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Church work in the workplace

08 May 2012

Has this concept any remaining value, asks Alan Billings


Engaging Mission: The lasting value of industrial mission for today
Peter Cope and Mike West

Grosvenor House Press £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9

ENGAGING MISSION avoids a trap, and presents a challenge. The trap was simply to take us down memory lane. The related challenge was to ask sharp questions about Britain’s industrial future and whether today’s weakened Church can make any meaningful contribution. Are there continuing lessons to be learnt from industrial mission (IM)?

The authors are experienced industrial missioners. Peter Cope spent part of his ministry in the West Midlands, and Mike West in Sheffield. Both are known and respected nationally.

The book does a number of things. It charts the history of the Church’s engagement with industry and those employed in it over 65 years. During this time, Britain’s industrial landscape changed significantly as the inheritance of the first industrial revolution — heavy industries and large work­forces in steel-making, engineering, coal-mining, shipbuilding, and car manufacture — yielded to the smaller units of the more recent revolution — high-value tech­nology, financial services, retail.

IM was compelled to rethink its own activities in the light of these changes. For those concerned with whether the Church has anything to say now, the authors’ reflections on this evolution will provoke useful and timely reflection.

Of course, the shift from the old to the new was accompanied by years of strain and unrest — disputes in the car industry, in steel, and in coal-mining. The collapse of traditional industries led to the collapse of the communities associated with them.

At those times, a tension that always runs through IM became very apparent: what should the balance be between the pastoral and prophetic ministries of the Church?

It is clear from these pages that, whatever the theoretical answer, without skilled practitioners who manage to keep a foot in several camps — workforce, management, congregations, and synods — things can go badly awry.

The basis for action of IM has always been a Kingdom theology where the Church identifies signs of the Kingdom, but is not the only means of its growth. Whether that is the theology of those parts of the contemporary Church which are growing is a moot point and the challenge of this book.

Canon Alan Billings’s latest book is Making God Possible: the task of ordained ministry present and future (SPCK, 2010).

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