A Short History of
NURSES CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP AUSTRALIA
The vision for a Christian ministry among nurses, dates back to 1911 when in Melbourne, Victoria, a group of men and women who had been greatly impressed by the work of the Student Christian Movement in the universities, began to pray that a similar ministry might be organised for hospital nurses. Some of these people had been hospital patients and had observed first hand the unique needs and opportunities encountered by nurses. Simultaneously, nurses themselves were realizing their need for Bible study and fellowship within their hospital setting, since long hours and weekend work meant that they were seldom able to participate in normal church worship and activities.
The first move came from nurses at The Melbourne Hospital when in 1913 permission was gained from the hospital Matron to conduct Bible Study Circles for nurses who wished to attend. The membership of these Circles grew until nearly half the nursing staff were enrolled, and the movement spread quickly to other metropolitan hospitals in Melbourne. Then came the First World War and all except one of the groups went into recess. Just as an attempt was being made to recommence the lapsed groups, the pneumonic influenza epidemic of 1918 temporarily brought the work to a complete standstill. Despite these set backs it was not long before the hospital groups again sprang into life, and in 1919 a central committee was formed to link these nurses' fellowships in Victoria to become what is believed to be the first Christian work among nurses in the world.
The committee immediately appointed Miss R.E. Gordon a returned Army sister, as Travelling Secretary. Her task was to support the established groups and further develop the work of the Nurses Christian Movement. By the time she handed over this task to her successor in 1921 there were 21 Bible Study Circles functioning weekly in the hospitals and 20 more in the process of being organised.
It was the next staffworker, Miss Fanny Collett who was to be instrumental in extending the work of the NCM beyond Victoria to the other States. In 1921 she accepted an invitation from some Christian leaders to visit New South Wales. In December it was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald, "As Organising Secretary of the Nurses Christian Movement, Miss F.E. Collett, RTVNA, is at present undertaking an interesting work in Sydney. The movement is being conducted by a voluntary Association of nurses and trainee nurses who are desirous of rendering mutual assistance in the cultivation of the Christian life, and Miss Collett is here to make up the leeway lost during the war. Of Melbourne origin, the movement was launched in 1913 and its main aim is to provide a means for the expression and growth of the Christian life within hospitals".
Her visit resulted in the formation of a committee to commence a Nurses Christian Movement in NSW. In September 1922, the committee appointed Miss Sarah Plum, a graduate of the Coast Hospital, as Organising Secretary to pioneer the work in that State. She was to lead the NSW Branch for 25 years and also assist in the development of ANCM in Queensland, which was for a short time a sub branch of the NSW ANCM. Visits by Miss Collett to South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland during the next few years resulted in branches being established in each of these States except in Western Australia where the work did not commence officially until 1934. Three groups were established in Tasmania which later became a sub branch of the Victorian NCM. It was in June 1924, that the name Australian Nurses Christian Movement was adopted, although it was not until 1928 that the State NCMs came together to adopt a national constitution.
An interesting feature of the emerging movement was the strong support it received from Christian ministers and lay people from many denominations. The new work of ANCM was described in an article in the Christian Courier as "blessed and owned of God in answer to the prayers of God's people", and by the Church Record as, "a movement that deserves the support of all the churches" This support was forthcoming as shown by the large number of the clergy from various denominations who were involved in the early work of ANCM, serving on committees and speaking at the many Bible Study Circles.
In NSW and Victoria a number of Christian doctors supported the nurses work, often serving as Presidents of the State Councils. Dr Paul White, later to become well known as the 'Jungle Doctor' through a series books inspired by his missionary work in Tanganyika, was for many years the editor of a national magazine for nurses, published by ANCM. The magazine was both an instrument for outreach to nurses and a means of making the work known to the wider Christian public. "The Australian Nurses Christian Movement has just issued the first number of "Cap & Cuffs", a delightful 36 page magazine which is to be published quarterly... It is most attractively produced... We have rarely seen a magazine which so impressed us as being likely to be found really interesting by believers and unbelievers alike." reported the Australian Christian World.
In considering the reasons for the rapid growth and development of the movement in those early years it is necessary to take into account existing conditions, the vision and commitment of its founders and early leaders, and the purposes of God. The formation of the movement was a response to the need created by the conditions in which nurses lived and worked at that time - a need that was not only perceived by others but felt by nurses themselves. The evangelical vision and focus of its founders, as reflected in the wording of the original aim, has remained intact to the present day. It ensured a commitment to helping nurses come to faith in Jesus Christ and apply their Christian faith in nursing. The outworking of this seemed to enjoy a good acceptance among nurses generally. Many of those who were Christian saw nursing as a vocation or ministry from God and were eager for fellowship and teaching which would support them in that calling. This is demonstrated by the testimony of a retired missionary nurse who wrote, "It is now 50 years since I first became a member of NCF (then ANCM). When I commenced training I found a group that encouraged Bible Studies for nurses, which I thought was a wonderful idea for I was a Christian and wanted to go on for the Lord. I thank Him that through NCF I met Christian friends who gave me encouragement, emotional support and Christian fellowship throughout my nursing career". The peer support experienced though mutual sharing of problems and issues faced in the course of their work is frequently quoted by nurses and nursing students as a reason for their involvement in NCF Bible Study groups today. In an era where there was far less opportunity for involvement in church and other outside Christian activities, it is not surprising that many responded to the opportunities provided by the local groups and the wider services provided by the ANCM.
The movement which began in response to the special needs of nurses in the early part of the century has endured to the eve of the next. What has enabled the continuance of this para-church movement maintained and supported by nurses for nurses for 85 years? An examination of the historical records would suggest that a combination of factors may have contributed. In addition to a sound foundation and intensive period of consolidation following its inception, the organisation has maintained a relevant ministry and demonstrated the ability to meet changing conditions and needs.
The First Annual Report of the NSW Branch gives a good indication of the nature of the movement's foundations. "The committee have been proving the faithfulness of God in the initial launching of the movement. Nothing has been attempted without earnest believing prayer being made for guidance, help and blessing." This prayerful dependence on God was typical of the founders of the movement in all states. Records show that financing the work was a constant challenge, since until recent times nurses, especially those in training, received very low wages. Continued...