-support equipment had been removed. One of the team comforted her, prayed with her and gave her a bookmark. Then the lady said “I have no family, no children and no friends. Of all the friends I thought I had, not one of them has visited me in my time of need with my husband dying. You are the first person who has taken the time to speak with me”.

Words of appreciation

The ministry team often receives letters from of appreciation from the hospital management, and many patients express their thanks for the time spent with them. One hospital board member wrote, “Please convey to the members of your choir the warm appreciation of those of us privileged to hear from the delightful selection of hymns of praise from your melodious choir last Sunday evening. Having been a hospital board member for many years, I know how greatly this work is appreciated by the patients”.

One doctor told us he had heard the hymns over the past 20 years. He praised the work on behalf of the medical staff and nurses. He said it not only comforted the patients but encouraged the staff in their work, and that the message presented was just as essential as the medical work done.

One patient was a retired choir master of an Anglican church. After hearing the choir for some weeks he asked his wife to bring all his music books to the hospital and he presented them to the team in appreciation.

Memories

On one occasion an octogenarian said he had heard a group of singers in the hospital 65 years ago. He was amazed when he heard that this group was a continuation of that same work – although not the same people! At the age of 17, and absent without leave from the navy, he was found lying in the gutter by a stranger who took him to the hospital. He never forgot the songs the choir sang. He especially remembered “Rock of Ages cleft for me” and knew that the Lord had been with him ever since he first heard it.

Many older patients attended Sunday School in their childhood went to church during when younger.  The hymns bring back memories of previous Christian influences in their lives, particularly in times of illness. One such incident occurred a few years ago when a middle-aged woman, visiting in the wards, asked where the singers came from. On being told, she said that she attended Sunday School in a similar church in Wellington, New Zealand and was looking for one in the Lane Cove area of Sydney. She attended that church for the remaining few years of her life.

Ministering in a hospital is one of the many ways of being ambassadors for Christ to our generation (Acts 1:8; 13:36; 2 Cor. 5:20). The team members consider it a great privilege and opportunity to serve the Lord, and invite you to consider serving in this way in a hospital near you.

Thanks are due to Graham Whittaker for providing the information for this article.

Published, March 1999

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