Focus

Every so often we will Focus on articles which we think may be of interest to visitors to this website.  First in this series is an article written by Reverend Canon Rose Lawley, Vicar of St Mary's C of E Church, Kidderminster and Associate Minister in this Circuit, about her work as an Industrial Missioner.  The remainder of the words on this page are Reverend Rose's.


BUILDING BRIDGES FOR CHRIST

(Taken from a Lent talk 2008)

 Quite a few years ago now, a friend asked me what I was  doing in the church.  When I told him that I was an Industrial or Workplace Chaplain he looked at me in a rather puzzled way and said -

'What's one of those?'

Well after I had explained to him what one is and what we do – he said

'You mean, you would come into the place where I work and talk to people'

'Yes' I replied.

'Well I think that's great' he said.

 Tielhard de Chardin, more than 40 years ago wrote:-

'Nine out of ten practising Christians feel that their work is always at the level of a spiritual encumbrance.'

In the same year Ted Wickham wrote, 'The weakness and collapse of the churches in the urbanised and industrial areas of our country should be transparently clear to any who are not wilfully blind, as also the intractable and chronic nature of the missionary problem facing the church in our modern society.' 

Julian Reindorp talks about 'the gap between Christians and their working life being similar to the gap between the church and contemporary society' – the gap that Industrial or Workplace chaplains have tried to enter into and work in. 

Perhaps there are three questions about workplace chaplaincy that I could try to answer –

What do we do?

Why do we do it?

And Who are we?

First of all – what do we do?

Well we visit people at work in factories, shops, offices or farming communities – the latter being known as Rural Chaplains.  In fact anywhere where people are at work.

We try to interpret the issues that we meet in the light of the Christian faith – by meeting people where they are.

We make links with employers' organisations, trades unions, economic regeneration bodies and colleges of further education.

And we provide conferences on work, economic life, industry, commerce, agricultural and rural life..1.

Secondly – Why do we do it?

 Well Chaplains are concerned for individuals at work and the health of the whole organisation.

We try to understand the economic forces affecting people in the county, in our case Worcestershire, although there are chaplains all over the country as well as in many countries throughout the world.

We are concerned for the weak and powerless.

We do this because the Christian faith is concerned for all people.

We help the church and its members engage with the impact that work – or the lack of it – has on people's lives.  Although making the links with the churches can be difficult at times – trying to help them to see that this is part of the mission of the whole church.

So that is what we do and why we do it, but:

who are we?

We are both ministers and lay members of the main Christian churches and have a Management Committee made up of members drawn from the different denominations and economic life.

We are part of an Association with regional, national and European links.  

Something that is very important about the role of a Workplace or Industrial Chaplain, is that we are independent of any employer or other organisation.

Michael Ramsay when he was Archbishop of Canterbury said that 'Industrial Mission is a theological adventure – 'it is – doing theology'.

Throughout the years, some familiar themes have often been linked with, or used when talking about the role of Industrial Mission.

Such phrases as 'God at work in the world', 'Seeking signs of the Kingdom', and 'A ministry of presence'.

The Theology Development Group, in their summary 'What is the Gospel' wrote -

'The Gospel is always waiting to be discovered... it is those who immerse themselves in secular situations, who stand with people at the points of suffering, change and opportunity.....who articulate the authentic message of the Gospel for the present generation.....

At the centre of the Christian faith is the belief that God in Christ is redeeming the world – healing, rescuing and liberating.

God initiated this mission by entering the world in Christ to bring in the Kingdom of God, and our task is to join in that mission and to follow and obey where we can see God at work.

This involves discerning God's purpose in events, and results in practical action.'

You could argue that this covers all forms of mission, which indeed it does, but

coming from where I stand as an Industrial chaplain, that final phrase in particular – 

'discerning God's purpose in events and results in practical action'' – is what I try to undertake each time I go into a factory, or a college, or a meeting relating to regeneration or other issues relating to the area in which I minister.   

Quite often, people do not make connections between their faith and their life at work, keeping them very separate -

Our going out into the workplace can often begin to help those connections start to take place. 

Of course we are not only there for people who have faith.  We are there for everybody – those with faith and those who have none. 

Again in the multi-cultural – multi-faith society of today, there is also the question of being there for people of other faiths.  If a question or issue arises relating to another faith, then we can as chaplains, if necessary, can bring someone in from another faith to help in the person with their situation. 

There is also the issue of gender, which could also in some circumstances be seen as a perceived problem – again we could offer to call in one of our colleagues, of either sex to help if necessary.  However, in both cases, whether another faith, or gender, so far in my ministry, I have not had to resort to doing this, but I am not naive enough to think that it may never happen.

But, I feel that Industrial Mission, Workplace Chaplaincy – whatever it may be called is very much part of the whole mission of God's church. 

Our mission is not a mission of direct evangelism – of trying to convert, but one of service - and who knows, through that service, some people may begin to question and eventually come to know just how wonderful life is when our Lord is part of it. 

To end - a poem that I came across the other day for the many and varied chaplains that are out there working in God's Kingdom for God's Kingdom -

It's called 'God Bless' -

God bless the chaplains,

with oil on their boots, noise in their ears,

cranes rumbling overhead,

God bless the chaplains to manufacturing.

God bless the chaplains,

in hushed offices, busy shopping centres,

on the buses, beside the phone desks,

God bless the chaplains to the service industry.

God bless the chaplains,

with tired and angry police,

with fire fighters, sharing bacon sandwiches,

God bless the chaplains to emergency services.

God bless the chaplains,

in long meetings, trying to keep the vision in mind,

alongside people who struggle to make a better world,

God bless the chaplains of regeneration.

God bless the chaplains,

however they operate, full time, part time,

paid, unpaid, with church, without church, harassed or not.

God of fishers and carpenters, bless the chaplains.

Rev'd Rose Lawley

Industrial/Workplace Chaplain

for Kidderminster and Wyre Forest