THE gig economy, zero-hours contracts, remote working — change in the workplace is perhaps at its fastest for decades. That change has affected the well-being of workers, the boundaries between home and work, and job security — all of which, in turn, affect how people relate to the workplace.
It is that change that the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity (LICC) is grappling with, to try to enable churches to help workers better.
Paul Valler, who chairs the LICC, says: “The gig economy is more relationally impoverished, more transactional. And it’s a real challenge for people in these areas to connect and relate to each other and to set boundaries and rest time.
“But even in an economy based on transient relationships, you can make a difference. We want to encourage a proactive approach to transient relationships.” He refers to the fast-food restaurant chain Chick-fil-A in the United States as an example: it encourages workers to give free coffees to people “who look like they need it”.
LICC’s mission is to encourage “whole-life discipleship”, Mr Valler says. “We believe in living our whole lives authentically on the front line. We are working to influence theological education so that it better reflects the importance of equipping people to be on the front line. We need to adapt existing church structures to better support people in their everyday lives.”
The Church has made progress in broadening the understanding of vocation, but more needs to be done. “The sacred-secular divide has always been promoted by the Church — the idea that some things are more holy than others. But we believe all of life is holy. The clergy-laity language represents this divide; yet we are all ministers of God in all of our lives. Our language doesn’t help us,” Mr Valler says.
Achieving this leap — seeing every believer, wherever they are, as being in ministry — would “revolutionise the way we live”, he says.
THE programme director for the Church of England initiative Setting God’s People Free, Dr Nick Shepherd, believes that the Church is moving in this direction, albeit slowly.
He acknowledges that the understanding of vocation is broadening beyond ministry and lay ministry, but feels that this development is not helped by the excitement expressed when large numbers of people come forward for ordained ministry.
“We have made really good progress, but it feels like there’s a way to go yet,” he says. “We need to change the culture of the Church, and that takes time.
“There wouldn’t need to be this programme if there wasn’t a problem. Setting God’s People Free is a programme to get across the message about serving God with the whole of your life. It’s not about back-filling church roles or ordained ministry: it is about Kingdom vocations.”
The Ministry Division is already making changes to its selection criteria as a result. It is asking the people coming forward to explore how they will enable people to live their faith across their whole lives. Readers are also to receive training to do more to enable people to live as a follower of Christ in the workplace and at home.
“When people think about a Christian ‘in ministry’, they find it easy to visualise; but when asked what it means to be a Christian accountant, people don’t know,” Dr Shepherd says. “We need to broaden the understanding of what it means to be a Christian every day — to say, it’s about following Jesus, seeking his Kingdom wherever we are, not just while we’re doing church activities.”
Dr Shepherd warns, however, that the Church cannot make assumptions about what it means for people to live out their faith in the workplace. “There has been a huge change in contemporary culture. . . People might not feel they can talk about faith at work any more, the dynamic has changed.”
NOT to broaden our understanding of vocation and ministry impoverishes our knowledge of God, the Revd Dr Kate Bruce argues. She is a chaplain, a stand-up comedian (News, 1 March), and a co-author of Life Calling: A five-session course on vocation for Lent (Church House Publishing, 2016).
“Do we really believe that God isn’t in the mess and muddle of the shop floor, or office, or factory, or wherever? If we don’t address this, what are we actually saying about God? That he isn’t in the person doing community art, or the scientist researching a new vaccine?” she asks.
The Church can also make the mistake of equating paid work with vocation, she says. “Our vocation doesn’t always have to be the work we are paid for. Part of my calling is to be a stand-up comedian; I don’t make money out of it, but it is part of my ministry.”
Helping someone to find their vocation brings “joy, and the beginning of fulfilment”, she says, but also develops “trust in the life of the Church”.
FOR churches that are eager to help people connect their Sunday faith with their Monday-to-Saturday life, the LICC has developed a number of resources, as well as the initiative This Time Tomorrow, which challenges churches to interview a member of their congregation once a month about what they will be doing the following Monday, and then praying for them. The initiative seeks to bring the importance of everyday life into a Sunday context.
The Vicar of Holy Trinity, Southall, the Revd Michael Bolley, has been using the This Time Tomorrow interview with his congregation, and also the “Ambassadors” scheme. This is part of the diocese of London’s Capital Vision 2020 strategy, which seeks to equip people to live as ambassadors for Christ in their daily life.
Antoinette Carter, from Holy Trinity, Southall, is anointed with oil as part of her commissioning as an Ambassador for Christ in her workplace
The church has commissioned several ambassadors, he said, who “seek to do God’s work, and forward God’s Kingdom, in the context where they spend most of their lives: in the workplace, or in their families.” One of those is Antoinette Carter, who works in a job centre, and who, Mr Bolley says, “seeks to be very caring towards the clients she deals with: taking time to listen to them, trying to be creative about potential ways forward, and encouraging them much as she can”.
He has spent years involved in the Anglican Cursillo movement, and says that his approach to helping support people in their working lives grew out of his understanding of Cursillo courses, which seek to develop an everyday discipleship among participants.
“It is very easy to ignore people’s daily lives in church,” he says. “But people are very encouraged to know that clergy are interested in helping them become disciples for Christ, wherever they are. We have taken this into our PCC meetings, starting with people sharing in pairs what they are doing at the moment, and what sustains them in their prayer and worship. It helps people to encourage one another.”
At the commissioning service for ambassadors in his church, he asks people to bring in a symbol of their workplace or ministry. “It represents how they are living out God’s calling in their lives. It shows there are all different kinds of callings, and that we are serious about them all.”
Equipped for works of service
Work at St James’s, Horsforth, in Leeds, to raise the profile of vocations in the workplace has had a life-changing impact on Ami
AMI felt “a bit lost” after the birth of her first son when she was 21. As a single mother, she thought that she had missed her chance to have a career.
But fellow churchgoers at St James’s, Horsforth, where she had been attending with her mother for years, helped her to build her confidence and discover a sense of her own calling.
“I wasn’t sure where I was going after the birth of my first son. . . At that time, one of the Readers prayed with me, and for me, and supported me to go to college, where I studied for a qualification in education, and got a job in school with children with special needs.
“A few years later, I had my second son, and was on my own again. I was encouraged and supported by the church to go to university, to develop my passion to help struggling families. I know what it is to struggle and be on your own.
“I was interested, too, in the criminal-justice system, and, during my time at university, I had a placement at Leeds Prison. I thought then about becoming a prison officer, but I didn’t have the confidence to think I could do it. I was encouraged to apply, but I failed first time. But then I applied again, and passed. I couldn’t believe it.”
Thanks to the support and prayer from her church, she feels that she is now where she is called to be, and has a clear idea of how she would like to fulfil this sense of vocation further.
istockReaders are receiving training to better support an understanding of vocation that includes the home, as well as the workplace
“My vision, now, is to work with mothers and babies leaving prison — those who think they aren’t worth anything. I would love to open a hostel to support them with education and childcare. When I needed help, I found it; now I want to help others, just as the church helped me.”
Cal Bailey, a Reader at St James’s, said that the church used the initiative This Time Tomorrow, championed by the LICC, and was supporting several youngsters in finding find their vocation. “We ask three questions: What will you be doing this time tomorrow? What is your role or work? How does your work serve the Kingdom of God? It helps people get to know each other and think about what they can and are doing to serve God, too.”
Mr Bailey tried for months to persuade her to take part. In the end, she followed it twice; the second time, she found that she had passed her degree with Merit, and gained a job with the Prison Service. “When people heard, the biggest cheer in church went up that I’ve ever heard, and people were in tears. It was wonderful,” he said.