It is now ten years since I started working for JRI, first as Operations Manager and more recently as Operations Director, and so it seems appropriate to review that time and look a little into the future.
I was appointed not long after JRI had conducted a major strategy review, led by Bob White, John Sale and my wife, Margot. The review focused the work of JRI on education: basically conferences, publications and courses. Other Christian environmental organisations had different areas to concentrate on, but we would stick to education. We still are!
In my time JRI has been based in four locations. When I joined the staff we were in a small room at the University of Gloucestershire, Cheltenham. We had a good relationship with the University ever since JRI was founded in 1998, but eventually a restructuring meant that there was no room for JRI. We then had a short temporary stay in the church centre of St Paul’s Church across the road from the University before we moved to what we hoped would be permanent accommodation in Redcliffe College, Gloucester. But after a couple of years, they also had a restructuring and moved to much smaller premises with no room for JRI. We were then invited to join OSCAR and the European Christian Mission (ECM) in sharing an office at City Works, Gloucester. We couldn’t be in a better place. The building has solar panels covering the roof and is carbon neutral and our office is above a recycling centre! We have excellent relationships with the OSCAR and ECM staff, often sharing lunch together.
If the office has moved around a bit, the JRI Staff have been remarkably faithful and dedicated. It is amazing to think that we have only had six people on the JRI Staff in 21 years! The McKeown family has been with us for the whole time. At present I am Operations Director, Karen Vincent is JRI Administrator and Technical Support and Lynda McKeown is CRES Administrator. We are all very part-time, JRI has a small salary bill, and much of our work is done by volunteers.
In the last ten years, we have run many conferences, mostly in collaboration with Redcliffe College and ForMission College. During that time we have looked at a wide range of environmental issues from a Christian perspective. We are particularly grateful to Andy Kingston-Smith, my arch collaborator on many of these conferences.
When I became Operations Manager for JRI, I was already the Principal Tutor for Christian Rural and Environmental Studies (CRES), our distance learning course. For many years we ran the course in collaboration with Christian Rural Concern, and after they decided to close we have had A Rocha UK for partners. We have based our course at Ripon College Cuddesdon, who validate it and have been a great support. In recent years the course has become bigger and more international, with regular applications from around the world.
We have continued to produce publications in a wide range of formats. In house, we have JRI Briefing Papers and the increasingly popular JRI blog. We remain very grateful to the late Dr Peter Lornie, who had the idea for the blog and was its first editor. JRI staff and associates also publish books, papers, articles, and blog posts for many other publishers and organisations.
One major change over the last ten years has been that JRI communications have become increasingly electronic, and less paper-based. We have also developed our social media, moving past the 1000 likes/followers mark with both Facebook and Twitter in the last few months.
Although a lot of JRI work happens through volunteers, we do need some finance to keep going. We are very grateful to those who have supported JRI financially down the years. If you would like to help, even in a small way, please follow this link.
Looking now to the future. Environmental issues are moving up the agenda around the world. The church, particularly in the UK, has become increasingly involved. There are now a number of Christian environmental organisations working in the UK, but JRI is the only one with a specific education focus. We are very busy, with increasing demands from many sources. This is the reason why my wife, Margot, and I decided to make our move this summer. For over 20 years the JRI staffing has remained at around the same size. The big question now for JRI is whether we continue in this way, or whether we try to grow to meet the demand.
Finally, I would like to thank the JRI Presidents, the JRI Board, everyone at CRES, our associates and friends for all their support over the last ten years!
Dr Martin Hodson
JRI Operations Director