Today: Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Taking God into communities - industry    (7/4/2010 1)

‘My vicar at work’ was the title given to me by Lucy, a not-so-dizzy blonde who works in one of the power stations I used to visit as chaplain. I soon gave up trying to explain to people that I wasn’t a vicar, but a minister of the United Reformed Church. As far as they were concerned, anyone other than a Catholic priest was a vicar! Some Catholics called me Father, and those who’d been in the services called me Padre.

As soon as I went through the turnstiles I was in a different world: at its heart were the giant turbines, pulsating power. I could go anywhere as long as I was properly dressed: not cassock and bands but personal protective equipment: prescription safety glasses, a hard hat, a fluorescent coat, and industrial size-14 boots.

I had to obey all the safety notices and did an induction safety course which soon had me on the look-out for worst-case scenarios off-site, too… particularly at church. As a visitor I had to behave in an appropriate manner—and that meant no preaching! Although, if asked a question, I answered it in full.

The personnel department was one of my official contacts, and they were very supportive: they saw that my pastoral role often complemented their own, and knew that I maintained full confidentiality. Its director made a valuable contribution to the Selby Coalfield and District Industrial Mission, as it was called.

As chaplain, I was a member of the Local Business Reference Committee, and regularly met with management and union representatives. That’s how I met Fred, chief union official there. He had lots of preconceived ideas about the church—and was amazed to discover not only that we both voted for the same party, but that I was a fully paid-up union member! We used to have long natters at lunch-time. One day, I said something about justice and mercy, and Fred thought it was Karl Marx; he was astonished to hear that it was actually from my favourite Old Testament Prophet, Amos. Sadly, Fred died suddenly in his fifties. I conducted his funeral in the parish church where he lived, and the place was packed. The whole workforce came together on a day when I really was their vicar at work.

One of the most involved theological debates I’ve ever had took place on a platform 60 foot up, when a man emerged from under a machine and removed his welding mask. “Now then, vicar, what about original sin?’Turns out he’d been to a family baptism the previous Sunday, and had taken exception to the prayer-book words ‘conceived in sin’. If ever I had to think on my feet, it was that day.

I ate in the canteen, so people knew where to find me. Generating electricity goes on 24/7, including holidays, so I made sure I went in for a short visit on Christmas Day, either on my way to or from a service. They would say to me, “We’re all working today, vicar!”

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