Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Nehemiah: more than I budgeted for!

Today's morning prayer reading was perhaps just a little too close for comfort by bringing Nehemiah 13.15-17 into our gaze this morning. Too close because the words it contains are indeed timely in the light of what will be happening in the Palace of Westminster today with the budget and the expected announcement of a review of Sunday trading legislation.

Now for those of us who aren't too aware of the passage, here it is in modern language and contextualised for the UK:

'In those days I saw men of England, hard at work on a Sunday. They were opening their shops and selling their goods - they were hard at it, living and working as if it were just any other day. So I (Nehemiah that is) rebuked them and said, 'Stop it!' But then I saw people from other places delivering goods and providing services and the motorways were full of commercial transport just like every other day.

So I confronted the people in charge. 'Why are you profaning the Sabbath in this evil way?  Doing this is asking for trouble - look at previous generations and the foolishness that they  did whilst thinking they were being wise! This might look good but it is asking for trouble, mark my words.'

Now Nehemiah was concerned with God and the commandment (No.3) about keeping the Sabbath as a day of rest. He was concerned that not keeping it would damage the people because it would tick God off and would do something that weakened the people. 

This is something I get on an up close and personal level as people often take me to task for 'working too hard'! 'Stop!' they say, 'You're doing too much, when do you take a day off (do you know how you make me look (or feel) when you work so hard?'

It is important for us to take a day off each week - the Church of England expect their clergy to work six days a week and have one sabbath rest day for themselves - because this keeps us fresh and healthy and doing stuff well. This keeps us in line with the commandment (No.3) and within the working hours directive because they expect us to put in (so one bishop told me) 48* hours per week and no more!

All very nice for those of us with dogcollars I'm sure but working where I do, in an estate church/Urban priority Area, the changing of shop opening hours has already taken its toll on those who have a 'real' job**. Further changes, whilst perhaps good for the companies who sell stuff and the people who provide services - those who make money and own the businesses, will undoubtedly cause those around me to struggle as more firms might choose to make Sunday just another day!

The 'improved convenience' argument will undoubtedly be raised - after all, it worked when we had the Olympics in London. So too will the need to combat online shopping by opening shops for longer and on each and every day of the week. Add to this the argument that changes in the shopping hours will lead to more jobs, greater income for shops and service providers and more money moving around the economy and supporting the changes is a no-brainer. But what, I wonder, if it turns out that this isn't true?

But I have to say that the user manual God gave us (AKA the Bible) has some good user tips and makes valid points about the needs of the family and the individual. With regard to Sunday being the Sabbath, well as I see it the key is that the Sabbath rest occurs somewhere each week - so I'm not banging a gong to get people into church on any particular day (just tell me when you fancy being Church and I'll do it wherever and whenever works!

Here's a few thoughts to ponder:

1. Many of those I know who work already do whatever it is that they do to bring in money to the detriment of their own health and lifestyle and to the detriment of their family. To extend hours or add extra days will only cause families to suffer; money must not become the main factor here.

2. Many of those I know are engaged in more than one job and many of them are caught in the abomination that is zero hour working contracts. Some places have people unable to work elsewhere in case they are called upon by their zero hour employer. But when they call them in they find themselves waiting (unpaid) until the need to use them arrives and so they might have eight hours in which only two are worked and paid for! I can see extending hours and the shops who can open becoming an additional burden upon the already disadvantaged.

An interesting aside here is that the much vaunted 'job creation' is a myth. There are few additional jobs - just more pressure on them that have to be willing to add to hours (and days worked) and be more compliant.

3. The expansion of retail hours especially takes a toll on the working lives of women. Not anything gender political here, it's what numerous studies have shown and it works both ways for there's more engaged in part-time employment and there's more pressure on those who work to be able to shop when they are not - and this might mean between 22:00 and 06:00. So one side of the issue drives the other which then necessitates longer shopping hours to cater for the created need. Positive feedback where the noise increases and society eventually implodes I fear!

4. For those who already work in some of the bigger places on a Sunday this has become the day when the grandparents (or others) have the children. This but pressures on the ageing population and restricts the quality engagement of those who are parents. It has had the knock-on effect that many estranged parents are now Sunday parents because their 'ex' needs some form of childcare to enable them to work and they are it!

5. There is something extremely valid in terms of honouring God and that occurs anywhere and any time but setting a day aside to recharge batteries, reconnect with family and plug in to God is a win-win-win as I see it (but please note the fact that I'm using the world's observations and realities rather than just use the 'God says...' approach: Which would be just as valid of course ;-) ).

So here's a plea regarding Sunday trading and working hours generally. Please look at all the issues here and be sensible and sensitive to the needs of families and our society as a whole. After all, what does it profit a person to work four more hours on a Sunday and destroy their health and their family life?

Just saying (along with Nehemiah that is).


One place that will need to be 'open all hours!'

 *Interestingly, another pointyhat told me that they expected no more than 42 hrs - like them a lot as that's would be a three day week (plus Sunday) here!

** Here 'real job' (according to those who tell me I don't have such) means one where you have to work for an employer rather than exist as we do in the clergy where we work for ourselves. (Oddly, I thought I worked in a family firm!)


underground pewster said...

In the U.S. many cities used to have "Blue Laws" which forbade most retail trade on Sundays. These were gradually whittled away and now anything goes unless you try to go to a Chick-fil-
A restaurant after church. They are closed on Sundays as the Christian owners take the Sabbath seriously. Many youth sports leagues play or practice or travel to games on Sunday mornings now and I can see the gradual erosion of people's awareness of the need to commune with God on a weekly basis as they are occupied with work, shopping, and play.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

We have the same problems here as football and rugby and other activities now see Sunday as a little more than another day in which to fill the timetables.

recently a youth organisation I'm engaged with put on a special event on what was Mothering Sunday and many of the parents went bonkers! 'Don't they know today is a special day?' they cried - and few of those expected attended!

One of the biggest 'Sunday isn't any different from the rest of the week' advocates was quite vocal on the subject of keeping special days special - but only when it suits them it seems.

Hey Ho!

Thanks for comments,


Jenni said...

I don't know what goes on in the Churches you and your readers minister to I suspect from reading your blog much more than most, but from where I am standing I just wish/pray we had something so attractive that people would give up work to give that day to God.

We sit in our pews singing a "dirge", hardly speak to one another, resist all change then wonder why no one comes over the threshold. May God forgive us for not giving a better alternative to work.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Here we find that those who come tend to stay afterwards (this was true last week when we were visited by a number of unchurched folk too) because it's a fun place to be. Dirges aren't ever on the menu (unless we're reading from Matthew 7) and we find church to be a place of children running with streamers and adults tapping their toes.

Jenni, thanks for the observation - will be praying that the sun shines and the church leave the building so that they can bring others back into it as Church.



Shelly Ann said...

What a wonderful post and what a great perspective you have given me on this argument.



Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Almost expect a link whe the post is so positive and affirming!

Must be becoming a cynic :-)