From the Minister:
Summer feels unhurried and languid. This is in large part due to its length and the lengthening of its days, the heat, the allure of leisure, and the like. You, like me, may share memories of long hot summers particularly those of childhood during the never-ending school holidays when we felt ‘summer-drowsy’. Do I paint an idyllic picture? Probably. I do, however, feel there is something to cherish about the summers of long ago.
It’s probably a myth to think that all our summers past were lazy and hazy, but there is much to be said for using the season as an opportunity for ease and relaxation. The day to day realities for many, though, is that we do not all live at our leisure, neither do we have the time for unhurried activity. Lolling on a Victorian ‘day bed’ was what the leisured classes did in the latter 1800s and
early 1900s. Such unenergetic rounds would be anathema to some, as if we were cheating God who gave us life. Hence the Protestant Work Ethic, which suggests that each person live their life honestly and dutifully. This was evident in the thinking of the likes of the German reformer Martin Luther who re-shaped
understandings of work and labour – seeing them as noble. Calvinists (such as from some of our own puritan roots) espoused this principle too: that God had created us for his glory and that in turn we should not live a purposeless, selfish, existence, but that ‘work’ was to be regarded as both duty and
joy. This belief has been summed up in our hymnody. Take for example the hymn by Charles Wesley:
Forth in your name, O Lord, I go,
my daily labour to pursue,
you only, Lord, resolved to know
in all I think or speak or do.
The task your wisdom has assigned
here let me cheerfully fulfil;
in all my work your presence find,
and prove your good and perfect will.
Some may see their daily labour as a drudge, but the Christian ‘spin’ on work is that alongside duty it should be an offering to God, i.e., service to God and humanity. The Protestant understanding of work was that it should be marked by hard work and frugality and that such evidences as these were
the hallmark of the true believer.
Max Weber in his book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism (published in 1905), argued that Protestantism in harness with capitalism, gave Christian workers in northern Europe a sense that their labours were God’s will. In Britain, some people who were successful in trade were
nonconformist Christians, (including Quakers and Unitarians). If it were not for the Protestant Work Ethic, then maybe some of us might never have enjoyed the benefits of Christian entrepreneurs such as Henry Tate, a sugar refiner and Unitarian, who endowed an art gallery in London, or the chocolatier and Quaker, Joseph Rowntree, whose endowments still benefit the disadvantaged today.
Then there was Sir Titus Salt, a manufacturer and Congregationalist, who founded Saltaire in Shipley, West Yorkshire, out of which he ran his manufacturing base and housed his employees. David James notes in the Dictionary of National Biography that ‘Salt was deeply religious and sincerely believed that, by creating an environment where people could lead healthy, virtuous, godly lives, he was doing God's work.’ We are not those that live in the past, but there are some eternal principles that state how work is
good for us. After all, wasn’t Adam a gardener? Wasn’t David a shepherd? Wasn’t Paul a tentmaker? Wasn’t Luke a physician? Wasn’t the first woman convert in Europe (in Macedonia) a dealer in purple cloth? Last but by no means least, wasn’t our Lord a carpenter? Even retirement itself does not exempt us from labour. Labouring is God’s work and it is a lifetime achievement that will be
rewarded. As Charles Wesley wrote:
Help me to bear your easy yoke,
in ev'ry moment watch and pray,
and still to things eternal look
and hasten to that glorious day.
Then with delight may I employ
all that your bounteous grace has given,
and run my earthly course with joy,
and closely walk with you in heaven
COME AND LET YOURSELVES BE BUILT AS
LIVING STONES INTO A SPIRITUAL TEMPLE
1 Peter Ch.2 v5 (New English Bible)