Bloomfield shares how Christian values 'anchored' him amid pandemic

Source: 1News

Director General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield has shared how his Christian faith has helped him manage the Covid-19 pandemic.

In a webinar on Wednesday organised by the New Zealand Christians in Science Organisation (NZCIS), Bloomfield spoke about the topic of Faith and Anxiety in a Global Pandemic.

It was the third of three lectures on faith and anxiety for this year’s Winter Lectures at Maclaurin Chapel (MC) in Auckland —a partnership between NZCIS and MC, according to co-director of NZCIS, Dr Nicola Hoggard Creegan.

“We were surprised at the popularity of this webinar —almost 2500 people, because we were expecting a few hundred in Auckland,” Hoggard Creegan told 1News.

“I think the popularity reflects both the importance of the topic and the esteem in which Dr Bloomfield is held,” Hoggard Creegan said.

"It was not an extension of the 1pm stand-up."

Viewers from across Australasia tuned in to the lecture, which was originally intended for Auckland University students in August, the month in which New Zealand went into a level 4 lockdown.

In his introduction, Bloomfield offered well-wishes to the students, amid what he called a “tough” pandemic.

Bloomfield, who trained in medicine and public health at the University of Auckland, elaborated on his “faith journey” in Christianity, saying he grew up in Tawa and attended the Baptist church in the 1970’s and 80s.

He went to a Presbyterian school which he said added another dimension to his faith. He then met his wife Libby at medical school. She is now a chaplain in their local church.

“Particularly that early part of my life in the Baptist church in Tawa deeply anchored my belief and values and my way of thinking about the world in Christian values,” Bloomfield said.

He said he is less of a regular churchgoer but is connected to a church.

“But I do think each day about those values that have anchored me”, he said.

One of the passages in the bible that was very formative for me early on in my faith journey is the one in James that talks about actions following faith.

“Faith without actions is not much chop,” he said.

The new favourite F word

Dr Ashley Bloomfield.

Bloomfield, who is in his third year as Director-General of Health, went on to talk about the lessons in life and leadership he has gained over the pandemic.

He said his view on the concept of failure was really a "lesson in learning".

“This use of the word failure attached to anything that has not gone 100 per cent perfectly, is really something I learnt a lot about,” he said.

“The only failure is if you don’t review and learn and change what you’ve done.

“The failure is not in making the mistake or doing things wrong in the first place and in fact we should expect that we’re doing that. And we should be airing that and transparent about that in a pandemic where we are learning things forward.”

Moments of anxiety

While Bloomfield said he has been “blessed” with physical and mental well-being, there have been moments in his role where he said he has felt anxious, particularly at the beginning of the pandemic.

“It was a heck of a time and hard to recall that degree of anxiety and uncertainty,” he said.

“I’ve talked about waking up at 3 o’clock in the morning in a cold sweat just thinking oh my goodness where is this going? What’s going to happen? I’m going to make a wrong call here - I’m going to give poor advice and terrible things will happen.”

He said he’s not sure what happened but described a “pivotal” moment where he woke up one morning and thought ‘actually, I’m in this role, I’ve trained in public health and guess what? - every country in the world is in the same position”.

He said he found confidence in the “excellent” people around him, including politicians “who listen and make good, bold decisions” and the public “who are supportive of what we are doing”.

“I guess there’s that first dimension of faith is having faith in yourself and in the skills and experiences of those around you and your ability to draw on all those things.”

He says he uses the analogy of cricket in terms of "playing your best shot" in a pandemic which has thrown a few curve balls.

“We never know which ball is going to come down the pitch, particularly if it’s a good spin bowler.

“You’ve just got to play each shot as they come and play your best shot and play that straight bat”.

Values have been an anchor

Bloomfield acknowledged his Christian values helped guide his journey through New Zealand’s Covid-19 pandemic response.

He said he’s a “fully paid up member of the kindness club”.

“I have been for some time – it shouldn’t need a global pandemic for us to recognise the value of it”.

“I do believe kindness is actually an underpinning of most of the world’s greatest religions. I think of the second great commandment as a description of what kindness is, in two dimensions.

“As in ‘love your neighbour as you love yourself’, so in a sense it’s acting in other people’s interests.

“But the second part of it is also just as important: ‘as you love yourself ‘– it’s providing permission to and in fact requiring of us that we are kind to ourselves.

“Because we can’t be kind to others if we have not been kind to ourselves.

“You cannot love others if you do not love yourself,” he said.