Sunday, July 12, 2009

Christianity in the Workplace

It’s great welcoming Hy-Tec to our service this morning – Hy-Tec meets on Sunday evenings and each term – very roughly has a theme to follow.

On Sunday mornings we do much the same and follow a theme – we’ve been looking at Serving God. We’ve been looking at the way we can serve God and serve the world around us through the church – we can identify what we are passionate about, what gifts we each of us have, what kind of a person we are – and then we can pool all the things we can do together.

This morning we are looking at ways we can serve God in the work place, in the ordinary every day world we are in through the week.

How does being a Christian for you make a difference in your work?

Let’s go over to the hospital … and ask that question of Adrian

Adrian spoke of the way in which he felt it wise in his work not to be explicit about his Christian faith; he felt it would not be right, for example to pray with a patient. On the other hand, he felt it was important to ‘live out’ his Christian faith. He found it prompted him to empathise with his patients, to feel for them and their thoughts, and to give them a sense of hope. He felt it was important to give them time and to listen to them, to allay their fears when they were facing times of uncertainty.

Adrian’s not the first person from Highbury to work in the eye department at Cheltenham General Hospital.

Caroline Gregory was in that department for many years and before retiring was the sister of the eye ward.

When I put that question to her earlier this week she came up with a very interesting response.

First, she identified three characteristics – it makes you more sharing, more giving, more thoughtful towards others.

Then she reflected on what that meant to her as she was in charge of a ward. ‘As a sister my Christian faith made me more understanding of people’s feelings and thoughts.’

Caroline spoke of ‘the need to be understanding of other people, even when, perhaps particularly when they did things in way that was different from the way you thought they should e done – I remember someone saying to me that everybody has a way of doing things that you might not approve of but at the end of the day you achieve the same results. You may disagree with the way it’s being done but you must respect that because things get there in the end.’

Then I asked Caroline whether there was one thing in particular she could recall. To get to the eye ward you go in through the main entrance to the hospital on College Road and turn right – you pass a restaurant on the left and on the right – and opposite the canteen there is the Hospital Chapel. Caroline spoke of her ‘disbelief at the way the hospital authorities had spent so much money doing up the dining room opposite the chapel when the chapel itself was in such a terrible state.

‘Something was telling me that something should be done for the chapel.

‘I remember it was almost like a calling I had. I remember taking our dog round the fields at Gotherington. As I was walking around the fields I almost could hear God talking to me, saying you must write and you must get the chapel re-vamped.

‘And I am so glad I did it!’

I then commented how well the chaplaincy is going in the hospital under Katie McClure and how people from Highbury are part of the chaplaincy team Katie has put together. Caroline went on to say,

‘I am so glad it is being used well and that it became my baby. I would make sure it was cleaned and take home all the brass to clean it just before Christmas.’

Paul had a very different kind of job.

He made tents.

He was passionate about telling as many people as possible all about the love of God in Jesus Christ. He had the kind of gifts that enabled him to explain the Christian faith really well, and persuade people to follow Jesus. And he was the kind of person who didn’t mind taking risks wherever he went – a really active kind of person who thought nothing of travelling.

On one occasion he wrote a letter to Christians in a place called Colossae. He spoke of all the kind of things that Christians need to take to heart throughout the whole of their lives, not least in the work place.

Listen to the reading from Colossians 3:12-17 that Jonquil is going to read – in it Paul lists quite a number of words that sum up the values we as Christians should have.

Listen carefully, and see if you can spot the words Paul uses. We will then see how many we can list.

Colossians 3:12-17

You are the people of God; he loved you and chose you for his own. So then, you must clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.

13 Be tolerant with one another and forgive one another whenever any of you has a complaint against someone else. You must forgive one another just as the Lord has forgiven you.

14 And to all these qualities add love, which binds all things together in perfect unity. 15 The peace that Christ gives is to guide you in the decisions you make; for it is to this peace that God has called you together in the one body. And be thankful. 16 Christ's message in all its richness must live in your hearts. Teach and instruct each other with all wisdom. Sing psalms, hymns, and sacred songs; sing to God with thanksgiving in your hearts.

17 Everything you do or say, then, should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.

Compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, tolerant, forgive, peace, wisdom

The last verse sums it all up …

Everything you do or say should be done in the name of the Lord Jesus, as you give thanks through him to God the Father.

‘Kindness’, I guess sums up what Barbara Murrell shared with me in the next of my visits.

Barbara is one of our older members who lives on her own not far from here. I called the other day to find her out. I was just reversing the car off her drive when who should I bump into … thankfully only metaphorically, but Barbara.

She was coming back from a day’s expedition to town, I took her bag – it was quite a weight and carried it into the house.

She had caught the bus into town that morning, done some errands in Cheltenham, caught the bus back to one of our local supermarkets on the way home for some more shopping and then caught the bus home. And at 4-30 she was arriving home … and ready for a cup of tea.

In the kitchen Barbara opened the door of her pantry. Would you take these into church, please, she asked me.

She proceeded to empty one shelf into a supermarket bag.

In Highbury News each month we ask people to buy something extra with their shopping each week and put it into the box so that County Community Projects can make up food parcels for use through the town.

Barbara keeps a shopping list handy with her of the goods CCP wants and always puts one thing extra into the bag which she then has to carry home.

In a couple of months she had accumulated a shelf-full and I took the tins and added them to our box.

That’s kindness for you – especially when you think Barbara has no car and carries her shopping in a shopping bag.

I asked her how she gets on when she does her shopping. She uses One of our local supermarket. This is what she said … I took it down, because in a moment you will see its relevance.

‘When I get to the till,’ Barbara told me, ‘I like to pack my own things. I do pack my own things as they come through the till … but some of the girls automatically pull a carrier bag out – but it’s not necessary!’

Barbara got quite agitated at that point and explained she cannot stand the waste of plastic bags – anyone who remembers Tom Murrell will know how passionate Barbara and Tom have been for many years about re-cycling. Any plastic bags she is reluctantly foisted with she takes to the local shop which probably explains why you come away from that local shop with supermarket bags from time to time!

‘Some of the girls don’t attempt to and leave it to me which is what I prefer because I don’t mind dealing with it myself.

‘When they whip things through I cannot cope with it in my bag – I then have to go and re-pack my bag to make it comfortable to carry home.’

I had not told Henrietta’s story before Barbara told me hers!! But I had heard it! Straightaway I made the connection.

Henrietta works behind the till at One of our local supermarkets, it is in fact the very same local supermarket!

When I said in church a couple of weeks ago that I was going to preach on this theme and I invited people to share their stories, Henrietta told me hers.

Henrietta has observed over the years that older people for the most part actually like to pack their own bags – it is part of what makes them feel independent.

So, what Henrietta does, is to time the things she puts through the checkout to the speed at which the person she is serving can pack their bag.

Because of this approach, and I guess because of that smile and helpfulness that Henrietta has as well!, she is quite popular especially among older people because of the way she serves them.

In telling her story Henrietta linked what she did in that way to that theme of service we have been talking about. She feels in doing that job that this is one of the ways she can serve people and so live out those Christian values in her work place.

We could leave it there. But Henrietta’s story now carries with it a sting in the tail.

At the checkout Henrietta of course scans each item into the till. The scanner is then linked to a computer and times the throughput at each checkout. Henrietta has targets to meet and the team leader will be observing the speed she puts things through. But the scanner will not take into account the person being served. The person on the checkout has to put things through as fast as possible.

And so the team leader has challenged Henrietta that she is not putting things through quickly enough. At this point Henrietta began to talk about the dilemma she finds herself in. That element of service has always been important to her as a Christian – and so she smiled at me and said, she ‘had a word with him up there’, and after her prayer she has decided to carry on serving people in the way they want to be served.

That has some implications for us as we do our shopping.

We need to remember Henrietta in our prayers as she faces a dilemma as a Christian in her workplace and give her the support she needs.

We perhaps ought to think twice again at the checkout as we head for the shortest queue and are impatient with that maybe older person in front of us who is taking a little longer to pack their bags than we would like.

After all, that list of values Paul puts together has a lot to say in the context not only of Caroline as a sister in charge of a ward in the hospital but also in the context of Henrietta behind the checkout at One of our local supermarkets – it is precisely those values of compassion, kindness, humility and gentleness that marks the work of both, indeed of all those we have been speaking of.

I guess Henrietta asks of us, and maybe those at work in hospital too, that we take to heart the last of the virtues Paul lists in that first listing of his in Colossians 3 … we need to remember that among the values that are important to each of us as Christians is ‘patience’.

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