The Working World - a place for Chaplaincy, Discipleship, Vocation and Evangelism
John’s Gospel tells of the risen Jesus meeting his disciples by the Sea of Galilee. They had returned to their old work, spending the night fishing, but not catching anything. Bible commentators generally pass over the working life of the disciples and put their failure down to an impulsive decision, made without careful consideration and prayer. But one writer offered a more realistic view of the disciples’ situation and work: “These men needed to eat.”
All too often the church has had a low view of the value of people’s working lives. The impression grew that what really mattered was what people did for the church, and “vocation” came to be associated with becoming a minister. Industrial chaplaincy began after the Second World War as one way of correcting this with chaplains, usually clergy, visiting workplaces. Chaplains today are alongside people at work, supporting them in difficulties and encouraging Christians in their discipleship. They trace signs of God’s presence in the workplace and can offer the insights and understanding gained there to the wider church. There may be opportunities to contribute a biblically formed perspective on issues that arise and on the value of the people who are employed.
Many churches are now taking the working lives of their members seriously, helped by materials such as the “Front Line” courses produced by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity. God is as much in the workplace on a Monday morning as He is in the church on a Sunday. This can prompt people to volunteer as chaplains. Church members, ideally local people, often with experience of the public sector, industry and commerce, are well placed to visit workplaces, to offer a listening ear, to learn, to encourage and to affirm. Chaplaincy which springs from a local church can be an effective part of its mission and ministry, helping to maintain and to develop relationships with the workplaces and community around them.
BCUIM and other chaplaincy organisations endeavour to facilitate this ministry with local churches. We encourage Christians to see their working lives as a place where their discipleship and vocation are expressed and may grow. We offer training in chaplaincy skills, introductions to businesses and ongoing connection and support for voluntary chaplains.
From the call of the first disciples onwards, fishing has been used as a
metaphor for evangelism. Might a renewed focus on the working world, as a place
of Christian discipleship and chaplaincy, be an effective form of
outreach? It would be like casting our
nets on the other side of the boat, as the disciples did they did that morning
they met the risen Christ, and it resulted in an enormous catch.