This sermon by George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, was given in Derby England on May 10,1992. It is reproduced here as part of "Work in Worship," a collection of material for work-themed services compiled by David Welbourn. For more sermons, prayers, songs, and readings about work, click on the table of contents to the right.
It is a delight to be with you all today, paying my first visit as Archbishop to the Diocese of Derby. I once lived and worked in Nottingham, but I don't expect you to be impressed by that! As if determined not to confuse your two neighbouring cities, the Church of England has placed Derby in the Province of Canterbury and the Diocese of Southwell, which covers Nottinghamshire, in the Province of York. It prevents any tribal warfare between you spilling over into the life of the Church. An archbishop receives many invitations to preach but rarely at services thanking God for the achievements of British industry. That is why I was keen to accept, especially as Europe prepares to become a single market. Those twin themes of industry and Europe will be the focus of this address.
Industry. The word may sound unspiritual. Yet we celebrate the industrious, the diligent, those who apply themselves to the care of others. The very word industry includes both a reference to diligence as well as referring to the organisation and production of goods and services. Without both of these, we cannot have a civilised society. Deny the need for industriousness and organisation and we cannot feed the hungry, clothe our children, preserve our health or heal the sick. God gives us our unique gifts as human beings in order to work hard in serving him and our neighbours - not so that we can sit back and leave it to him, or even to other people. That is the meaning of the Parable of the Talents, which we heard as our Second Lesson. We must use our human ingenuity positively, actively, lovingly, tirelessly and account later for what we have done. Complacency spells the end not just for a commercial company. It is death to Christian discipleship too. Doing God's will requires ceaseless effort in his service.
Somehow a myth has circulated that the Church of England is hostile or indifferent to the creation of wealth. We would not be worshipping in this cathedral without it. The Diocese of Derby could not be created until it had a sufficient endowment fund. By 1927 there was enough money collected, raised and created. The £70,000 it took sounds like small beer today but it was big money then. There were rueful thoughts that centuries earlier some dioceses were created not so much by wealth creation as wealth confiscation. Those were the days when some handy monastic property might be appropriated. These days the Church of England knows all about creating wealth. Ask the Provost here and he will tell you there's no pot of gold supporting the life and ministry of this cathedral. Financial backing has to be created, earned, attracted by the vibrancy of its Christian faith and life.
Followers of the Lord who told the Parable of the Talents can scarcely be critical of applying human skills and intelligence to the resources given us by God, in order to create things of value and use to other people. Unless we want ever greater poverty and destitution, we must honour and encourage those who use their God-given talents to help produce goods and services for others. Without them we cannot have a plentiful planet and the human adventure will end with the same wailing and grinding of teeth that awaited the servant who failed to use his talent.
Biblical scholars amongst you will know that in the New Testament the talent (talenton) is a sum of money - a big sum, reckoned to be about 15 years' wages for a labourer. But - and it's a big BUT - the story of the talents is not intended to mean that the more money anyone makes, the better God is pleased! It is a parable, about using the gifts given us by God for His purposes - not for any old purpose. It is about being creative with our lives, with what God entrusts to us, but also about being surprised by God's call to account. It is immediately followed by Jesus explaining what God will be looking for at the time of judgement.
Then the King will say to those on his right hand, 'You have my Father's blessing; come, enter and possess the Kingdom that has been ready for you since the world was made. For when I was hungry, you gave me food; when thirsty, you gave me drink; when I was a stranger you took me into your home; when naked you clothed me; when I was ill you came to my help; when in prison you visited me.
Jesus goes on to explain that "anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me" (Matthew 25:34-40). These, then, are the kind of ends to which God calls us to use our talents. And each of us has talents. Make no mistake about that. We may not have 15 years of wages stored up, but we can take that unit of money to represent our skills, abilities and diligence. Up and down the country the talents of people in our inner cities have been released by projects they have started and which have been helped by the Church Urban Fund. Locally - in Derby - the Crimebeat initiative works on similar principles. Young people produce their own ideas to combat crime and are supported to implement them. Ends as well as means are important.
This brings me to a question which I dare raise today. What are the ends you seek in British industry? What is the fundamental purpose to which you are putting your talents? What is it that we are really asking God's blessing for in this Service?
The ultimate purpose of industry is, I believe, to serve our fellow human beings by creating goods and services to meet their needs. It is not to make money for its own sake. It is not to make profits for shareholders, nor to create salaries and wages for the industrial community. These are necessary conditions for success but not its purpose. Nor can the purpose of industry be to serve the market, as if the market was Master instead of servant of human need. No, industry's purpose is surely to serve people by creating things of use and value to them. British industry, like the Church, has plenty of critics, but it has excelled in creating things of use and value which have brought enormous benefits to many people's lives. I want to underline my admiration for many industrialists and industrial workers.
But we need to remain clear about the basic purpose of industry as we enter the European Single Market, if industry is to prosper as a well-loved, well-respected contributor to a Christian society. This will be the way to clear some of the popular misconceptions about industry of which industrialists complain. Company Law sometimes appears to enshrine the erroneous principle that companies exist to serve their shareholders. The other stakeholders in an enterprise and its fundamental purpose may not get a look in. Some people in business do talk as if the bottom line in industry is simply the bottom line, and that industry is a Darwinian world ruled by the values of the market. The language of service and stewardship is too often left to clergymen. Neither service nor stewardship is inimical to wealth creation. They are its allies. But they are not allies of tiny groups of institutional investors who might decide they are unhappy with a company's short-term financial return, and so off-load people's loyalties and talents simply for quick profits. Some of the habits, laws and institutions of industrial life appear designed to nourish misconceptions about industry's fundamental purposes.
The question, "Who benefits from industrial enterprise?" remains relevant to its public reputation. Let us cast our minds back to what Jesus suggested God would be looking for when we account for the purposes to which we have put our talents. If prolonged bursts of private-sector-led economic growth in advanced industrial countries leave more people than ever in the world hungry, thirsty, naked, ill or in prison, what then? A question mark would appear over the proposition that industry exists to serve human needs. It is bound to look as if a minority of people are appropriating a quite disproportionate share of the earth's resources to sustain wasteful patterns of conspicuous consumption. And all this done at the expense of the majority in other parts of the world. As we give thanks today for British industry on the approach of the European Single Market, let us remember also the approach of the UNCED conference in Rio and ask for God's blessing there too.
Within our own society, our collective commitment to industrial enterprise will remain under-powered if the fruits of success appear to be concentrated too heavily in the pockets of shareholders and senior executives. For example, massive individual pay rises during a recession do not encourage public support for wealth creation. Moreover, when God sorts out the unfortunate goats from the sheep, he tells them: "The curse is upon you... For when I was hungry, you gave me nothing to eat, when thirsty nothing to drink; when I was a stranger you gave me no home, when naked you did not clothe me; when I was ill and in prison you did not come to my help". I doubt if He would have been impressed by the argument that the goats had been waiting for these things to "trickle down" as a by-product of economic growth!
In addition to the achievements, hopes and purposes of British industry, we remember today before God the challenges of the Single European Market. Why on earth bring that into church? Because here too we welcome a further stimulus to use God's gifts creatively to meet people's needs. In the light of the Gospel, let us reaffirm this purpose and keep it in mind if the Single Market is to be the blessing we all hope for. The Single Market, like industry, is there to serve people. The people of Europe are not there to serve the Single Market. "The sabbath is made for man, not man for the sabbath" said Jesus. Markets, if they are treated as masters, tend to be blind to environmental costs and can consume God's creation and waste our heritage. The glory of Europe is the extraordinary variety of cultures, characters, buildings, landscapes and languages packed into a relatively small corner of the globe: living testimony to the rich diversity of talents invested there over centuries. We must work to ensure the Single Market is so regulated that this diversity is strengthened. Spread a monochrome Euro-development and we will destroy distinctiveness. The fate of much of the Mediterranean coastline is a sobering warning of where the European Market can take us unless it is made to serve our long-term needs.
We must hope, too, that the Europe of the Single Market will look outwards and serve the rest of the world, not turn in on itself. It is not just industrialists who have been troubled by the posture of the European Community during the GATT round. Some hope is created from aspects of Europe's collective record on world environment and development issues, but this contribution will have to develop strongly to keep pace with the growing emphasis on keeping economic and environmental refugees out of fortress Europe.
Let us therefore link this great celebration and thanksgiving to some challenging demands upon all of us. We must resolve that the institutions, laws and practices of European industry are in proper shape to help it fulfil its fundamental purpose of serving the people. The new Europe must use God's creation and its own diverse heritage sustainably, so setting an example to the world. And it must not turn its back on its neighbours in other parts of the world.
So let us pray for God's blessing on industry and industrialists at this historic moment. Let us pray, too, for God's grace in our lives so that we remember the most important account is the one each of us will render to Him of the efforts we have made to use the talents He has given us for His loving purposes.
The Most Reverend and Right Honourable George Carey, BD, ALCD, MTh, PhD, is Archbishop of Canterbury and President of the Industry Churches Forum.
Thanks to everyone who has invested in the Theology of Work Project! Thanks to your generosity, we were able to meet all our needs for 2017! We ask that you continue to keep us in your prayers and charitable giving in 2018 as we equip Christians to connect to God's purposes for work.