The UK is currently midway through National Blood Week, leading up to World Blood Donor Day on Sunday 14th June. Once again, the NHS hopes to engage our sense of altruism as we learn that 204,000 new blood donors are needed this year to maintain stocks and there are 40% fewer new blood donors now than there were a decade ago. We, the British public, are asked to give a few minutes of our precious time to lie back and roll up a sleeve as 470ml of life-changing generosity fills a bag and then makes its way to an A&E in Portsmouth, a children's unit in Hull or a maternity suite in Birmingham.
From the pulpit, I have often claimed that everything I have, including my body and my possessions, comes from God; and following in the footsteps of Jesus, I'm challenged to make a sacrificial offering of what already belongs to him for the benefit of others. So, in my capacity as Lead Bishop on Healthcare for the Church of England, I ask myself if I and the UK Church could have something to say or do about our nation's need of blood donors.
The CofE has been an associate of the fleshandblood campaign since its launch in 2013, encouraging Christians to give blood and join the NHS Organ Donor Register. Alongside the UK's other major denominations, we have seen thousands of new donors start giving blood; at the Greenbelt festival, we witnessed one of the most successful blood donor recruitment drives that the NHS has ever seen and we have been honoured to play a part in the first national partnership between the NHS and the Church.
In July last year, I played a small role in the gift-wrapping of my local Cathedral in Carlisle. Two hundred metres of bright red parachute silk clung to the outer walls of this historic place of worship, all tied-up in what will probably be the biggest bow I will ever see. This was not an exuberant welcoming of dignitaries or an advertisement for Christmas services but a statement of intent and a symbol of possibility. What if churches could see themselves as gifts to the communities of which they are a part? And, specifically, what if the Church saw blood donation as a part of its giving?
Estimates suggest that somewhere between ten and fifteen percent of the UK attends church regularly. If correct that is at least six million people. These numbers, alongside the millions of generous people who don't attend a church in our country, lead me to ask why there isn't enough blood for our hospitals. Research conducted by fleshandblood shows that Christians are more than twice as likely to be blood donors (9%) than the rest of the population (4%) and many churches across the country already play host to blood donor sessions. So, I wonder why more churchgoers do not make that trip to their local village hall for a free biscuit and a cup of tea? Perhaps they simply haven't made the connection between giving blood and the stewardship of all our resources that is part of Christian discipleship.
June 14th is the first time that World Blood Donor Day has fallen on a Sunday since 2009, and I hope that fellow Christians up and down the country might take time, this coming Sabbath, to realise that giving blood has a spiritual dimension. In fact, when you visit a donor session, the smiling nurses who attend to you and put you at ease actually take 10% of your body's blood volume. A perfect tithe.
Perhaps my recent venture into oversized giftwrap did have something to do with Christmas after all because, as I open the first page of St John's gospel in the Message version of the Bible, I read that God "became flesh and blood and moved into the neighbourhood". This National Blood Week, I do hope that many more who call themselves followers of Jesus may choose to offer a tithe of their blood as a gift to strangers whom they will never knowingly meet as a natural act of faith, asking in return only a cup of tea and a digestive biscuit.
James Newcome, Bishop of Carlisle
To register as a blood donor or book a session near you visit www.blood.co.uk and to learn more about how your church can get involved, visit www.fleshandblood.org. Join the #missingtype campaign by losing the letters A, B and O from your name or logo, representing the different blood groups, to raise awareness of the campaign to encourage people to give blood.