Sign up to our monthly newsletter

Please confirm that you are happy to hear from The Church of Scotland:

You can unsubscribe at any time by clicking the link in the footer of our emails. For information about our privacy practices, please visit the Privacy Policy on our website.

We use Mailchimp as our marketing platform. By clicking below to subscribe, you acknowledge that your information will be transferred to Mailchimp for processing. Learn more about Mailchimp's privacy practices here.

Home  >  Features  >  Looking back - the Church in Industry

Looking Back

Thursday November 7 2013

Looking Back - The Church in Industry

An article by the Rev William Bodin, published in November 1943, calling attention to the Church of Scotland's scheme for industrial chaplaincy.

“THANK God the Church is doing something at last.” “The Church should have done something like this thirty years ago.”

These things have been said to me, not once, but over and over again, up and down the country. Every time I have heard them, I have felt great embarrassment, and I have gone out of my way to make it clear that the criticism implied in these words is unjust. Men and women in the Church, through all these hard, bitter years, have been acutely aware of the problems and difficulties that have so harassed the life of our time, and men and women in the Church have faced the challenge of these problems and difficulties, eagerly striving to bring the only solution into the life of our time.

And yet, where these words were spoken, they were not so very desperately wrong.

Picture to yourself a corner of a shipyard canteen – a group of earnest-faced men, who have listened with increasing attention while I told them of what the Church was trying to do – the Church’s new adventure, the Church on the move, the Church in action, it has been called all these things, but what’s in a name! Then came the questions. Straight questions-straight answers! Then silence, except for the pounding of my heart, and the beating question in my mind, “Will they welcome us? Or will they turn us down?” And then, the broken silence – “Thank God the Church is doing something at last.” “The Church should have done something like this thirty years ago.”

Not a criticism, but WELCOME on the threshold of lives of women and men, tired, anxious, and war-worn women and men, in the great Shipyards, in Engineering Works, in Iron and Steel Works, and in great and small War Factories – WELCOME to the Church.

The man and woman in the street, and in the factory – outside the Church – are not greatly to be blamed perhaps if it has seemed to them that the Church has become engrossed in herself, in her own domestic affairs, in ecclesiastical politics, in learning, or in the lives of peoples thousands of miles away, and has lost sight of the shrieking problems in the life at her own door. (The Church has always been a poor propagandist, and, perhaps, in spite of all the literature she produces, the worst self-advertiser in the world.)

For years past, the Church has been deeply conscious of the fact that people in alarmingly great numbers have been growing away from the Church, so that to-day the majority of people have very little regard for the Church, and give little thought to religion. That is the state of affairs. I have been challenged again and again to say who is to blame, but I am not very good at “post-mortems.” We could go on for ever slinging blame at one another, while the world hurtles on from tragedy to tragedy, from disaster to disaster. I don’t really care whether the dead past buries its dead or not; it is with the present, and the time to come, that I am concerned in my work in connection with the Church in Industry. The Church has something to give to life to-day, in its hour of trial and tragedy. The Church has a gospel to give, and, without that gospel of hope and promise, the future is doomed, no matter how perfectly men plan, and how gloriously men adventure.

That is the motive behind, and in, the Church’s approach to men and women in Industry. The Church is out to get to know and understand, at first hand, what men and women in Industry are “up against,” and the Church is out to contact men and women among the things that mean most to them, and that is in their work which means to them their daily bread, their homes, the welfare of those nearest and dearest to them, and their own self-fulfilment. And, let it be said, in the shadow of Industry lie the fears that distress their hearts and minds, all wrapt up in the word “insecurity.” And, let me say, when I speak of men and women in Industry, I do not refer only to those who work at the bench, but also to all the army of office-staffs, management personnel, and directors-they are all in the same boat, moved by the same tides, buffeted by the same storms, and broken on the same rocks of calamity, if calamity befalls.

It is with all this in mind, conscious of the things that have happened in the past, aware of the strain and stress of the pre-occupying present, and looking out on the problematic future, that the Church of Scotland has engaged in her great adventure through which she has set herself to get alongside the men and women of Scotland in their work. It is all so new this business of chaplains in Industry, but no so very new, for there is all the great tradition of chaplains in the Trade Guilds. And yet the arresting thing about it is its newness – the minister with his “dog-collar” moving among the men and women in overalls, amid the shattering noise of the workshop, or among the sweating, stripped-to-the-waist workers in the searing heat of the blast furnaces.

The Church is striving to install a minister as chaplain, or padre, in every Industrial Concern of any size in Scotland.

It was the Rev. R. Mackintosh, Secretary of the Home Board, who first brought the idea of the Church in Industry into practical shape, and to-day ministers are operating as chaplains in most of the large, and small, shipyards, mills, factories, etc., in Scotland. Ian Fraser (the Rev. Ian Fraser, B.D.), one of the most brilliant students of his time, went into a Factory as a workman, doing the same work as the men in the Factory, and as Padre to the workers. Ronnie Falconer (the Rev. R. H. W. Falconer, B.D.), a New Zealand Scot, or a Scottish New Zealander, was a pioneer, with his night-shift services in a Lanarkshire Iron Works. And all up and down the country, from the Borders to Shetland, ministers are throwing themselves into the work. It is a great team, an increasingly great team – there is no limit to the numbers needed on the Church’s side. As the one who has the responsibility for organising the team, I commend them all, and the job itself, and its future achievements to the prayerful interest of all in the Church.

Looking Back menu