Sunday, 2 December 2007

A man of integrity - time with Georges in Lyon

Well I've just got back from my preaching engagement in Lyon,another 400km round trip by train. It was at long last a spanking new TER(Train express régional) train, almost identical to the one we caught in Romania to go to Sibiu, the Conseil régional in Rhone-Alpes does at long last seem to be waking up to the idea of how important public transport is to our region but by the time we have anything like an integrated system the glaciers will probably have all melted.
Anyway rant over, I spent yesterday evening with a friend from the Commission des Ministères (CDM) whom I had not seen for several years. Georges is a born manager, reliable, trustworthy, willing to put himself out for others and for the church. But also willing to say things as he sees them, be combative and have the odd row with folk if need be. He comes from Alsace originally and manages somehow to be the perfect mix of Germanic directness and Gallic charm. Almost more important to the English houseguest he also knows how to make a proper cup of tea!
Now in his late seventies and a widower he's been working almost full time for the past 18 months or so trying to sort out one of the Protestant diaconal institutions near Lyon. It employed 35 people and offered nursing home care to the ill and elderly. He is pleased that the solution has protected all 35 jobs by finding an organisaiton which wanted to buy the business activity but not the buildings, so the financial problems have been resolved wihtout selling off the family silver. The church has been so lucky to have someone so professional and good humoured to do this. He's managed to protect the interests of both the institution and of the workers and those being cared for. It's been hard work and he's ready now to think a bit more about himself and whether he should move to a smaller house.
The situation Georges described to me in the association in trouble was all too familiar. Not enough people in charge with the will to see through the changes. This has to do with renewal and commitment to civil society and how difficult it seems to be for many people to commit to anything longterm, particularly when the going gets difficult. Life is so full of conflict anyway - at work and home - that it's perhaps natural to just absent oneself from voluntary commitments when the going gets tough. This is a real problem for churches, managing our committees, finances and discussions is also theological work. Too often we spend precious time discussing simple things at great length while still not actually taking decisions, then we don't make time for the real work of reflection and finding new direction and energy.
Stephen calls meetings like that, whether in the church or in politics, like attending something where you are being asked to watch non-drying paint dry.
Anyway here are some links about civil society, this is probably an area I need to think about for my management course. The Reformed have traditionaly been quite into good (church) governance and administration - though I think Calvin himself may have been rather into controlling civil society and society generally.