Yet the work not only survived these difficulties but continued to grow. The relevance and practical nature of its ministry would seem to be another strong factor in the endurance of the organisation. Until the1970s the Bible Study Groups in hospitals were the mainspring of the work. In 1922 it was reported "There is cause for much thankfulness in the fact that the Bible Study Circles meet a real need among the nurses, as they are a means by which mutual help is rendered in the building up of Christian character and a united testimony to Christ is presented to the sick and suffering with whom they so closely come in contact". From the 1940s to the late1960s there were groups meeting in almost all metropolitan training hospitals in Sydney and Newcastle as well as in all the larger country hospitals of NSW. Other State Branches also maintained groups in most training hospitals. It was during this period that the number of staff employed was at its highest level - normally five to six in NSW, four in Victoria, three in Qld and two in SA and WA.
Houseparties and conferences which were a feature of ANCM in most States, provided much needed recreation for nurses and trainees who were seldom able to be off duty at weekends when most other social and church activities were held. The Australian Church Record reported in 1953 - "Houseparties are arranged frequently by the ANCM. At these the Christian message is clearly proclaimed. This year about 3,300 nurses have spent some of their time off in this way. Some have found the Lord as Saviour and many have been equipped to serve the Lord and humanity".
Nurses Rest Rooms maintained by each State Branch also provided a venue for social interaction and spiritual support. Descriptions of the hospitality extended to nurses who visited 'the rooms' give the impression that the two main activities were prayer and the drinking of endless cups of tea! They also provided a venue for inter-hospital meetings, held weekly or fortnightly, and special events such as missionary meetings and prayer days. In 1953, one country girl training in Sydney was heard to say, "I don't feel as though I have had my days off if I haven't been in to ANCM".
ANCM enjoyed a great respect in nursing circles for the practical service given to nurses during the years of the second world war. Each Army Nursing Sister leaving Australia was presented with a specially bound and inscribed New Testament, and it was reported that"many letters of appreciation were received from recipients in different parts of the war zone". Sixty of the nine hundred nurses who attended Annual Nurses Service at St Andrews Cathedral, Sydney in 1941, were Army or RAAF Nursing Sisters. Staff and members of ANCM also served as hostesses at a club and hostel for Army and Air Force nurses situated in St Andrews place in Sydney. Throughout the war years, Miss Plum and these volunteers made many contacts and friendships that were to bear fruit when these nurses returned home after the war to take up senior positions in the hospitals of NSW.
The extensive changes which have taken place in the nursing profession and in nursing education in recent decades have presented a strong challenge and test of adaptability for the organisation which by 1970 had become Nurses Christian Fellowship Australia. The shift away from institutional living in Nurses Homes brought the first major change in the 1960s. This had a large effect on the hospital groups which declined in attendance, though many continued to meet. While continuing to support the remaining hospital groups, NCF began to develop other strategies designed to meet the current needs of nurses at all levels of the profession. Teaching previously provided in the groups was repackaged and provided as a three level Christian Life Course giving training in evangelism and discipleship. This was offered to nursing students as a weekend program and proved popular for many years. The NSW NCF developed a series of professional workshops providing a Christian perspective on topical nursing issues, nursing ethics and the needs of the caregiver. Then in the 1980s, inspired by work done by NCF in USA, they began to develop curricula and specialise in teaching on spiritual care in nursing practice. There being a wide acceptance of this concept in the holistic approach favoured by current nursing theory, it opened up many doors for involvement in secular nursing conferences, and ongoing education. In other states, maintaining relevance has meant new strategies for work with Enrolled Nurse students in TAFE colleges (Vic), short term mission projects for nurses and nursing students (Qld), parish nursing and other community services (SA). The move for nursing education from hospital based programs to tertiary institutions also opened up new doors of opportunity for NCF, as NSW and later other State Branches entered into a ministry to nursing students on college and university campuses.
From its beginnings in Melbourne, Victoria, the work of Nurses Christian Fellowship has expanded to cover all Australian States and Territories. It has played a significant part in the development of the international NCF, becoming a foundation member of the NCF International and pioneering the first NCFI Region for the countries of the Pacific and East Asia. During this time, extensive changes in nursing and nursing education have brought a significant change of role for NCF. From its role as a 'substitute church' it has become a specialist organization that works alongside and complements the church. The NCF of the nineties is fulfilling its aim by providing spiritual and professional support for nurses and nursing students, helping them to integrate their Christian faith with nursing studies and practice and contributing Christian values and principles to the ongoing development of the nursing profession.
It is always difficult to say how any work of God begins, because the Holy Spirit frequently works simultaneously in several directions. This would seem to be the case in the formation of the worldwide movement now known as Nurses Christian Fellowship. From its origins in Australia to its expansion around the world, many different factors, people and circumstances were involved. The Australian NCF now shares with other national NCFs a very similar vision and aim as the work continues to expand and adapt to the needs and issues that face the nursing community and our society.
Margaret G. Hutchison (1998)
NEWSPAPERS, MAGAZINES AND PERIODICALS
ANNUAL REPORTS AND MINUTES
Australian Church Record: Nov.1922, Nov.1953.
Australian Christian World: Sept,1922, March & June,1923, Sept,1924, 1925, July,1946.
Cap & Cuffs, (ANCM Magazine) July, 1972
The Australian Nurses Journal, November, 1922.
The Christian Courier, October, 1923.
The Sydney Morning Herald, December, 1921.
ANCM Newsletters, NSW
NCF Newsletters, NSW, Vic, Qld, SA.
Annual Reports of ANCM in NSWPAPERS & ARTICLES
Minutes of the NSW ANCM State Council
Annual Reports and Minutes of ANCM, Victoria
Annual Reports of ANCM Queensland.
Hutchison M., "The Expanding Context of NCF" Paper presented at the 50th Anniversary of NCFA Qld, 1988.
Author unknown, "Beginnings" published in Cap & Cuffs magazine at the time of the 50th Anniversary of NCFA in NSW.
Hutchison M., "NCF Milestones" NCF Newsletter, NSW, November, 1982.
Historical records supplied by Nurses Christian Fellowship in NSW, Victoria, South Australia, Western Australia and Queensland..