The Rev Kate Bottley finds out how St John Ambulance began as an ancient Christian order in Jerusalem back in the 11th century.
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Hello. This is St John's Gate in London,
the historic home of the Order of St John,
a charity that can trace its history all the way back
to 11th-century Jerusalem.
The Order is better known to us as the St John Ambulance,
who've been treating sick and injured people for over 140 years.
Welcome to Songs Of Praise.
On the programme...
I learn some first aid tips and hear how this St John Ambulance trainer
had to put his life in the hands of his students.
I found myself going, "Come on, Jesus.
"One, Jesus, two, Jesus, three, Jesus..."
I find out about the origins of the ancient religious
Order of St John, and the monks who founded it.
And we meet the Good Samaritan who made history when she became
the first person in Britain to donate a kidney to a complete stranger.
I think that, on the whole, the holy spirit acts in us,
and that many things that we can do, we should do.
This is the modern Priory Church,
here at the headquarters of St John Ambulance in Clerkenwell, London.
Thanks to their volunteers,
400,000 people a year learn how to save lives.
I'm looking forward to brushing up on my first aid skills,
because you never know when you're going to need them.
The charity is spread throughout the country,
and our music today comes from across the UK.
As it's the season of Lent,
we'll start with a hymn that's often sung at this time of year -
I Will Sing The Wondrous Story.
St John Ambulance have been helping others for decades.
Whether it's at sporting occasions,
pop concerts, or training others in the basics of first aid,
like our group here today in London.
So what we're going to look at for the next few minutes
is the use of the triangular bandage...
Each of us learning first aid has our own reasons for being here.
We're sisters, and we have a large family, so you never know
when a situation is going to come up where we might need to step in.
Our ages range in our family from 60 down to 6 weeks.
So any kind of situation could come up.
I help at a church men's group, some of them have quite significant
health problems, and I'm quite mindful of that.
As it's Lent, you're not just meant to give something up,
but you're also meant to learn something new or give something
back, so I thought this was a good opportunity to do that.
Shall we say Chloe's left forearm might be fractured?
We can put her hand inside of her jacket,
like so, and there we are.
Encourage her to support it.
Running our session is David Knowles from Exeter.
He's been a St John Ambulance trainer for 17 years.
St John Ambulance believes that nobody should suffer
for want of first aid, wherever they are
and whatever their age might be.
Do you think it should be taught in schools?
Yeah, I think it should be,
because it's about getting close to people, helping them -
with their permission, of course - and it brings out the human side
of you, something that can easily be covered in this modern age.
David feels that helping people in need is part of his Christian faith.
Just think of the Good Samaritan, for instance,
who crossed the road to help the poor person who'd been mugged,
to use today's terms, whilst everyone else was passing him by.
I think you will find that Jesus never passed somebody by who asked them for help.
Do you think Jesus would be trained in first aid?
-I think he's the instigator of it.
We'll be back later to hear the remarkable story of how, last year,
David's teaching skills were put to the test
when he had to rely on one of his students to save his life.
Thank goodness he's such a great trainer.
Our next hymn is a joyful celebration of the ultimate saviour.
The charity St John Ambulance dates back almost 1,000 years,
to the ancient religious Order of St John.
The museum here at St John's Gate tells the history of the charity,
and its surprising link to Jerusalem.
Tom Foakes is the director.
Now, Tom, I recognise this church.
That's the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem,
-where Jesus is supposed to have been buried.
If we take ourselves to the 11th century, many pilgrims
would travel to the holy city of Jerusalem
to visit this and other holy sites,
and clearly travel in that time was not quite as convenient
as it is today, so by the time they got to Jerusalem
they were often in quite a poor state of health.
So the Order of St John established a hospital in Jerusalem
to care for those sick pilgrims, regardless of faith,
and provide them with first aid care.
-Amazing, and who's this?
-This is the Blessed Gerard,
the man who we can thank for all of this.
He established the hospital in Jerusalem
and began that exemplary healthcare.
But it's not named after Gerard, it's named after John -
presumably John the Baptist.
Gerard is also responsible for the insignia of St John.
The famous eight-pointed cross was worn on the monks' robes.
So the symbol that you see on the side of an ambulance today
is one continued, unbroken line from those original Hospitaller brothers
as a symbol of first aid and humanitarian care.
Over the following centuries,
the Order of St John spread across the world,
building hospitals and churches wherever they went.
St John's Gate here in Clerkenwell in London became its English base.
-Tom, this place is amazing.
So we are standing in the original Priory Church of the Order of St John,
and this is the crypt,
so this was the real focus of that religious devotion.
So what happened to the Order?
Well, in 1540, if you know your history, Henry VIII on the throne.
He split from the Catholic church and in that year, 1540,
the Order of St John was the last Catholic order in England to be dissolved.
So then, prior of the Order here in England, William Weston,
died of a broken heart on the day that the Order was dissolved.
Because he had lost his order to the dissolution of the monasteries?
Absolutely, yes. And we have his effigy, from his tomb.
But it didn't stay lost for long, did it, the order of St John?
How was it re-established?
Well, in the 19th century, Britain was transformed.
It has become a very industrialised country and there was no
health and safety, there was no National Health Service,
and there were many influential men and women who saw
that original caring mission of the Order of St John
and they wanted to address that in a modern way,
so St John Ambulance was established as the charitable output of the Order,
to provide, firstly, first aid training to the general public,
and secondly as the uniformed brigade that you would be familiar with today
and all those St John Ambulance volunteers who provide first aid to the public.
Amazing to think that it all started because of the need to care for sick travellers.
Our next hymn, He Who Would Valiant Be,
reminds us of the courage shown by those early pilgrims
when they made their journey to Jerusalem all those centuries ago.
Earlier this week, the hugely influential American evangelist
Billy Graham died, aged 99.
We'll remind you of his global impact on Christianity
in a special feature coming soon,
but, for now, we dedicate one of his favourite hymns, Just As I Am,
to his memory.
Lots of people would love to learn how to save a life,
but not everyone would be prepared to give away
one of their kidneys to a complete stranger.
JB Gill has been to meet a woman who did just that
and began a whole new movement of good Samaritans.
There are currently around 5,000 people in the UK in need
of a kidney transplant, but giving a kidney to someone you've
never met is still a relatively unusual thing to do.
Kay Mason made medical history in 2007
by becoming the first British organ donor
to donate to someone she didn't know.
When I realised that there were thousands of people on the waiting
list for a kidney, I felt that
I was in a good position to do it.
And what was your motivation?
I'm a great enthusiast for the holy spirit
and I think that, on the whole, the holy spirit acts in us
and that we are God's hands and feet
and that many things that we can do,
we should do. If you're willing to give a kidney to a friend,
then why not give it to somebody you don't know at all?
But Kay discovered doctors wouldn't allow her to donate.
So she wrote to the Department of Health to ask why.
I wrote to them several times - in fact, I wrote them as many times
as I felt I was able to without being classified as a nutcase!
And they constantly wrote back saying, yes,
it was a nice idea, but doctors would be reluctant to
operate on anybody for whom they couldn't see the benefit
and it didn't make sense to them and they were worried about maybe
money changing hands or coercion,
which didn't apply at all,
because obviously when it's out of your hands
and you just hand over your kidney and somebody else gives it
to somebody you don't know, there's no chance of money changing hands.
But then they did say that they were preparing a consultation document
and that if I would like to respond to that and make a contribution,
I could, so I wrote a letter and, in due course, the law was changed.
It was several years later.
Kay is now involved with the charity Give a Kidney
and regularly gives talks about her successful operation.
There are so many risks associated with it, I think
I'd be really terrified, even if I wanted to do it.
There aren't too many risks associated with it.
There's always a risk with any surgery, which one has to accept.
But I have been so thoroughly investigated and, in fact, now
I'm invited to go back every year for a checkup, so I think I'm better
looked-after and likely to stay healthier than if I hadn't done it.
-Did you ever meet the person you donated your kidney to?
There's always an understanding
when you do this that anonymity can be maintained
and if somebody particularly wants to be in touch,
particularly the recipient, that can happen.
But it isn't so in my case and that's... I'm fine with that.
Also here today is Lisa Burnapp from NHS Blood and Transplants.
The NHS's UK Living Kidney Sharing Scheme
says one altruistic donation
can trigger a chain of up to three
further organ donations.
-Is there an age limit?
-There isn't, really. The average age of
people donating to somebody they don't know
is around 50.
We've had a lot of donors between the ages of 50
and the oldest was 85, so you can see the sort of range.
One of Kay's favourite hymns sums up the sense of calling she felt.
I'm very fond of the hymn I, The Lord Of Sea And Sky, because I think
that's quite motivational when you sing that bit, "Is it I?"
It makes you wonder, you know,
what you can be doing that you haven't done or might be able to do.
Back here in London,
we're marking the 140 years of St John Ambulance first aid training.
This is cardiopulmonary resuscitation - CPR.
The first thing we do then is to start off with 30 chest compressions
by placing the butt of your right hand or left hand
in the centre of the person's chest...
Here we go. Keep contact, yes. Keep contact.
David knows only too well how important it is to teach first aid.
Last year, he had to rely on his students
when his life was at risk, as his friend Karol explains.
Well, David and I are both
members of the same church
and each year, David is asked if he will do some first aid training.
Check the breathing anyway by pushing the chin up...
By about 10 o'clock,
I began to feel rather unwell.
I glanced up and looked at David and saw him
taking his pulse in his wrist and I thought,
"I know what this is about,"
"he's going to start off by some scenario,"
because on a previous year, he had told us that's
exactly what he often does.
But actually, he changed colour around his face and neck
and I began to worry.
I asked Karol to check my throat pulse, which was all over the place
and quite weak, so it seemed to me
that I was having a heart attack.
Karol, what was going through your mind?
If I'm honest, it was absolutely terrifying.
When a crisis hits, the time stops,
so it's a very strange feeling.
Time seems to stand still and you desperately want two things - one,
for God to suddenly miraculously answer prayers and actually...
there was a very real sense of the fact that God was with us,
and for somebody else, who knew more than you,
to walk through the door at that precise moment.
So the first part happened in that God showed up, the second
part about the expert didn't, so it really was down to us to cope.
I think the training
that David had done the year before kicked in and I actually
remember saying, "This would be hard to do in a real-life situation."
I started CPR and what I did,
which is going to sound strange,
I found myself going,
"Come on, Jesus - one Jesus, two Jesus, three Jesus..."
I remember getting to 40 and saying, "Come on, Jesus!"
And actually, he survived
and I'm sure that that is the mercy and grace of God,
because I'm sure we didn't do things in a textbook way.
It was born out of desperation
and faith that God would help us
at a time when we really, really needed it.
-David, you must be very proud of your pupils.
-Oh, I am!
She did what she was trained to do
I actually arrested there,
but she bought me the time that enabled the experts to get to us.
David spent almost a month in hospital, but made a full recovery.
I think since that day,
the song 10,000 Reasons
has held a particular powerful poignancy for me,
the bit about whatever happens and whatever lies
in front of us, may we still be singing by the end of the day.
I found that really difficult at first to sing,
because it had been our experience that, actually,
God had been with us at a time of very great need.
Well, that's almost it for today.
Next week, Josie d'Arby
and Claire McCollum are in the UK's smallest city.
St Davids in Pembrokeshire is famous for its patron saint,
but also has links to Saint Patrick.
And we've a special performance from Katherine Jenkins.
We end today with a hymn that aims to bring everyone together.
Until next time, God bless.
The Rev Kate Bottley finds out how St John Ambulance began as an ancient Christian order in Jerusalem back in the 11th century and brushes up her first-aid skills.
JB Gill meets the first person in the UK to donate an organ to a complete stranger.
Music: I Will Sing the Wondrous Story from St Asaph Cathedral Our God Saves from All Saints Church, Ecclesall He Who Would Valiant Be from Hereford Cathedral Christ Be in My Waking from All Saints Church, Cheltenham I, the Lord of Sea and Sky from St Andrew's Cathedral, Glasgow Bless the Lord oh My Soul from the Church of Christ the Cornerstone, Milton Keynes All People that on Earth Do Dwell from Christ Church, Port Sunlight
And in memory of Billy Graham, Just As I Am from Hereford Cathedral.