Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Lindsay Conway explains about Presbyterian denomination's 150 year old social witness programme of "loving your neighbour"

If the Presbyterian Church in Ireland’s theme for the year is to be A Place of Transformation, perhaps one of the most practical demonstrations of the scale of their commitment is the work of the Board of Social Witness.

BSW’s written report to the denomination’s General Assembly begins by reminding delegates that the board’s remit and operation includes:
  • 20 locations, 445 bed spaces, 423 staff, 200 volunteers, £9.5million operational budget
  • residential care, nursing care, supported housing, student accommodation, family centre, day care
  • working with offenders, people with addictions,
  • counselling service
  • child protection
  • chaplains – hospital, hospice, university, forces, criminal justice
  • ministry to the deaf
  • as well as lobbying and campaigning, pastoral care, and health promotion around disability health and wellbeing

Lindsay Conway is the Presbyterian Director of Social Services. While the phrase “social witness” isn’t in common usage, he explained it to me as simply “fulfilling that command to love your neighbour”. As well as the centrally organised work, Lindsay Conway acknowledged that
“the bulk of the social witness in our denomination is done at congregational level – lunch clubs, special events for those with learning disability, food stores and so forth – that is social witness, that is Christ in action.”

The denomination’s ministry to the deaf is now over 150 years old; its ministry to older people began well over 60 years ago; followed more recently work with offenders and people with addictions flowed from that.

Lindsay Conway was recently in the news speaking out about the fate and treatment of patients in residential care homes being threatened with a speedy closure.
There were few voices recognising that yes care at home is desirable but only if it suits, only if it meets the total needs, not giving older people the sentence of [being] moved downstairs to a hospital bed with no other facilities. Residential care, nursing care, has to be part of a whole range of care that is – in jargon terms – client centred.

On being part of the “Big Society”:
All good acts are not done by Christians and we have to acknowledge that, but we also said to the Prime Minister, sorry Prime Minister but we’ve been at Big Society a long time. That’s what the churches have done for generations. Not only the Presbyterian Church, but the [approach of] the Methodist Church, others with regards to Vincent de Paul and other diocesan things within the Anglican Church. Sorry Prime Minister, but we’ve been doing it reasonably well.

On welfare reform:
It’s starting to bite. And yes we’re grateful that the minister did get concession with regards to monthly payments back into fortnightly payments, that we don’t have the same pressure on the bedroom tax as others, but yes, it’s biting. And it’s biting in a way that’s affecting members of our congregations and communities. The church has to respond to that.

Other hot issues:
There has to be a big focus on carers and we’re going to launch soon a research paper on the level of caring that’s done by individuals within families and friends which is really masking some of the real stories within health and social care. Today, the whole research with regards to A&Es and elective surgeries being cancelled. That is just unbelievable.

The King’s Fund has now confirmed from an independent point of view that the figures aren’t as they are being reported. And it’s horror stories when people are being not just once or twice but maybe seven times having an operation postponed, what that means in emotional terms and so forth.

The church has to be verbal. The church has to have a view.

The Presbyterian Church in Ireland provides these services:
That’s our rightful place. It’s not something that we do because we’re good people because God called us to do that. To love him with everything we’ve got and to do likewise in loving our neighbour.

This morning at the Assembly, Lindsay Conway finished his report by saying:
Luke 10 verse 35 reads "In the morning he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper, saying 'Take good care of him. If it costs any more, put it on my bill - I'll pay you on my way back.' This is a powerful verse. This was not one simple good deed, it was guaranteeing sustainability - maintaining the care, continuing to look after - seeing it through to a conclusion - and Jesus said "go do likewise - go and do the same".

The convenor of the Board of Social Witness - Bobby Liddle - also highlighted the work of chaplains in hospitals, prisons, the military and third level education establishments.

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