Over the past 10 years I have been very involved, for a number of reasons, in building relations with business communities and leaders in Leeds and Doncaster, writes Bishop of Doncaster Peter Burrows. A few years ago I even studied with the Institute of Directors and was a member of the Institute.
When I first started to show an interest in the business community, I received a number of sceptical and even cynical responses – primarily because in the past the church had only shown interest in business either to criticise its practice or ask for its money. This was particularly highlighted during the last economic crisis.
My interest in business was inspired by a passion to understand how business worked, what the issues were for any particular company, how this impacted on their workforce and what the issues were for them – but also how companies took seriously their corporate responsibility to their workforce and the wider communities in which they were set. After meeting a prominent Christian businessman in Leeds, Mr Keith Madley, a number of doors opened and I discovered a warm welcome and openness, not only to meeting with me to share views and opinions but to listening to what the Christian church had to say. This led to some interesting and challenging conversations on both sides which continue today here in Doncaster. I discovered many Christians already at work in business and alongside them numerous good and caring leaders. The caricatures of greedy, uncaring people in business are over exaggerated. Although the economy is recovering, business can still be a hostile environment. Although unemployment is at a new low, there are still thousands of people out of work and even those in work are often on low wages or zero ours contracts. This has implications.
A member of my own family has worked for two years in the same place, doing the same job, working a full-time week but on a zero hours contract and therefore finds it impossible to get a mortgage and has the constant worry that one day it may simply be terminated.
Business leaders and their workforce need support. They need to be nurtured and encouraged. This is where the church can play a significant role. The church needs to be visible amongst businesses supporting and coming alongside those in often stressful environments, making the love of God known to them. The Church’s involvement in business may not be at the top of a company’s agenda, but through this column I assure them of our support and prayers. The Church should promote business and entrepreneurship as a noble vocation that requires vision, passion, risk-taking, persistence and decisiveness which emulate the character of God.