Taking The Message of Christ Into The Workplace
Most people find holding down one job a challenge but for the Reverend Adele Phillips there’s a double challenge from posts which are very different.
The main focus of Adele’s ordained ministry is as a Minister in Secular Employment working within the Criminal Justice System on Tyneside. That means she spends most of her time in a conventional workplace.
She is a qualified solicitor working as a magistrates’ legal adviser at Newcastle’s Magistrates’ Courts and is also attached to Gateshead Parish Team where she takes two or three services a month.
She said: “While this is a fulfilling job, I gradually felt there was something missing, that I should be doing something else as well. I was finally ordained a few years ago.
The role of a Minister in Secular Employment is not always understood even by members of the Church. Adele said, “There are still many who see ministry in secular employment as a bit of a ‘hobby’. Not all share the very supportive view of Bishop Mark, the Bishop of Jarrow, who affirms ministry in the workplace and who actually came to spend a day job-shadowing me to see exactly what I do.
I am not a part-time priest – there is no such thing. Every hour of my week is spent in ordained ministry. Ordained ministry is not defined by particular tasks which only a priest can perform, it is a sense of being that is taken into every aspect of daily life. This is how the church reaches and relates to the world at large.
I am the only priest that many of my weekly contacts will ever meet. I am certainly the only priest that most will know to talk to, work with, argue with, experience everyday life with. In a sense it’s an onerous thought that people may judge the priesthood, the church and even Christianity by how I behave. My presence dispels the mystique that sometimes can surround ordained ministers. While that was always one of my intentions, it is a huge responsibility.
Ministry in secular employment can be a lonely ministry. When I take church services I am dressed as a priest and acknowledged as such. This sort of affirmation does not happen in the workplace. Most of the time it is an invisible ministry.
Being attached to a supportive parish is vital. I am fortunate in being part of the Gateshead Parish Team. My ministry is recognised and supported by my ordained colleagues and by the congregation. I am given the encouragement and space to carry out my ministry at work with relatively few parish responsibilities.
There is no blueprint for ministry in the workplace, it is very much a case of seeing how it goes. I am amazed and delighted that the more I experience the more I see the need for such ministry. My most important campaign is still progressing – that is to help the church realise not just the validity of ministry in the workplace but its necessity for the life, development and growth of the church itself.
I work alongside people of all beliefs and no belief. A day does not pass without some conversation about matters of faith – conversation that only happens because people know I am a priest. My supervising parish priest recently put it thus - your ministry reaches the parts other ministries cannot reach. While this makes me feel somewhat likened to a beer advertisement, I understand and appreciate what he means.
Importantly, my life at work also impacts on my ministry within Gateshead Parish. It is not a ‘one way street’. The church learns about God from the world as well as the world learning of God from the church.
A fuller version of Adele's interview can be read here.
Picture by: Keith Blundy / Aegies Associates
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