God at work

Published on: 1 November 2017

We spend most of our waking hours interacting with other people: at home, in our workplace, in a volunteer role, taking part in sporting or other activities. Biddy Collyer takes a look at how we share our faith outside of our "Sunday lives"

How easy do you find it to talk about being a Christian? My final workplace was running a Christian charity, so it was natural. Before then, I held back until I felt safe. It didn’t often happen.

Much more open are the four people I interviewed for this piece. All have different approaches but what wisdom they display with their work colleagues and clients.

Thompson Zulu is a gentle giant, managing an IT department at UEA. Born and brought up in Zimbabwe where most people believe in God, living and working in the UK was a culture shock. Where faith is expressed openly there, here it is very different.

Initially, he felt that he had to actively convert his colleagues but his approach changed after he ran a “Life on the Frontline” course designed by the London Institute of Contemporary Christianity. Now he is just being open about being a Christian. When people ask what he did at the weekend, he will mention that he went to church. He tells me that means his colleagues and staff recognise that he is a Christian. From there it is not difficult to bring in his faith when appropriate.

He said, “Faith centres you. It is part of who you are so it affects the whole of your life, how I deal with people, the way I treat people and my work. If people work with me, but don’t know that I am a Christian, then they don’t really know who I am.”

Often, he is accompanied as he walks round the University Broad in his lunchtime. Walking alongside someone is a non-threatening way to have a conversation. As people share the problems they are facing, it is a simple step to offer to pray for them.

Thompson avoids getting into pointless arguments or lecturing colleagues but prefers to share with them, the difference knowing God has made to his life. This gives him an opportunity to tell his amazing story of how God called him from Zimbabwe to Norfolk and then fully provided for his family when they arrived with very little. It is hard to gainsay a testimony. Some want to know more, others may say, “Hmm…” He once asked a colleague, “If I could answer all your difficult questions, would you believe in God?” The answer was an emphatic, “No!”

A very different way of enlightening colleagues of his Christian faith is that of Frank Cliff, a recently retired calibration laboratory supervisor. He names the holy days, and when a colleague once said, “Thank goodness Christmas is over.” Frank replied, “Sorry mate, you’ve got 20 days to go!”

Like Thompson, he has been part of a very technical team, one that deals with hard facts so issues of faith can be seen as fanciful. Frank too has his testimony. When serving in the army in Northern Ireland, he saw two friends killed. That experience took him away from God for 22 years.

Frank too offers to pray for his colleagues: “The most important thing to remember when ministering at your workplace is confidentiality, total confidentiality.” His faith has brought him into dispute with his employers. When a new contract was imposed on his work colleagues he pointed out that although it was legal, the coercive methods used were unethical and immoral. The Management said he had an attitude problem, and they were right. To Frank, right and wrong are absolutes. It has not been an easy stance to maintain; but thank goodness he didn’t compromise.

Character shows. Thompson made an interesting observation. People will say that he is kind, a great boss and very fair. What they don’t do is to connect it with his faith. They don’t recognise that his character has been forged over his whole life, a slow process but his kindness, honesty and compassion are the result. He would say he wasn’t born that way.

For Suze Rose, just starting out as a beautician, setting up her own business is a move she is convinced God has called her to. She has always wanted to work with women but originally thought this would be through her drama training.

After university, she became seriously ill, probably from a virus which attacked her brain, killing off cells. For months she lay in bed, first in hospital then at home. Slowly she re-trained herself to speak, then write. Finally, she was able to hold down a job in hospitality. When starting her beauty training she moved to Norwich and paid her way through working in a vintage cafe. Until her business becomes self-sustaining, she still works there two days a week.

She thus has two different experiences of living her work life as a Christian. In some ways, as an employee, she has more freedom. She serves her customers with the patience and confidence that comes from long experience. Her work mates are left in no doubt about her faith.

“Everyone is intrigued with what people believe. Nobody feels there can be no unknowns. God is really mysterious so they think that can’t possibly be the answer. They just don’t understand, but ironically themselves have faith in the power of crystals and witchcraft, not seeing that these are also belief systems. However, if something is going on for someone at work, I do say I will pray for you and they say, ‘That’s really sweet.’”

In her role as a beautician, it would not be professional to talk about her faith but it underlies the compassion with which she approaches her work. She believes that we are all “beautifully and wonderfully” made, but that for some of her clients that beauty has been covered over by their life experience. She offers a safe place where they can be looked after, lay aside their masks and relax while enjoying a facial or one of the other treatments she offers. Silently praying, while kneeling before a broken woman as she gives a full foot massage and pedicure is a powerful time for her.

Thompson Zulu says that he now recognises that his workplace is his frontline as a Christian. For Tori Venmore-Rowland it literally has been over the past 10 years. Tori works as a weapons technician at RAF Marham. Married, with two small children, her job is to support the Tornado aircraft on operations which has taken her across the globe deploying to Afghanistan and also to Italy in 2012 supporting the Libyan campaign.

In a very male-dominated environment, it is not always easy to be a Christian woman. In a sometimes very pressured situation, the talk mostly takes the form of banter, so it can be difficult to get into issues like faith. Often, when her colleagues find she is a Christian, they are very sceptical and surprised, with one asking if she was a “Religious religious? What kind of level of religious are you?” When Tori replied that she was applying to be a priest, the response was incredulous. “He was completely baffled.”

Others are antagonistic. Someone turned around and asked her “If you believe in God, why Christianity? Why the Church of England?” That stumped her a bit but led her to look into it for herself. The original questioner’s curiosity leads him to flip through books she leaves in the office and he is always asking her deep questions which they look at together and to which she remains open.

As a serving member of the RAF, Tori has had to search her heart about questions few of us have to face. Can she square her Christianity with her work? For her the answer has to be that the armed forces are there to make the world a better place.

In such a challenging situation, she now has the support of others who share her faith and with whom she meets weekly for bible study. Through their WhatsApp group they can “ping” across prayers. It has helped her merge her faith and work which in the past used to feel quite separate.

Four Christians, very differently employed, but with a shared faith in God. The challenges they face are also very different, but each oozed their commitment to work with honesty and compassion in the very best way they can. Those challenges may not be as obvious as Tori’s but whether working in a sceptical scientific environment or in the often superficial world of beauty with its emphasis on bodily perfection rather than the inner glow that St Paul talks about, they are indeed on the frontline.

They may never know the full impact of their faith on others, but their commitment to openly share that faith in word and deed, through prayer and support for their colleagues, by being genuine, will have a lasting impact.

Just being yourself is something all of us can do.

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Articles in this issue...

Loitering with Godly intent

Archdeacon Karen explores chaplaincy in the workplace.


Loving and serving the Lord in the workplace

Audrey Sharp discusses the challenge of living out our Christian faith actively and intentionally in the workplace.


Face to Faith – Stephen Andrews

Stephen is a workplace chaplain in Great Yarmouth to Asda, NORSE, Camplings Linen Services and the Borough Services. He is also a Trust Chaplain at the James Paget University Hospital and is an associate priest in the Great Yarmouth Team Ministry.


God in children’s work at school

Just like many adults, young people spend a large proportion of their day 'at work'; school, A place where, similarly to adults, they attend for set hours, meet and interact with peers, complete tasks, learn skill sets, are encouraged to develop and undergo regular review. We asked four people from across the Diocese to share what they do as Christians in supporting young people in schools.


Making Christ present – Being chaplain to the police

Fr Christopher Wood talks about his roles as Chaplain to Norfolk Constabulary and to people bereaved by suicide.


Spiritual health in times of illness

Helen Garrard is Lead Chaplain to Colman and Norwich Community Hospitals. The role has grown to incorporate providing and managing chaplaincy care in 10 community hospitals within the Norfolk Community Health and Care NHS Trust.


A night out with Norwich Street Partnership: City Pastors

8.30pm on a Saturday evening in mid-November. No glitzy shoes or sparkly top for my night out: solid walking boots and layers of warm clothes. Then it's time to go through the city, looking and listening to the hustle and various groups who are setting off for celebrations.


A very modern ministry: chaplaincy

At a time when our society seems increasingly dominated by secular habits and assumptions, and when religious attendance and affiliation seems to be in decline, chaplaincy remains a public face of faith in a variety of situations. Chris Copsey takes a look at this diverse ministry in Norfolk and Waveney.


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