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Interview: John Weaver, vice-chair, Industrial Christian Fellowship

29 January 2021

‘Industry will survive the pandemic and Brexit better than people fear’

“Industrial” conjures up images of bygone heavy industries. “Technology” may convey new kinds of production, but “industrial” holds together the past and present, concern for the social well-being of managers, researchers, and shop-floor workers, and the environment.
 

The Industrial Christian Fellowship [ICF] was founded 100 years ago when the Navvy Mission and the Christian Socialist Union wanted to address together how they could build a better world through all levels of work.
 

We have the same vision, but now we offer Christians resources and ideas to develop a Christian perspective on their role in society, whether they’re MPs, military generals, chief executives, or production-line workers; and try to instil that vision in those who don’t have it now. We hope to convince business that the key principles of our faith help create a positive, enriching, profitable business environment.

We’ve seen industry and commerce at its worst in recent years, and asked questions about ethics, the environmental cost of industrialisation, and the human cost of an industrial system driven by economics alone.
 

It’s easy to condemn them, but we need business, industry, work, and the profits that corporations feed into our economy. We recognise that many profit-seeking shareholders represent pension funds for ordinary people.
 

Business doesn’t need condemning: it needs redeeming. It needs narratives of redemption to help it do that. We have to be realistic and unprejudiced to help people at all levels of industry take responsibility for all the decisions they make, particularly their environmental and social implications.
 

Our manufacturing sector and industrial companies are vital. People are being kept alive through this pandemic by ventilators manufactured in factories.
 

How do we live in a Christian way in our modern world? Our responsibility as consumers is probably greater than the producers’, because it’s our demands for more and more, as cheaply as possible, that drive production.
 

We live in a consumerist society. I sense that many Christians want a church they can engage with as and when it suits them, not a recognised presence that challenges them about issues of faith in the everyday.
 

I was asked to speak about faith and work by the ICF as a practical theologian. My own interest in the environment and climate change led me to speak at ICF meetings on fracking and sustainable industrial production.
 

I’ve written a set of group studies, Faith, Work and Christian discipleship; and a book, Sustainability and Ethics, with Professor Ian Arbon, which examines corporate social responsibility.
 

I began as a lecturer in structural geology and geotectonics. I trained for Baptist ministry in Oxford, and became Pastor of Highfield Baptist Church, in Rushden, from 1981 to 1991. From 1992 to 2001, I taught theology at Regent’s Park College, Oxford. I received a Templeton Award in 1998, and specialised in reflecting as a Christian on the environmental crisis, becoming chair and vice-president of the John Ray Initiative, which connects the environment, science, and Christian faith. From 2001 to 2011, I served as Principal of South Wales Baptist College, and Dean of the Faculty of Theology, Cardiff University.
 

New ministers have a clear vision to engage with people beyond the Church, not simply maintain an institution for those who are already there.
 

Ordinands discover that they must engage with people’s workplaces. They become school governors, engage with social workers or health-care staff, lead services in a care home, or visit the local workplaces of their congregation. They must understand how every Christian believer can be an effective pastoral presence in their workplace.
 

Industry will survive the pandemic and Brexit better than people fear, because the private sector is better at recognising the need for change and implementing it than it’s often given credit for. If we’re to reach our target of ten per cent renewable energy in the UK, it won’t happen only as a result of protest marches. It’ll be because engineers have overcome the challenges of building and maintaining offshore wind-farms, and designing ever more environmentally sustainable dwellings and transport.
 

Yes, we’ll need to adapt, and we must face the ethical and human challenges as well as the technical; but my instinct is that the skills, invention, and determination of those in technology and industry will help us get through the current crises.
 

Various countries, such as India and China, are moving quickly into sustainable energy, and I trust the US will return to its environmental commitments. The rapid move to the electrification of motor vehicles is clearly positive.
 

The most worrying thing is that governments, particularly our own, are not moving quickly enough. The urgency of the problem hasn’t come home to them yet. The implications are far more widespread than droughts, floods, and crop failure. It drives local conflict, migration, and human trafficking. We need governments who are more generous in their approach to people who are suffering from the effects of climate change.
 

I grew up in a loving Christian home in Cardiff. It was natural for me to have God in the equation of my thinking about the world, and it was more than church. My father taught biology, and he taught me the plants and animals that I encountered in the garden or in the countryside, with their Latin names, species, and genera, and the classification of the plant and animal kingdoms.
 

My father had a microscope, and he showed me that the hairs on my head had a particular structure, and that tap water was teeming with microscopic life — which didn’t encourage me to drink it. I made a conscious decision to stick to pop.
 

Scientific questioning continued with chemical experiments, growing copper sulphate crystals and halite crystals. This was brought to an abrupt end with experiments with rocket fuel when I was about 12, with a powerful explosion followed by the shattering of glass and wood as our neighbour’s window was wrecked by my rocket. My father confiscated the chemicals; my mother forgave me.
 

I felt awe and wonder, observing the world around me and through microscope and telescope. I had a real sense of God’s hand on my life throughout my growing up as I took an interest in geology, and later felt God’s call to Christian ministry.
 

My parents’ love, faith, and encouragement did much to shape me as a Christian and a scientist. I’ve been married for over 50 years, and my wife’s been my constant companion and encourager.
 

Political leaders who don’t tell the truth make me angry, as do business leaders who put profit over people, and church leaders who present a gospel which fails to heed Jesus’s call to deny self, take up the cross-shaped life, and follow him.
 

My ten grandchildren make me happy, especially the youngest, who are five and three. I love Beethoven’s symphonies.
 

My ultimate hope is in God. This is eternal, while my human hopes are temporal and uncertain — such as Cardiff City getting back to the Premiership.
 

I pray each day for world leaders who will seek peace and reconciliation, who’ll be guided by the wisdom and love of God, and who’ll address global climate change, which is the most urgent issue facing the population of the world; and for my family and church community in Odell, Bedford.
 

I’d choose to be locked in a church with Alan Kreider and Peter Grange. Alan was a Mennonite missionary in the UK for over 25 years — one of the most eirenic people, full of spiritual wisdom. Peter, the Baptist regional minister for the East Midlands, was my minister for six years and my companion in the faith for another 30: someone of great faith, spiritual wisdom, and full of humour. And I’d be thrilled to spend time with Nelson Mandela. There was something very special about this human being, and the forgiveness at the heart of all his relationships, that I would really want to get to know.

 

The Revd Dr John Weaver was talking to Terence Handley MacMath.

Love@Work: 100 years of the Industrial Christian Fellowship by Ian Randall, Phil Jump, and John Weaver is published by DLT at £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop £13.50); 978-1-913657-01-7.

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