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A  Wall  of  Worry  

The   economic   downturn   has   produced   a   wall   of   worry   for   people   on   this   island.   How   can   the   Church   of   Ireland   rise   to   the   challenge   of   effectively   responding  to  the  needs  that  recession  has  produced?   By:  Earl  Storey  –  Co-­author  of  ‘The  Extra  Mile’     “Things  are  tough  out  there”.  That  was  the  simple  analysis  by  a  group  of  business   friends   sitting   around   the   lunch   table.   Our   conversation   ranged   from   the   general   state   of   the   economy   to   particular   cases   of   hardship   of   which   we   were   aware.   These  were  some  of  the  toughest  times  we  could  remember.   It   doesn’t   require   too   many   statistics   to   prove   that   an   economic   downturn   has   overtaken  all  parts  of  this  island.  We  are  too  aware  of  how  much  more  difficult  it   is   to   do   business   and   to   make   ends   meet.   Yes,   things   are   tough   ‘out   there’,   and   sometimes  they  are  tough  for  many  a  lot  closer  to  home!   The   economic   downturn   is   a   global   phenomenon.   Yet   it   has   some   peculiar   contributory   factors   in   Ireland,   both   north   and   south.   These   give   it   a   distinctly   local  flavour  and  taste  that  can  be  sour.   The   1990s   were   remarkable   times   for   the   economy   in   the   Republic   of   Ireland.   With  memories  of  tough  times  in  the  1970’s  and  80’s  the  years  of  the  Celtic  Tiger   seemed  like  a  welcome  change.  Austerity  gave  way  to  prosperity  in  the  wake  of   foreign   investment   and   a   dramatic   influx   of   immigration.   ‘Feel   good’   and   ‘can   do’   replaced  a  mood  of  constant  financial  anxiety.   Unfortunately   some   of   the   foundations   for   the   Irish   economy   were   vulnerable   to   subsidence.  A  property  boom  fuelled  by  massive  lending  by  the  banks  collapsed   in  the  wake  of  the  global  credit  crunch.  The  property  boom  was  in  fact  a  bubble.   As   it   burst   it   lead   to   a   banking   system   in   crisis   and   a   country   on   the   edge.   The   most  public  manifestation  of  this  was  the  €85  billion  EU  bailout  required  in  late   2010.  The  Irish  economy  has  had  one  of  the  deepest  recessions  in  the  Euro  zone,   shrinking  by  10%  in  2009.  The  impact  on  individuals  and  families  is  enormous,  

 

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with   a   level   of   household   debt   relative   to   disposable   income   that   is   one   of   the   highest  in  the  developed  world  at  190%.   North  of  the  border  Northern  Ireland  also  faces  the  consequences  of  recession.  It   has   not   had   the   same   level   of   success   in   attracting   inward   foreign   investment   compared   to   the   Republic.   Thirty   years   of   violence   and   civil   strife   did   not   heighten  its  attraction  for  the  investor.  To  compete  on  a  global  scale  it  is  going  to   have   to   show   it   is   a   good   place   to   invest.   With   30%   of   jobs   coming   from   the   public   sector,   as   compared   with   21%   in   the   rest   of   the   UK   it   is   also   going   to   have   to  find  a  way  of  boosting  its  private  sector.   Statistics,  headline  figures  and  global  trends  do  not  tell  the  human  story  behind   an  economic  downturn.  It  is  that  cost  more  than  any  cold  statistic  that  urgently   presents   the   Church   of   Ireland   at   all   levels   with   both   a   challenge   and   an   opportunity  for  service.       Nature  of  the  Challenge   Practical:  If  the  most  painful  cost  of  recession  is  human  then  the  most  pressing   needs  are  practical.  A  walk  through  most  shopping  centres  and  streets  show  the   number   of   businesses   that   have   not   been   able   to   survive.   Economic   slowdown   and  closed  businesses  mean  higher  rates  of  unemployment  and  debt.  At  14%  in   the  Republic  and  8%  in  Northern  Ireland  a  lot  more  people  are  going  through  the   painful   experience   of   job   loss.   The   impact   of   job   loss   is   significant   and   very   personal.  There  are  professional,  financial  and  health  implications  for  individuals   and  families.  If  the  Church  of  Ireland  at  local  or  national  level  has  a  response  to   what   is   happening   to   the   economy   on   this   island   then   it   needs   to   be   one   that   meets  the  needs  of  real  people.   Spiritual:   What   do   people   believe   in   now?   The   pillars   of   society   that   people  once   looked   to   have   been   systematically   knocked   down   –   in   many   cases   after   the   ‘Emperor  was  shown  to  have  been  wearing  no  clothes’.  At  one  time  the  Church   was  a  pillar  taken  for  granted.  There  are  few  who  would  argue  this  now.  In  the   Tiger   years   the   ‘pillar’   of   economic   success   seemed   a   better   bet   for   many   to  

 

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believe  in.  It  was  not  a  belief  that  many  could  have  articulated  but  as  something   to  give  your  life  to  it  became  the  thing.  That  promise  now  seems  empty.     In   an   age   when   political   parties   have   discovered   the   arts   of   PR   and   communication  like  never  before  something  ironic  has  happened.  Has  there  ever   been  a  time  when  people  are  less  likely  to  look  to  political  elites  as  the  pillars  to   keep  the  roof  on  society.  Added  to  that  is  the  severe  knocking  taken  by  one  of  our   newer   voices   of   ‘authority’.   The   controversy   surrounding   the   Press,   especially   with  regard  to  phone  hacking,  has  dented  our  belief  in  the  media.   The  recession  poses  a  significant  spiritual  problem  for  the  people  both  north  and   south.   What   are   people   to   believe   in?   The   pillars   of   society   on   this   island   have   shown  themselves  seriously  wanting.  Yet  as  human  beings  we  look  to  believe  in   something  that  is  not  only  greater  than  ourselves  but  that  is  also  true.     Leadership:   In   an   interview   on   leadership1   some   years   ago   Jerry   Greenfield,   cofounder   of   Ben   &   Jerry’s   said   “One   of   the   roles   of   leadership   is   to   tell   your   own   people   the   truth   about   the   way   things   really   are   on   the   ground”.   He   was   at   pains   to   emphasise   he   was   talking   about   business   and   not   about   politics   or   religion.   Nevertheless   the   principle   of   what   he   is   saying   can   be   applied   to   leadership   in   any  context.   The  temptation  for  leadership  is  to  be  transfixed  by  the  lure  of  power  for  its  own   sake  or  simply  the  desire  to  win.  The  temptation  is  to  lose  sight  of  the  people  that   leadership  is  meant  to  serve  and  give  priority  to  the  institution  or  organisation   the  leaders  works  for.  The  greatest  dangers  are  either  to  use  your  own  people  or   to   be   afraid   of   them.   In   either   case   the   people   are   ill   served.   Whatever   the   dynamics   may   be   there   is   a   growing   sense   of   disappointment   and   disillusionment  with  leaders  in  most  spheres  of  society,  and  this  at  a  time  when   leadership  has  never  been  more  necessary.   Hope:  To  hope  is  to  have  a  strong  and  confident  expectation  of  the  fulfilment  of   something  good.  The  word  has  that  sense  of  optimism  about  it,  that  things  can  be   better  in  the  future  than  they  are  now.  The  pressures  of  recession  have  eroded   hope  in  people.  Giving   hope,  the  sense  that  things  can  be  better  in  the  future  and                                                                                                                   1  Interview  with  author     3  

that   the   present   is   not   the   last   word   on   our   situation,   is   one   of   the   biggest   challenges   to   be   faced   at   present.   It   comes   with   the   caveat   that   hope   is   not   the   same  as  selling  a  myth.   The  story  is  famously  told  of  King  Canute.  He  sat  on  his  throne  on  the  seashore;   waves  lapping  round  his  feet,  commanding  the  sea  to  retreat.  It  didn’t!  Unfairly   King   Canute   has   become   a   byword   for   failing   to   look   reality   in   the   face   –   commanding   the   sea   to   retreat   despite   the   evidence   of   wet   feet   suggesting   otherwise.   Apparently  Canute  had  tired  of  his  flattering  courtiers  declaring  that  he  was  "So   great,   he   could   command   the   tides   of   the   sea   to   go   back".   Canute   was   fooled   neither   by   the   flattery   nor   the   physics.   He   decided   to   prove   a   point   …   and   his   own  limitations.  One  day  he  had  his  throne  carried  to  the  seashore  and  sat  on  it   as   the   tide   came   in,   commanding   the   waves   to   advance   no   further.   When   they   didn't,   he   had   made   his   point.   He   was   not   all-­‐powerful   and   the   laws   of   physics   would  not  obey  him.  Living  in  the  realm  of  reality  is  always  better  …  and  drier.   Looking  honestly  at  the  way  things  really  are  on  the  ground  and  telling  your  own   people   the   truth   about   how   things   are.   That   requires   courage   of   organizations   and  leaders  with  integrity.       What  to  Do?   As  noted,  the  nature  of  needs  thrown  up  by  our  present  economic  circumstance   varies   greatly.   Some   are   practical   and   others   are   more   philosophical.   In   reality   it   will   often   be   a   combination   of   both   that   face   us.   The   challenge   for   a   Church   of   Ireland   parish   or   the   denomination   is   simple   –   whatever   we   do   lets   do   something!   Rising  to  the  challenge  of  action  means  being  realistic  about  what  we  are  good  at   and   playing   to   those   strengths.   It   also   means,   without   trying   to   depress   ourselves,   that   we   honestly   look   at   where   our   weaknesses   are   and   addressing   those  so  that  we  can  be  most  effective.    

 

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First  …  the  ‘not  so  good’  news   Organisational   Culture:   The   Church   of   Ireland   is   an   organisation   waiting   for   nothing   to   happen!   When   these   words   were   uttered   at   a   General   Synod   some   years  ago  the  laughter  was  not  just  at  the  wit  of  the  speaker.  It  suggested  that  a   profound  and  uncomfortable  truth  had  just  been  spoken.   Two   values   have   helped   characterise   the   Church   of   Ireland.   One   has   been   an   overriding  ‘steady  as  she  goes’  approach  to  church  life.  Infused  in  this  is  a  belief  –   that   what   is   most   important   is   that   the   ‘boat’   of   the   Church   of   Ireland   should   not   be  rocked.  This  has  permeated  every  level  of  church  life.  What  becomes  crucial  is   not  innovation  or  risk  taking  but  the  preservation  of  the  ethos  of  the  institution   of  the  Church  of  Ireland  –  that  becomes  ‘the  thing’.   Alongside  this  unwritten  value  is  another.  It  is  best  summed  up  as  ‘whatever  you   say   …   say   nothing’.   Smoothing   over   was   more   important   than   honest   frank   discussion.   It   resembles   the   family   priding   itself   on   not   arguing   in   public,   but   where  the  effort  of  keeping  up  appearances  becomes  exhausting.     The   outworking   of   these   two   overwhelming   values   has   an   effect.   It   leads   to   a   paralysis  of  thinking  and  risk  taking  within  the  Church  at  every  level,  and  all  this   in  a  radically  changed  island.  Of  course  the  constant  temptation  to  want  to  fit  in.   The  danger  of  that  being  that  if  you  do  not  say  no  to  anything  then  your  ‘yes’  is  of   no  value  -­‐  a  temptation  to  be  resisted.  Yet  an  organisation  quite  literally  priding   itself  on  ‘steady  as  she  goes’  and  ‘say  nothing’  is  vulnerable.  Unspoken  paralysis   does  not  readily  encourage  dynamism  or  creativity.     Now  …  the  good  news     Willing  Volunteers:  The  trouble  with  good  news  is  that  it  doesn’t  always  make  the   headlines.   We   are   all   guilty   of   being   more   interested   in   the   sensational   bad   news   stories.  However,  there  are  countless  untold  stories  of  people  volunteering  their   time  and  energy  doing  practical  things  that  make  our  community  a  better  place   to  live  in.  Church  members  also  contribute  to  the  work  of  volunteers  from  every   part  of  our  community.    

 

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Let  us  take  the  Church  of  Ireland  diocese  of  Derry  and  Raphoe  as  an  example.  It   encompasses   much   of   the   northwest.   It   has   a   combined   membership   of   32,563   people.  The  diocese  conducted  a  survey  in  2009  to  build  a  picture  of  what  sort  of   activity  was  taking  place  across  the  diocese.     It   emerged   that   a   pool   of   5790   volunteers   helped   to   run   church   related   activities   across   the   diocese.   Such   a   figure   is   not   surprising   given   the   commitment   of   church  members  in  maintaining  the  life  of  their  local  church.     What   was   interesting   to   note   was   that   2035   volunteers   took   part   in   activities   that  not  only  benefited  the  parish  but  also  the  wider  community.  The  number  of   members  who  took  part  in  activities  held  in  church  premises  but  run  by  outside   agencies  was  1751.  This  included  everything  from  Community  Associations,  Age   Concern  to  the  Red  Cross.  The  pattern  is  one  replicated  across  every  diocese.   Volunteering   your   time     -­‐   it   is   no   more   than   seeking   to   be   a   good   neighbour.   Numbers  do  not  capture  the  ordinary  volunteer  work  that  takes  place  from  week   to   week   in   Church   of   Ireland   churches   the   length   and   breadth   of   this   island.   These  efforts  are  usually  unheralded  but  their  contribution  to  the  wellbeing  and   health  of  local  communities  is  real.     The   good   news   is   that   there   is   an   appetite   to   respond   to   the   challenges   of   this   recession,  and  many  examples  of  action  being  taken.  Taney  Parish  is  situated  in   the   suburbs   of   Dublin.   Its   large   modern   Parish   Centre   is   the   base   for   an   Employment   Project.   This   is   a   place   where   anyone   who   has   experienced   redundancy,  unemployment  or  is  simply  looking  for  a  change  can  find  help  and   advice.   ‘Recession   Busters’   was   a   series   of   information   evenings   provided   by   Clogher   Diocese,   local   Methodist   and   Presbyterian   congregations   and   County   Fermanagh   Grand  Orange  Lodge  in  2011.  The  then  Bishop  of  Clogher  Michael  Jackson  said,   “In   these   difficult   economic   times   what   we   often   need   most   is   simple   practical   information  and  signposting  to  where  we  can  get  help  and  advice.  That  is  what   these  evenings  (were)  designed  to  be  about”.   At   the   end   of   June   every   year   up   to   5000   young   people   gather   for   this   five-­‐day   Christian  arts  festival  for  young  people.  The  festival  is  a  residential  event  at  The  

 

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Kings   Hall   in   Belfast,   with   most   people   camping   or   caravanning.   There   are   also   a   great  many  day-­‐visitors.   Summer   Madness   is   one   of   those   ‘mountaintop   experiences   for   young   people.   Five   days   of   contemporary   worship,   Bible   teaching,   seminars.   and   fun!   For   many   young  people  it  is  one  of  the  most  significant  times  in  the  year  to  encourage  their   Christian  faith.   So   what   was   the   vision?   It   was   an   idea   that   started   in   the   mind   of   a   Church   of   Ireland  minister  called  Adrian  McCartney.  It  was  that  these  young  people  could   do   something   positive   in   the   city   either   during   the   festival   or   straight   after   it.   They  would  have  an  opportunity  to  respond  to  their  mountaintop  experience  of   Summer  Madness  by  spending  time  serving  others.     Teams   of   young   people   went   out   into   parts   of   Belfast   and   volunteered   their   time   to   others.   They   did   everything   from   litter   picking,   gardening   and   cleaning   up   graffiti.  It  was  a  practical  way  of  expressing  their  faith  by  serving  others.   This   new   programme   of   service   became   known   as   Streetreach.   In   the   space   of   five   years   over   2500   young   people   have   taken   part,   volunteering   their   time   to   serve  local  communities.  There  are  now  many  stories  of  young  people,  on  their   own   initiative,   continuing   to   run   Streetreach   type   programmes   –   finding   ways   to   serve  local  communities.   These   few   stories   of   people   going   ‘the   extra   mile’   to   do   something   positive   in   the   community   are   but   an   example   of   the   volunteering   for   practical   action   taking   place  throughout  the  Church  of  Ireland.  There  are  many  willing  hands  that  want   to  do  something.   Strength   to   the   Table:   A   senior   cleric   was   once   asked   to   identify   some   of   the   strengths   that   the   Church   of   Ireland   could   bring   to   a   process   of   serving   the   community.   Almost   immediately   he   relied   “Networks   and   confidence”.   Notwithstanding   any   weaknesses   already   identified   these   are   two   strong   qualities  to  bring  to  any  table,  whether  locally  or  otherwise.     Board   of   Social   Theology   and   Action:   Twenty-­‐nine   years   ago   I   attended   my   first   Church   committee   meeting.   The   memory   is   of   unfocused   vaguely   dull   discussion   about  things  that  had  little  apparent  relevance  and  less  potential  for  meaningful  

 

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action.   Following   that   experience   I   resolved   never   to   sit   on   such   a   committee   again,  and  for  the  best  part  of  twenty-­‐five  years  that  is  was  what  I  did.   The   newly   created   Board   for   Social   Theology   and   Action   is   one   of   the   most   creative   initiatives   taken   by   the   Church   of   Ireland.   Created   in   2010   The   new   Board,  specially  recruited,  has  been  established  to  provide  a  practical  response   to   the   Church’s   ministry   within   the   community   by   raising   awareness   of   social   issues;   offering   help   dealing   with   parish-­‐community   outreach;   and   providing   comment  and  research.  As  a  Statement  of  Intent  it  is  the  right  thing  at  the  right   time.  If  it  works  to  a  strategic  plan  of  action  it  could  be  an  very  important  catalyst   for  good  in  the  Church  of  Ireland.     Conclusion   In   the   film   As   Good   As   It   Gets   Jack   Nicholson   plays   the   role   of   Melvin   Udall,   a   successful  but  abrasive  New  York  novelist.  Nicolson  brilliantly  plays  the  part  of  a   man   who   not   only   has   a   difficult   personality,   he   also   has   a   problem.   His   problem   is  that  he  is  desperately  in  love  with  Carol,  the  waitress  who  reluctantly  serves   him  every  day  in  a  Manhattan  diner.  The  film  plays  around  the  theme  of  Melvin   Udall,   Nicholson’s   character,   trying   to   form   a   relationship   with   Carol,   but   being   almost  fatally  hampered  by  his  personality.   As  the  story  moves  towards  it  climax  it  seems  as  though  angst-­‐ridden  Melvin  is   only  going  to  succeed  in  driving  Carol  away.    Desperately  looking  for  advice  he   turns  to  Simon  Bishop,  a  young  artist  neighbour  with  whom  he  has  often  had  a   stormy  friendship.  Not  finding  what  he  hears  in  any  way  helpful  he  reaches  the   point   of   exasperation.   His   words   say   it   all.   “If   you're   gonna   give   me   hope   you   got   to  do  better  than  you're  doing.  I  mean  if  you  can't  be  at  least  mildly  interesting   then   shut   the   hell   up!   I   mean   I'm   drowning   here,   and   you're   describing   the   water!”   Perhaps   not   spoken   in   a   way   that   sits   easily   with   the   public   world   of   Church,   but   nevertheless  expressing  a  powerful  need.  Melvin  Udall  is  looking  for  three  things   from   his   young   artist   friend.   More   than   anything   he   is   looking   for   hope   in   the   midst  of  all  his  struggles.  He  is  also  looking  for  Simon  to  say  something  that  will  

 

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actually   engage   him,   that   will   somehow   succeed   in   capturing   his   attention   despite  all  the  distraction  caused  by  his  angst.  Most  of  all,  when  he  is  in  his  place   of   greatest   need   something   more   is   required   than   for   someone   to   state   the   obvious  –  describing  the  water  to  a  drowning  man!   What   three   things   does   the   Church   of   Ireland   need   to   do   in   the   face   of   the   recession?   It   needs   to   constantly   highlight   the   human   cost   of   economic   downturn.  The  cost  is  not  just  in  Euro  and  Pounds,  it  is  in  the  impact  on  ordinary   lives.   It   also   needs   to   be   willing   to   speak   prophetically,   and   in   doing   so   to   be   prepared  to  speak  truth  to  power.  Whatever  the  deficiencies  of  speaking  into  the   circumstances   that   got   us   here   there   is   an   opportunity   now.   What   were   the   values   and   practices   that   helped   create   our   present   situation   and   who   is   being   asked  to  bear,  or  not  bear,  a  disproportionate  cost?     But  what  of  the  final  thing  that  the  Church  of  Ireland  can  do  –  what  might  that   be?  A  Pope  was  asked  what  the  symbol  of  his  papacy  was  going  to  be.  He  gave   an  unusual  answer.  The  symbol  would  be  a  towel.  He  was  harking  back  to  Jesus’   example   at   The   Last   Supper   when   He   took   up   a   towel   and   humbly   served   the   disciples  by  washing  their  feet.  The  towel  is  a  powerful  symbol  of  service.   These  are  new  times  for  the  Church  on  this  island.  Its  place  is  no  longer  taken   for   granted   in   our   communities.   There   is   a   temptation   for   churches   and   Christians  to  give  up.  Perhaps,  rather  than  throwing  in  the  towel,  it  is  time  for  us   to  pick  it  up.         The  Extra  Mile   The  Extra  Mile  aims  to  help  church  members  see  where  volunteering  their  time   and   energy   to   meet   the   practical   needs   of   others   fits   into   what   the   church   is   meant   to   be   about.   It   also   looks   at   some   of   the   practical   questions   a   church   should  ask  itself  when  wanting  to  engage  in  community  work.      

 

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The   Extra   Mile   is   available   free   of   charge   in   eBook   format   at   www.derry.anglican.org   or   at   The   Diocesan   Office,   London   Street   in   Londonderry.   It   was   funded   by   the   Derry   and   Raphoe   Diocesan   Volunteering   Project  through  the  Department  for  Social  Development  and  the  Department  for   Rural,  Community  and  Gaeltacht  Affairs.     Rev   Earl   Storey   has   served   as   a   Rector   on   both   sides   of   the   border.   Formerly   Director   of   the   Church   of   Ireland   Hard   Gospel   Project   he   now   runs   Topstorey   Communications   www.topstorey.org,   which   specialises   in   PR,   community   development,   reconciliation   and   leadership   training.   He   serves   as   Diocesan   Communications  Officer  for  the  Diocese  of  Derry  and  Raphoe.     Rev   Robert   Miller   currently   serves   as   Rector   of   the   Grouped   parishes   of   Christ   Church,   Culmore,   Muff   &   St   Peter’s   in   the   Diocese   of   Derry   and   Raphoe.   Robert   has   been   involved   in   ministry   amongst   young   people   at   parish,   diocesan,   and   denominational  level.  He  currently  serves  on  the  diocesan  strategic  review  team   in  Derry  and  Raphoe  Diocese  and  is  committed  to  developing  the  local  churches   it  engages  with  its  community.            

 

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