A good dose of Maori and Irish ancestry among a group of social justice animators provided a strong basis for story-telling at a workshop in Palmerston North in January.
An education officer with the Global Education Centre Will Watterson used his abundant energy and skills to inject new life into the group from Taranaki in the west to Hawkes Bay in the east.
Story-telling may be the oldest form of sharing information but it is very effective in connecting the head with the heart—a crucial element when conveying the social justice message.
The workshop at Te Rau Aroha, the Palmerston North Diocesan Centre, covered all aspects of getting the message across including presentation style, purpose, location, time and audience. Participants learnt about using their story-telling to move people beyond the immediate to precipitate a change in attitude and action.
In seeking ways to highlight the social justice message during Lent, one of the animators staged a drama depicting a challenging situation for local parishioners. The action took place at St Francis de Sales church in Waverley, South Taranaki, with the animator dressed as a homeless drunk. It sets out to challenge perceived stereotypes and to solicit a Christian response from the Catholic parishioners.
A homeless drunk is lying apparently asleep at the front door of the church on Sunday morning. Many find this unusual scene offensive, alien and somewhat frightening. Parishioners try to encourage him to move elsewhere.
When the man proves uncooperative, the police are called. They tell parishioners to ignore him and continue with the Mass, but to lock the door in case he wakes and becomes violent.
For most, this was a sobering moment. Notifying the police and taking advice was appropriate in the circumstances and, in giving this advice, the police were intent on minimising the risk.
In life many people learn to make any difficult issues that confront them, someone else’s problem as quickly as possible. There is a generation now that seeks to avoid confrontation, leaving the decisions to someone else. We hear such statements as ‘The government needs to act’, ‘That is a council issue’, or ‘Call the police’.
Not all of us can be a peacemaker in the manner of Te Whiti-o-Rongomai, Nelson Mandela, Mahatma Ghandi or Mother Teresa but we are all capable of bringing a Christian perspective to life issues that confront us.
How did you relate to Christ today?
Workshop participants were challenged to take the perspective of the homeless man.
‘It’s incredibly lonely lying here under my blanket. The cold seeps into my bones even through the newspaper.
‘How stupid. Too much drink, no regular home and it’s been a while since I had a shower or washed my clothes.
‘I thought a church door would be quiet so early in the morning. Children don’t miss much but their mother soon hurries them away.
‘What, aah—must have dozed off. The first of the churchies wants me to shift—something about opening the doors. What a laugh. They’d be lucky if as many as 20 came to the place. The single door would more than fit their needs—bunch of papist bigots.
‘Okay, okay I’m moving,—not far if I can help it—ahhh, my head… Just a few metres should do them.
‘It’s all my own bloody fault. It’s so lonely and I feel so rejected, yet it was me who hit the grog.
‘Is there hope through those doors?
‘Can someone … just love me again?’
We are called to be Christ to all.
It is not for us to choose the circumstances in which to respond to Christ in need. Christ does and will continue to make us uncomfortable.
Discussing life’s issues is a sign of a living parish and I am heartened to be a part of that life in our faith community.
Terence Whelan is a social justice animator in Taranaki.