Never Ask A Question You Don’t Want The Answer To…

I’ve never been a member of Standing Committee. Yet, it was a presentation I was invited to make to that body that provided me with an occasion I would rather forget.

The Standing Committee is one of the key decision-making bodies in the Church of Ireland. Its role is to carry out the functions of the General Synod which have been delegated to it by the Synod, while the Synod is not in session. It meets six times a year and its membership includes the Archbishops and Bishops, the four Honorary Secretaries of the General Synod, two clerical and two lay representatives from each of the twelve dioceses and seven co–opted members.

Twelve years ago, I was appointed as Director of the Church of Ireland Hard Gospel Project – a three-year project to help the Church address the issue of sectarianism. One of my first tasks was to give a presentation to Standing Committee about the future work of the project. After considerable preparation, I had a presentation ready to give. Duly suited and booted I attended at the appointed time and did what I was asked to do.

The issue of reconciliation was and is something I feel deeply about. I had worked with a peacebuilding organisation, completed a postgraduate qualification, written about the subject and was in the job I felt called to. I also had a reasonable sense of what the project should be doing. Essentially, I was in my comfort zone.

Was it nervousness at having to make a presentation to such a body? Or was it trying to appear as though I was on top of my brief or coming across as I thought I ‘ought’ to? Probably all the above and more. Let’s just say it wasn’t my finest moment and the responsibility was my own. Conveniently I genuinely forget most of what I said. But, my memory is of making a rather wooden presentation that hid behind more jargon and management-speak than it should have. That it was not a roaring success is not just my opinion. I have evidence to prove it!

Never ask a question you don’t want the answer to. Afterwards I went to lunch with a friend – someone I like and whose opinion I value. “Well”, I asked “what did you think of it?” His answer was straight and to the point. “I didn’t believe it, because I knew that you didn’t believe it”. I knew he was right.

In this edition we have examined an independent report that has recently been launched (page 8). Entitled Finding Faith in Ireland: The Shifting Spiritual Landscape of Teens & Young Adults in The Republic of Ireland, it examines decline of Christian faith in youth of Ireland in the context of the pressures that these young people face. The ages 14-25 have been examined, through the format of 96 one-on-one interviews, 750 online questionnaires and contributions from youth leaders. The report has been compiled by Barna, an American Christian research group founded in 1984.

The Barna report highlights one thing above all else – that the spiritual landscape in Ireland is shifting profoundly. Its findings give expression to what that shift looks like. It highlights the challenge of reaching teens and young adults with the Christian faith. It is in such a culture that we are challenged to communicate the faith and make disciples – it was ever thus.

There are many things we may choose to take away from this report. As we think of who will tell this generation perhaps there is some learning to be had from a red-faced presenter to Standing Committee – the importance of being convinced ourselves of what we are saying to our audience. They will know. So will we.