Jonathan Hedgecock talks about the breadth of experience and engagement that both aspects of his exciting and chaotic working life provides.
I’m writing this in Hanoi, during the latest in a series of frequent business trips over the last couple of years in my job as a consultant. Most trips are Monday to Friday which means travelling at the weekend and missing a Sunday at my church every time. This reflects one of the definite conflicts that exists in my life as an Ordained Local Minister (or ‘OLM’) with a career in international consultancy: it’s often hard to put the “Local” in OLM.
I knew this was going to be a challenge when I was ordained ten years ago – the Vice Principal of the Ministry Course at the time wrote of my “chaotic lifestyle” in her final report; nothing has changed in the intervening decade. Despite this, I’ve found that ministry and secular work aren’t inevitably in conflict; what I do find though is I have to think very hard about what I’m doing and why.
On a good day, the connections between my ministry and my ‘day job’ are easy to spot.
Consultancy is first and foremost a ‘people’ business that relies on working relationships with colleagues, clients and ordinary people in often far flung places, just trying to get on with their lives.
"One of the great privileges of doing what I do is working with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and indeed religions."
One of the great privileges of doing what I do is working with people from different cultures, backgrounds, and indeed religions. I constantly observe that people are most alive when they can bring the whole of who they are into their working lives. Not that it is easy to do. The pressures of the working world to do everything more efficiently, to respond instantaneously and to achieve targets can all too often work against giving people the opportunity to be themselves.
I’d love to be able to tell you that being a priest in secular employment makes everything different, with constant opportunities for water cooler conversations about Jesus to unlock things for people. The reality is that it’s not like that. It can take a real effort to make time for the conversations I know people really want to have, and too frequently I miss those opportunities because of the pressures of my own job.
But sometimes things come together. There’ll be a conversation with someone trying to balance work and childcare who’s wondering what it’s all for; someone in the later stages of their career trying to find fulfilment after years doing the same thing; a chance conversation with someone on a plane going through tough times who suddenly finds a listening ear.
It's not just about finding opportunities to share my ministry and faith, though, but also sometimes a chance for personal reflection and development: a Buddhist colleague recently shared insights into the importance of trying to find space and stillness in a crowded, frenetic city.
"If this sounds rather haphazard and random, that's exactly what it is."
If this sounds rather haphazard and random, that’s exactly what it is. Often in the process of sharing reflections, in preaching or discussions back at my church, it all becomes a bit more ‘joined up’. But while ministry with a secular day job brings a rich diversity of experience, it isn’t a replacement for the depth of engagement with faith my stipendiary colleagues achieve. It can be a perpetual source of anxiety that somehow you’re not doing it properly, when you feel like you’re pinging from one place to the next, and never managing quite to catch up with yourself.
Is being an OLM and having a full time job complementary, or in competition? I've found it can be both.
The breadth of experience I get through engaging with the secular world offers important experience I wouldn't otherwise gain; the pressures of working life can get in the way of ministry. Achieving a balance between the two presents a challenge that inspires me in both worlds.