I wanted to take a moment to tell you about my friend, Glenn, who tragically passed away yesterday.
We met just over twenty years ago when I got my first full time job. We had both been hired at the same time – me as youth development worker and Glenn as Mission Director for East Belfast Mission (EBM). Back then the EBM building was a dark, minimalist space that had been built in the 1950’s having previously been destroyed in the Belfast Blitz. As dark as the space was, I can still remember the brightness of Glenn’s demeanor that first time we met. Sometimes you meet a person and you get the impression that you want to know him or her more. I had that impression with Glenn.
We started our jobs within a week of each other, a fact I was so thankful for as the years of our friendship wore on. Having that common beginning gave us a bond from the get go.
Glenn was an outstanding mission director at EBM. He was driven and focused in terms of the administrative and visionary tasks of his work. He was also extremely pastoral, not only knowing his quite large staff team by name, but also caring for them all and showing interest in their stories. He was sharp and intelligent – well-read and thought through on anything I ever had to ask him about. And he was fun in an environment and atmosphere that absolutely needed fun.
During my three years at EBM there was not one single time when I knocked on the door that Glenn told me he didn’t have time for me. It never mattered what he was working on, if one of his team needed a moment to talk something through, or if they needed help thinking something through, Glenn was there. The laptop would be closed, he would ask if I wanted tea or coffee and the conversation would start. I am pretty sure I left every one of those conversations feeling better or thinking more clearly. Glenn had that effect as a leader and boss.
“If I am too busy to take time for you, Charlie, then I am too busy.”
I can remember him saying those exact words to me. They have stuck with me and have been central in shaping the kind of leader/manager I am with my staff team today.
I was still in my early twenties back then. I thought I had arrived when I landed my first full time youth director post at a church in the city. I thought I must have known it all and then I learned rapidly that I didn’t. One thing that became clear to me at the time was that I needed a mentor in my life and work. Someone who would guide me in the faith and in learning the community work/ministry world I was now a part of. I shared this need with another friend. I also shared that I did not know who I could invite to be a mentor in my life.
“Charlie, you work with Glenn Jordan every day. Duhhhh!”
He was right (Thank’s, Phil!)
The next week I made some time with Glenn and simply asked him if he would become a mentor for me in Christian life and in my ministry. He agreed readily and since that moment, I don’t think there has been a time in our relationship when he has not spoken to me both as friend and co-worker, but also as someone who agreed to mentor me – he has coached, counseled and comforted me at various points along the way, and always as one who I invited specifically to do so at both the best of times and at the worst of times too.
The time came for me to leave EBM as Margaret and I made our first move to the United States. Glenn and I stayed in touch by email there was no social media at that time. He ribbed me about the fact that I moved here and started to drive a Mercedes (I should add that it was a Mercedes that was made the year before I was born and had been given to Margaret and myself in Port St. Lucie.)
“You’ve sold out to American capitalism already, Charlie!” he joked.
After we moved that time in 2003, direct face to face contact with Glenn was less and less, of course, but when we returned to Northern Ireland in 2006 Glenn and I were able to pick up our face to face contact and friendship again. We’d meet for coffee on the Belmont Road in East Belfast, or for a beer in the city centre after work on a Friday evening. He was still working at EBM and they were moving towards an exciting new building vision for their entire site. Glenn would let me know about their plans and as the work started on site, he walk me through and let me see the progress being made.
It had been when I was still working there at EBM that the project was being envisioned. I can still remember when Glenn and others in charge landed on the name for the redevelopment project: Skainos. In my mind’s eye right now I can see the word scribbled on the wee whiteboard in his office and I can hear him telling me about the meaning of the Greek word and why it perfectly described what was going to take place on that site over the coming years.
Finally, when all the building work was done, he was as proud as punch of the design and architecture of it all. He would show me around and give me the stories of the thinking behind every little detail. Glenn was a storyteller, and a gifted one at that.
When I was commissioned for ministry and sent to Shankill Methodist Church in July 2010, I asked Glenn to come and preach at my welcoming service. When I heard him preach or teach from the Bible, he always caught my attention. I will never forget him preaching on the Parable of the Good Samaritan and making me and all the other listeners read from the perspective of the Inn Keeper in the story. I’ll also never forget the night Glenn led the EBM Bible Study with a session on Psalm 32. To this day, when I encounter that particular text my mind flashes back to the things Glenn taught us that night. He was a brilliant mind when it came to Bible teaching – always creative, and always courageous to think outside the box.
His time at EBM/Skainos came to a close just after Margaret and I moved back to the United States in 2013. By now, technology had advanced and we had social media accounts by which we could follow what was going on in each others’ lives. I would see the pictures of his beloved dogs taken on their regular walks along the crooked shore of the County Down coast line. I would see pictures of his kids – he was such a proud dad. I would see the pictures he would take of the various table set ups he had as visual aids for teaching the young people of his Bible class each week. I would see images of Bruce Springsteen concerts, so many images of Bruce Springsteen concerts. Glenn loved The Boss and followed him fanatically any time he would be playing shows in the UK and Ireland. I would see images of pictures taken of the pages of poetry books. Glenn loved poetry and literature and always had something quite inspiring to share with the world from what he was reading.
We would also banter each other back and forth, particularly about rugby. We both loved rugby. Glenn even came to watch me play in the 2009 final of the Forster Cup at Ravenhill in Belfast. He had no reason to come watch other than his love for the game, and our friendship. I appreciated his attendance so much
Concerning rugby, Glenn lived under the illusion that backs (shirt numbers 9-15) were the team members who captured best all of the class, beauty, and energy of the game. I, on the other hand, knew the truth. I knew that it is the forwards in the game of rugby (numbers 1-8) who not only captured all the class, beauty, and energy of the game, but who also worked 100 times as hard as the backs and gave them the platform they needed to look so good. Glenn never let up in speaking up for the backs. I would like to say that deep down he knew the truth, but I would be wrong. I and many others were never able to convince him at all of the primary importance of forwards in the game of rugby.
What impressed me so much about Glenn? What made me always want to take time with him and drink in the details of our conversations?
Glenn Jordan was the real deal. What I saw in him, I believe, was what the whole world saw, and it was what seemingly everyone found infectious about his personality. He was himself and felt no need to perform for people.
I was also always impressed by Glenn’s work. I saw it up close and personal as a colleague for three years, and I paid close attention as I observed it from distance after that. Glenn was a community worker/activist/leader/theologian who was right there with the people of the communities he served. He took time to get to know people, he connected with them, he listened and heard, he pulled them together and engaged them in conversations that at times were hard. Glenn Jordan was a community leader, theologian, and peace-builder that Northern Ireland is going to miss immensely.
As you can tell, I have many vivid memories of a great friendship with a quite fantastic man. One of them stands out more than others though. As I have alluded to above, we both loved the game of rugby. I have not mentioned that Glenn was born in the south of Ireland in Dublin. His local provincial team in Dublin was Leinster. He was a Leinster fan. But he was also an adopted son of Ulster and a fan of our local provincial team too. So when Leinster were playing Ulster in the 2012 Heineken Cup Final to determine who the champions of Europe would be that season, Glenn was rightly torn as to who he would support when he attended the game. In the most Glenn Jordan type solution possible, he had a friend take both his Ulster rugby jersey and his Leinster rugby jersey, cut them both in half, and sew a new shirt together that would represent both teams, and cover Glenn’s own divided loyalties for the day. It was brilliant. (The shirt is pictured below)
As I write this now, I can’t quite believe he is gone, and my heart breaks for Adrienne, Philippa, and Christopher, who are now left without the most wonderful husband and dad.
I have written plenty as to the best of times with Glenn. And I could write plenty more from some incredibly low times too in which he was a tower of strength and resolve for many. But I know that he wouldn’t really want me to go into any of that. “Don’t let it take up space in your head, Charlie” he would say.
To me and to many, Glenn Jordan was an incredible human, a loyal friend, a devoted mentor, wonderfully creative, truly down to earth, and committed to Godly peace and justice in the world. I will miss him and his voice in my life immensely.
Until we meet again, my friend.