The year that ...
Chris Farrelly, 66, Auckland City Missioner, on a year of big decisions
In 2015, I had completed 25 years of working at the sharp end of health leadership in Northland. In this time I had been immersed in issues of inequality, inequity and injustice. I was battle weary from these years which included working with those people living and dying with HIV Aids and communities that discriminated against them.
Also during that time, I managed the hospital in Dargaville that was under threat of closure, with the community facing service cuts. I came face-toface with and felt the pain of poor Maori health and the lingering impact of colonisation. As a senior manager within the DHB, I experienced the politics of the health system and my own job loss as a result of restructuring.
And then for 13 years I led Manaia Health PHO, an organisation that courageously grappled with health inequity and worked to address the determinants of poor health such as poverty and substandard housing.
Most days I felt I was going to work to do battle with mistakes of the past, for and with people living in poverty and sometimes with the health system. Conflict seemed to be a part of my daily life and I took steps to move from sheer wit and “seat-of-the-pants” knowledge to obtaining a degree in conflict resolution in order to gain more understanding and skills.
However, despite these new skills, I needed to pull away from my day-to-day situation and gain some space, distance and perspective. That was in 2015. With my wife, I walked part of the Camino de Santiago in Spain, visited and absorbed Assisi and sat at the feet of one of the great dispute resolution practitioners, Kenneth Cloke, who started his journey in the field with Martin Luther King.
This time away gave me perspective, a dose of cynicism reducing medication and an insight to be less judgmental and more probing to understand “the issue behind the issue”, which is often ourselves. It was a significant healing and re-balancing time in my life.
While on this journey, I received a very unexpected call from a recruitment agency to consider applying for the position of Auckland City Missioner. I was aware of the amazing work of the Mission and its great leadership over the years, yet had never contemplated a move to this place. While it was the furthest thing from my mind, on reflection, it was the closest thing to my heart and brought together most aspects of my life’s work hitherto. My wife was part of my “Camino” and part of my decision — and here we are today. The timing was right.
Now I have been Auckland City Missioner for a little over two years and some of the themes from my early work keep recurring. Here we see justice, inequity, poverty and the results of childhood trauma. But we also see and experience the very best of our country; generosity, compassion and the new approach by many organisations to work together and make a difference. How blessed am I.