Justin on Just Getting it Done

Blog piece by the other boss.

Justin WelbyI’ve always liked reading Rudyard Kipling, especially his short stories. But I’ve never liked his poem IF, even though it may be the best known – and indeed has on several occasions been voted our nation’s favourite. It’s always felt rather patronising and cringe inducing, not least for that last line, ‘And – which is more – you’ll be a Man, my son!’

However, it does include a healthy dose of perspective on success and failure, which I’ve come back to recently.

Over the last few weeks, since I made some comments on pay day lenders, our small correspondence team at Lambeth Palace has been flooded with letters and emails. We receive some 25,000 letters a year, and whether it’s on inter faith or sexuality issues, the tone is often very critical. The sheer volume means I can only deal personally with a small proportion, and the challenge always is to pay attention and ask myself, does the writer have a point? But on this issue, the comments have been overwhelmingly positive.

This has made me think: talk is cheap – and my job involves a lot of it – but the challenge is in delivery. That seems true whether it’s in politics, or the NHS, or teaching, or large companies. I often admire politicians for putting themselves in a place which demands they turn words into reality. It’s easy for people like me to criticise from the sidelines; they are the ones trying to make things happen.

The result of the recent intense interest in how the church plans to support credit unions is that there is now – quite rightly – pressure to deliver. To turn words into reality. And it feels quite scary. Putting together the partnerships and logistics to have a good product, piloting it and learning from the results, and then turning it into something effective: this needs major skills and much time – at least a decade, in fact.

The same applies for all those involved in renewing the life of the church. Whether it’s growing it in spiritual and numerical terms, or renewing prayer and the Religious Life, or serving the common good, I wake in the night remembering that mere words won’t do. More than that, renewal in the church is something that has to be chosen and lived out by all Christians. It’s no use me just blathering about it.

Part of the wonder and beauty of the church is that it is a place of choice. We choose to turn to Christ and seek to know Him. We choose to live in obedience to Him. We choose to seek His resources of love and strength in order to be what we should. When that happens, we deliver.

Brave words are easy, but it’s actions that count. Perhaps Kipling’s poem makes more sense than I thought.

As to whether I like Kipling, well I’ve never kippled so ask someone else (the old ones are the best). But regardless, this is an interesting reflection on turning words into actions. The challenge for the Church of England will be whether it can provide or support the provision of credit services in the sub-prime sector in a manner that will make a clear difference. From what I saw of micro-finance and credit schemes in India and elsewhere, they have the great capacity to bring about not just economic transformation but also aspirational transformation. That’s the key isn’t it – not just filling pockets but changing hearts and (self) perceptions.

Now, back to being a priest building a bank and praying as I go. It’s an interesting combination but always great fun.

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