ONE evening in June, I found myself at Salisbury Playhouse in
the audience for the South Wiltshire Business of the Year awards.
The atmosphere had the joy and energy of an Evangelical revival
meeting. As Rector of a central-tradition parish and Rural Dean, I
rarely find myself among people who are so energetic, joyful, and
Since its foundation in 1220, St Thomas Becket's has had a
strong relationship with the business and civic life of Salisbury.
As the church of the Market Square, it was the place of worship for
the guilds and trades, and endowed apprenticeships right up to the
First World War.
As Rector, I serve not only as Chaplain to, but also a Director
on, the board of the Chamber of Commerce. As this position has
deepened, I have gently challenged the board on what we understand
to be the place of the chaplain; and when this conversation has
struggled to find common language, I have offered them
opportunities to sack me without any bad feeling. The offers have
always been strongly rejected. They want me there as a priest,
although they cannot fully articulate why.
Yet I was conscious of the need to bring something relevant to
the table. I decided to sponsor an award category that not only
revived that centuries-old tradition of supporting young people in
their careers, but reflected parish and diocesan aims to put them
at the heart of mission.
The category that we devised, "Young Entrepreneur of the Year",
sought to reward under-25s who had taken the risk of starting their
own business, and were then bringing the experience they had gained
to help others.
The cost of sponsorship is commercially sensitive, but it is
within the range of our usual tithed giving to charities and
partner organisations. It has certainly been worth it, and is
proving to be a staggeringly good investment for the credibility of
THE energy on the evening of the awards was amazing - as was
people's reaction to the Church being so prominently present. Again
and again, I was pleasantly surprised, as I was sought out by
business people, who wanted me to know how much they valued the
The Church can be sniffy about the business community. We can
struggle, as followers of Christ, who urged us to give all we had
to the poor, to affirm business people who are committed to the
profit motive. Yet these amazing people celebrate Kingdom values by
risking high stakes to build creative and worthwhile businesses, in
the teeth of a recession. In business, the Kingdom is present, but
its values can struggle to be heard because the controlling
narrative at work is dominated more by acquisitiveness than
Yet grace abounds. I am struck by how almost all recipients of
an award speak of "luck", of the generosity of others in helping
them to succeed, and how they value the people with whom they work,
those they employ, and even those with whom they compete. When
success is being celebrated, it is never purely about the bottom
"ENGAGING with culture" is a church buzzword at present, but
real engagement means being prepared to be challenged and changed
by culture, which is a product of people made in Christ's image. We
should not simply assume that culture is deficient and in need of
being "Christianised" by us.
In God's Pattern (SPCK, 2003), David Stancliffe
explores the Emmaus road story as a model both of discipleship and
mission. He shows how Jesus first draws alongside the two dejected
disciples, and invites them to tell their story in their way. Only
when he has heard them patiently and respectfully does he offer his
own interpretation of the story.
Even then, it has to wait for a moment of epiphany, as Jesus
breaks the bread at supper. The moment is fleeting, but the new
energy created in the encounter sends the two disciples running
back to Jerusalem to spread the good news of resurrection.
More and more, I have come to see my engagement with business as
an Emmaus-road experience. I am called to travel patiently with
these exciting and passionate people, to learn their language and
traditions, join their networks and friendships, and wait for
permission to speak.
JESUS is as present at a business-awards ceremony in Salisbury
as he was on the road to Emmaus; as when he hung around by a well,
waiting to see who turned up; and as when he told stories of
businessmen to illustrate the values of his Kingdom.
In shaping the criteria for the award specifically to reward
interdependence and co-operation, as well as energy and resilience,
we have signalled those qualities as goods to which the Church
The presence of a clerical collar challenges assumptions that
there are places that the Church does not belong, or has retreated
from. When we are patient and respectful, we are wanted. When we
speak with humility, love, and integrity, we are listened to.
While it is vital that the Church works at the margins,
supporting those most in need of help, it is also vital for us to
engage credibly with those who generate the employment and wealth
that brings people in from the margins and allows communities to
prosper. A well-directed and trusted Christian voice is able to
turn pure capital into social capital, as the values of the Kingdom
are articulated and embraced.
The Revd David Linaker is Rector of St Thomas Becket's,
Salisbury, and Rural Dean of Salisbury.