Workship 2 Melbourne book launch speech by Dr Rosemary Wong

 Rosemary Wong launching  Workship 2  in Melbourne

Rosemary Wong launching Workship 2 in Melbourne

WORKSHIP 2 BOOK LAUNCH    JULY 2018

I recall vividly the first time I had occasion to talk about Workship 2 in conversation – in fact, the book was just being printed at the time. Mathis and I were visiting a downtown church in Vancouver this past March. We found ourselves sitting in front of Caroline and Jeff who were likewise visiting just for that weekend, from Seattle. We soon discovered that we both knew Kara as they had lived in Sydney ten years ago. It was an incredible God-moment! I excitedly shared that Kara had just written her second book on faith-work integration - to which she confided that actually they had just had a most difficult week because Jeff had been made redundant after 17 years working at the same place. Personally, I have to confess that I do not have much experience interacting with Christians who have lost their jobs, so I was lost for words. So I was thankful to be able to point them to this wonderful resource, Workship2 in which Kara had written on this challenging issue. She writes 4 lessons, out of her own recent painful time of unemployment – first, that we are never without work; second, that God wants us to separate our identity from our work; third, that God wants us to receive our self-esteem from His love; and fourth, that God wants us to look to him for our security. Kara also affirms in her book the importance of the church community during these difficult times. Indeed, Caroline and Jeff, despite their bad week, came to church – and they were powerfully reminded that if God could bring two random couples from around the world together who both knew Kara, then this God could do the impossible for their tough situation.

Not only is there a chapter on unemployment, but there are chapters on other common workplace challenges- work-life balance, handling bullying and conflict, toxic workplaces, ambition, ethical decision making and dealing with stress. I have been a member of the Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship (Vic) (CMDFA(Vic)) for many years. This is a national, and international association of Christian doctors and dentists that seeks to equip us to integrate faith, work and life. Last year, I conducted a mini-survey of our membership to better understand the issues that most concerned them. Well, it is no surprise that the list completely overlaps with the very issues that Kara writes about in Workship2. Work-life balance was the top hit, and here Kara reminds us to consider the Biblical view of rest and play, to know what is important to God and to be good stewards of our time, talent and treasure. She concludes that chapter with another of what has become her signature beautiful prayers, ‘To the God of rest, Grant us such balanced lives that there is time for you, and time for others, and time for renewing our heart, mind, body and spirit’.

Another item of struggle identified by CMDFA members was ambition. We don’t know what to do with this very real urge and drive, and we are preached at that ambition has no place in a good Christian’s life! It was wonderfully refreshing to read Kara’s corrective as she introduces the concepts of ‘non-selfish ambition’, and actually – the ‘gift of ambition’!

Last year one of our Life Group members went through one of the most difficult times of her life, when she and several colleagues were persistent targets of bullying by their boss at a major Australian hospital. My friend and her colleagues eventually left the hospital. As I read Kara’s chapters on bullying and toxic workplaces, and reflected again on my friend’s experience, I resonated with the wisdom of what Kara has written when she says, ‘stay, pray, persevere… but when it becomes toxic for your soul, leave’. I know that these chapters will be an incredible resource for all who unfortunately find themselves in similar troubling places, and sadly it isn’t as uncommon as we might think.

As I continued to read Kara’s book, I realised that actually, it did not take long for me to identify people from within my own circle who had been impacted by broken workplaces! A former fellow Ridley student returned to working in a bank after her MDiv. She was shocked that she was expected to gloss over the credit ratings of potential overseas home loan applicants. Her performance was pegged to the volume of borrowings she could pull in. She rightly felt terribly conflicted, and decided she had to leave. On Page 33 in concluding the chapter on Ethical-decision making, Kara writes, ‘A wise man once told me that the final question he asked himself when making a difficult decision is: ’How will I feel if that decision is portrayed as the lead story on a digital news source tomorrow morning?’ Well we now know that the Royal Commission findings into the banks’ bad behavior have been nothing short of damning! It is not only street-wise wisdom we find in Kara’s book, but always there is biblically-informed wisdom, and prayers of refreshing honesty.

From dealing with issues that ruffle the soul in the workplace, Kara also reminds us that wherever possible, we have the responsibility as image bearers of God to seek to redeem our workplaces. I loved her ideas of hospitality and beauty in the workplace. She tells us real stories of CMDFA students blessing their fellow students with hot cross buns at Easter time, or the worker who show-cased her tea-cups and tea in her office and invited co-workers into a shared moment…It gave language to my own practices of buying coffee for my team when I am on ward service at the hospital, or placing lovely paintings or Ken Duncan books in my medical practice. The number of times these have been conversation starters with my patients has been wonderful – in that moment, I feel as if I have opened a window to get to know them better, or that I have opened a door to take them outside of their medical complaint. But always, Kara brings us back to ‘Jesus the “irresistible leader”’, form in us Lord, ‘Jesus-shaped leadership’ with the qualities of humility and servanthood, ‘help us to glorify you, and not ourselves, in every part of our leading’.

I feel as if we have received in Workship 2, two books for the price of one! Section 2 offers an extravagant array of invaluable resources for churches, leaders and those who train church leaders to equip workplace Christians. There is a plethora of ideas to use within church services, within church communities and beyond the church walls. As I read this section, I could hear again strong echoes of my late father, who repeatedly taught me as I was growing up, that our mission is beyond the four walls of the church, that we can reach people the pastor will never come into contact with. Long before work-theology became a category, my father had modelled its essence for me. And so I lapped up every bit of section 2, like dry land when the rains have finally come, basking in the flowering of a concept I had lived through and longed that it might come to fruition.

I attended a Melbourne church for decades. They held an Annual Missions’ Conventions – they still do – fabulous events, but I wilted, and was somehow made to feel not very spiritual when I didn’t go forward at the call to give my whole life to full time overseas missionary service. Then in 1997 at a service at National Presbyterian Church Washington DC, it was to be my last Sunday after completing 5 years of work, and preparing to return to Melbourne. The Pastor introduced a new ministry of Nurses in the Church, and then invited all healthcare professionals to stand to be commissioned for their work. I had never encountered anything like this before and it was for me, a very deeply moving experience – in fact, I have kept the church bulletin from that Sunday, the memory of which will forever be etched in my brain.

If you are a pastor or church worker, read Kara’s book to bless your people as they seek the affirmation and encouragement they are waiting to hear from you that what they do in their places of work during the week matters greatly to God. Read Kara’s book for the brilliant ideas she offers on sermons, on how to run church services with workplace themes, how to run interviews with workers in your congregations, how to commission them, how to visit them in their workplaces just as Jesus did, and how to bring your pastor to work. There are also incredibly rich resources on mentoring workers, and chaplaincy in the workplace. We think that chaplains are special people – yes they are – but in a very real sense, every Christian worker is an ‘informal chaplain’ offering hospitality, care and counsel within the workplace! We may smile at how churches want only what they can get from businesses, like the 10% off coffee for their parishioners, but we are challenged by Kara’s writing on how the church can not only be the presence of Christ in the workplace, but ‘the servant of the community’.

As if all this was not sufficient meat for this volume, Kara tackles two new areas – women at work, and the future of work. Every time the Proverbs 31 woman is brought up, I cringe, and so I was pleasantly encouraged by Kara’s reflections around the Proverbs 31 woman. She tells how God calls women to multiple roles – ‘from a position of strength, and not compulsion, and never from exhaustion, weakness or desperation’. And what of the speculations on the future of work - Robotics, artificial intelligence, insecure project-based work, distance-work? Kara draws us back in her prayer that always, through change and despite change, we will work to protect the vulnerable, and the voiceless, to love mercy, act justly and walk humbly.

There is so much in Workship 2 that is biblical, wise, practical, rich and beautiful. Kara has planted stories of real people in all the right places, she has gathered the pearls from Beuchner to Henri Nouwen to Stevens & Banks to Mark Greene so we don’t need to go dredging. She has cleverly peppered her work with scriptural references from The Message, such as the antidote to stress she quotes Matt 11:28-30, as Jesus bids us ‘learn the unforced rhythms of grace’.

Workship 2 is for all of us. Workship 2 has the feel of a good friend with whom you want to sit, in a quiet space in your favourite chair, with a cuppa and there listen deeply to what Jesus would say to you through this book. You will keep coming back to this book. You can use it for your own personal devotions, or in a group study. I had opportunity to show a paragraph of this book to a pastor, who responded by saying that actually, his theology of work is under-developed and perhaps this would be a good time to run a sermon series on ‘Oh God it’s Monday!’ He asked that I pick up both volumes for him.  It is a joy and privilege for me to launch Workship 2, a hand-in-glove volume to Workship 1, and I warmly commend them both to you.

Christmas is not all that far away! Don’t just buy a copy for yourself. You won’t regret picking up multiple copies tonight because it is such a perfect present, whether for yourself, your friends, your library or your pastoral team! Kara, I can’t wait for Workship 3! All glory be to God!

Rosemary Wong

Consultant Endocrinologist, Chair of Melbourne School of Theology, Vice-Chair of Eastern College Australia, Chair Christian Medical and Dental Fellowship of Australia (Vic)