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Thursday, 1 October 2015

Business Harvest Festival: What is your work for?

At St Stephen Walbrook in the City of London we have a tradition that companies in the parish designate someone to bring an object to represent their work and to place it on the altar as a symbol at the beginning of our Business Harvest Festival service. Businesses and organisations representing the work found in the Parish of St Stephen this year included: Arthur J Gallagher, The City of London Police, The Don Restaurant and ‘Sign of the Don’, Rynda Property Investors, Vestra Wealth LLP, The Friends of the City Churches, U3A, London Internet Church, City of London Corporation, Sir Robert McAlpine, Christian Aid, commission4mission, Walbrook Music Trust, Threadneedle Asset Management, Central London Samaritans, British Arab Commercial Bank and Coq d’Argent, among others.

Among the items placed on the Henry Moore designed altar this year were a PCSO's black bowler, bolts, bronze and glass from local construction sites, paintings and drawing, a variety of reports and brochures, bread, wine and fruit, a hi-vis jacket, and a telephone representing the work of Samaritans. Following the service, we heard from the City of London Police about #WeStandTogether, a National community led initiative to #celebrate our difference: promote #respect & tolerance; building a safer, stronger #UnitedKingdom.
Here is the sermon I preached at the service:

What is your work for? This is a question that I frequently use as an ice-breaker in sessions exploring the connections between faith and work. It is an interesting question to ask because you are likely to get a different answer depending on the person you ask. To your CEO, the answer may be about the overall profitability of the organisation. To your line manager, it may be about the achievement of targets, while for those you live with it may be about the salary you bring home and the way it enables you to live. Your customers will give a different answer again. For them, your work is likely to be about customer service; the service or product that you deliver to them.

What is your work for? The different answers we give can help us in identifying the harvest which results from our work. For most of us here the harvest resulting from our work won’t be the traditional harvest of food; something that we try to recognise here with our display of symbols of our work rather than the more traditional display of harvest food. The traditional timing of harvest represented a key moment in the agricultural cycle but the key moments in our work schedule are unlikely to fall at the same time of year, so, once you’ve answered the question, it might be more helpful for you to think of your harvest as falling at a key point in your working year – accountants at the end of the tax year, students and teachers when exam results are published, shop assistants during sales, and so on.

What is your work for and how might God answer that question? In thinking that through, we might consider what Jesus said in answer to the question about which is the greatest commandment. He spoke there about love for God, ourselves, and our neighbour. By including love of our neighbour in his answer he would almost certainly want us to focus our thinking on the ways in which our work benefits others, whether individually (as customers) or more broadly (as a society) and prioritise those things in the way that we work. We often describe this aspect of business purpose, impact or harvest in terms of Corporate Social Responsibility, whether that means volunteering, philanthropy, sustainability or other issues and impacts. Here, at St Stephen Walbrook, we will be exploring some aspects of Corporate Social Responsibility during November with a programme of exhibitions, events and services about Philanthropy in the City.

Research indicates that tackling Corporate Social Responsibility issues improves profitability. Will Hutton noted in a newspaper article, ‘recent work by a group of researchers at Harvard and the London Business School compared 90 American companies that took sustainability seriously with 90 who did not. Over 18 years the 90 committed to sustainability delivered annual financial returns 4.8% higher than the other 90. Today’s Guardian features the Open for Business report which claims that when companies address diversity issues, ‘you attract better people, it lowers costs … [and] makes [staff] more productive and more entrepreneurial and so the company has better output.’ That sounds like a Harvest for all!

One benefit that all businesses provide in society is the alleviation of poverty by the creation of jobs. Whatever other impacts your business may have on society, this will be an impact or harvest that is common to all our organisations, whether insurance, banking, hospitality, retail, tourism, law, emergency services, construction, property development, the City civic and other sectors and businesses. We can join together in thanking God for the harvest of jobs that businesses, shops, and other organisations here in the City deliver.

What is your work for? There are different answers depending on who we ask. None of them are wrong. They are all in the mix and we need to address them all as we go about our business. What is your work for? The different answers we give can help us in identifying the harvest which results from our work. What is your work for? God wants us to focus our thinking on the ways in which our work benefits others, whether individually (as customers) or more broadly (as a society) in order that we prioritise those things in the way that we work. That is a Harvest for all for which we can all be working all the time. Amen.


St George's Windsor - Come, Ye Thankful People, Come.

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