A friend in need? Index Home

Next week I am off on holiday for a week to Iona , the island on the west coast of Scotland – site in the sixth century of the first real foothold of Christianity in Great Britain .  So, to meet this issue’s deadline, I am writing this piece during a lunch break at work.  I have mentioned before, I am sure, the double life I lead.  By day, Monday to Friday, I am a consultant in structural analysis, working at MIRA Limited (the company formerly known as the Motor Industry Research Association – nothing to do with showers!).  At evenings and weekends I may be called upon to exercise my ordained ministry in a number of ways.  I shared in looking after West Orchard church during its recent vacancy.  At present I am running or planning a number of training courses for lay people in the Coventry district, principally to do with lay preaching skills and the theological background to that way of serving in the Church.

Now and then the two sides of life touch or overlap, though there’s not much preaching one can do while sitting looking at a computer screen!  Maybe just as well.  And I should say that it’s much more common for me to bring my experience from a life in industry to bear on church things than the other way round.  A few weeks ago, however, with a group of others, I was invited to lunch at the Institution of Mechanical Engineers (“the IMechE”), in London .  This is the professional body that looks after people in my line of work in the UK .  It was founded in 1847, with George Stephenson (of “Rocket” fame) as its first President.  These days it looks after maintaining training standards, offers a very good library service and organises a variety of conferences and meetings at national and local level.  Having cleverly spotted that I was the only member of the group who had the title “Reverend”, the current President invited me to say grace before the meal.  Very nice the meal was, too – reassuring to see our subscriptions are put to good use!  After eating, we were all invited to say something of our view of the Institution and our current career position.

When it came to my turn, I reflected on the way I regard the Institution and the way my need for it has come and gone over the years.  I am sure it’s true of many others in other fields who have a similar over-arching organisation looking after their particular speciality.  As you finish education, and look towards moving into a certain field, you perhaps require guidance on which college course to take.  As you complete your time at college, you would like to know what initial, practical, training is going to maximise your job opportunities later on, or ensure that you have a chance at the specific career that interests you.  Moving a little way up the ladder, you look again to someone to help you with specific technical problems.  Yet later, as you find yourself recruiting rather than being recruited, you want your employees’ qualifications to conform to nationally accepted standards.  In other words, you turn to (in my case) the IMechE at the times in your life when you have a special need, and largely ignore it the rest of the time!

Isn’t that just like the way many people regard the Church?  The other week I conducted what I reckon is my 50th wedding since I was ordained.  I had not seen the couple involved before we first met to discuss the service.  It’s unlikely that we will meet again.  The same will be true of others in the months and years to come, and not just of wedding couples.  Those bringing children to the church seeking baptism, those in sadder circumstances seeking a Christian funeral for a relative.  We will not see them from week to week, Sunday by Sunday.  But they turn to the church when they need us.

But that is not a bad thing.  We would like to have full churches week by week, we would like to be visibly strong and use the medium of regular worship to build up and encourage the members of the Church family.  But numbers in church are not the only measure of success.  And so, like the Institution, I hope the church keeps itself ready for those times when we can be a friend to those who turn to us in need.

 (c) Copyright Bill Young 2004