God at work is a risky business

Sometimes God takes us right up to the edge

When is a good time to tell your employer that you are exploring ordination and might quit the job?  A good time would be well away from any contract renewal discussions.  Just after a job contract is renewed might be okay, although the employer might not be so pleased.  How about at the meeting with your boss to discuss the possibility of renewing your contract?  Now that would be stupid.

That’s what I thought.  Apparently God sees things differently.

I have been on single year contracts for a few years now and this Friday marks the end of my current one.  There had been occasional words said, mostly by be, raising the possibility of renewing the contract but all had come to nothing: my contract was a high priority for me but not my employers.

At this delicate time came the need to collect references for a Bishops’ Advisory Panel that I might go to.  Two hadn’t been a problem, my vicar’s and my lay referees’ references, but the other two were proving problematic.  Silence has greeted my requests for an academic reference, suggesting that it will be a difficult one to obtain.  Sorting out my employment reference was a more delicate affair.

I had hoped it wouldn’t be needed until well after my contract had hopefully be renewed.  Alas on Monday I had an email asking if I could arrange an employment reference of some sort now.  It didn’t need to be from my current employer, a past one would do, but it had to be from someone who could comment on the type of person I am.

That posed a problem.  Prior to working where I do now I had been a supply teacher.  My employer had been an agency whose only interaction with me was asking if I was available to teach.  They weren’t going to be able to provide a good reference.

Before teaching my employer was a university, the source of the academic reference that is proving hard to get.  So I had to go further back in time to my church who employed me, and who are already providing a reference, and then further back to an employer that has been so heavily and regularly restructured that there would be no one who knew me.  It all pointed to one thing, my current employer had to be my employment reference.

Midway through last week I met with my boss to discuss renewing my contract.  I realised that this was going to be the time I was being called to raise the subject of ordination, the reference and the possibility that I might be leaving the organisation even if they did renew the contract.  It was a mixture of God and practicality speaking.  Within me though I could hear a voice screaming out “don’t be such an idiot, it’s too risky”.

Explaining ordination is a challenge at the best of times.  There is a lot of work, meetings and time involved in exploring and discerning something that might not even happen.  It isn’t just that you have to convince people to allow you to do it, you have to be convinced yourself.  If, for whatever reason, you end up not training for ordination you will probably still need a job, I certainly will.

My sense of the insanity of my thoughts grew as my boss explained that the organisation was concerned about my level of commitment to them.  My application and interview for another job in the past year had alarmed them.  It hadn’t occurred to them that keeping me guessing as to whether I would have a job each year might make me look elsewhere.  My incredulity at hearing that was mixed with the obvious need to convince them of my commitment to the organisation; raising the prospect of leaving them at the same time felt like committing employment suicide.

I painted a vague picture of numerous possibilities and felt a bit dishonest as I emphasised options that would enable me to continue working for the organisation.  It was taken fairly well, though I was left in the dark as to the extent it had affected my employment prospects: I left the meeting not knowing if I was going to be out of a job in a few days time.

With my bosses permission, I let the diocese know that they could contact him to ask for a reference.  They wasted no time.  The following day a meeting request appeared in my inbox, my boss had received the request and was rather alarmed.  Things looked decidedly dicey.

We met the next day, though I didn’t know exactly what for.  Was it going to be where I heard that of my employers increased disappointment at my lack of commitment to them?  Was I going to be told that my contract wasn’t being renewed?  I was kept on tenterhooks right to the end of the meeting.

The meeting turned out to be a time for my boss to go through the reference with me and discuss his possible answers to the 18 questions before him. It also proved to be an eye opener on my presence as a Christian in a secular workplace.

It was plainly obvious to my boss and my colleagues that I was a Christian, it isn’t something I keep a secret.  He commented on my “higher sense of morality”, and on the greater degree of honesty and empathy he said I demonstrated.  He appreciated that whilst I am happy to answer any questions about my faith I don’t preach at people.  As I explained to my boss, my experience tells me that preaching at people wasn’t a method that made many people want to look into the faith; it was an approach that had turned me away from Christianity before I came to believe.

For me, being a Christian in a secular environment means ‘being’ rather than ‘preaching’.  It means taking a longer road of creating opportunities for people to talk about the faith on their own terms.  No one can be forced to believe in anything.  People need to come at things with an open and enquiring mind, removing the barriers that have been erected which prevent that takes time.

The meeting came to an end with no mention of my contract.  As we returned to our desks I raised the subject as casually as I could.  Equally casually my boss replied that the organisation’s intention was to offer me a permanent contract.  My relief at such an apparent irony was palpable.

In testing my faith and obedience God had taken me to the edge of unemployment.  He rewarded me not just with the reference I needed but with an insight into His presence in the workplace.  The need for a reference had created opportunities to share and discuss my faith, and liberated me from the need to keep exploring ordination a secret.

Now if you don’t mind God, could I actually see that contract now please?

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