Industrial Mission or Workplace Chaplaincy?
At the end of the year, I concluded nine years working with BCUIM. It was a good time to reflect. What had I been I doing for those years? Sometime in that period the name of our national organisation changed from the “Industrial Mission Association” to “Workplace Chaplaincy Mission UK”. So, had it been “Industrial Mission” or “Workplace Chaplaincy”?
The new name may describe much of our day to day ministry. Our chaplains are out and about visiting workplaces. We aim to be a Christian presence alongside people in industry, commerce and the public sector where our pastoral work, supporting individual employees is appreciated. This is important, but at the outset of the Industrial Mission movement, there was another dimension. The pioneers, back in the 1950s and 1960s, aimed to help churches listen to people outside and beyond their walls, people who nonetheless had their own understanding and experience of God and his ways.
As churches focused increasingly on their own congregational life, these voices were not being heard. The divide between the sacred and the secular grew wider and churches came to equate middle class values with Christian virtues. There was little or no recognition that God might be active in industry and the working world. The vision of the 1945 report “Towards the Conversion of England” which spoke of lay people as “the priesthood of the Church in the working world”; and as “the Church … in action in the mission fields of politics, industry and commerce” was easily forgotten.
Industrial Mission was about encouraging the churches to recognise the ways in which the Kingdom of God came alongside, or was visible within, the life of the world. This included the role of critical friend, reminding our churches that their divine calling was to be a sign of the presence of that Kingdom and its King in every part of the world’s life, especially its economic interactions.
The 2017 report “Setting God’s People Free” recaptures something of this vision. “Whilst mission has sometimes been conceived as the work of rescuing souls from a degenerate world, a more holistic and inclusive vision understands it as the property and activity of God at work in the world as creator, redeemer and sustainer.” In and through daily occupations, paid and unpaid, people have the opportunity to share in God’s work in the world. Workplace chaplaincy can support them: Industrial Mission can help the church recognise that God is at work in the world and in the lives of countless people.