Most people find holding down one job a challenge but for the Reverend Adele Phillips there’s a double challenge from posts which are very different.The main focus of Adele’s ordained ministry is as a Minister in Secular Employment working within the Criminal Justice System on Tyneside. That means she spends most of her time in a conventional workplace.She is a qualified solicitor working as a magistrates’ legal adviser at Newcastle’s Magistrates’ Courts and is also attached to Gateshead Parish Team where she takes two or three services a month.She said: “While this is a fulfilling job, I gradually felt there was something missing, that I should be doing something else as well. I was finally ordained a few years ago.The role of a Minister in Secular Employment is not always understood even by members of the Church. Adele said, “There are still many who see ministry in secular employment as a bit of a ‘hobby’. Not all share the very supportive view of Bishop Mark, the Bishop of Jarrow, who affirms ministry in the workplace and who actually came to spend a day job-shadowing me to see exactly what I do.I am not a part-time priest – there is no such thing. Every hour of my week is spent in ordained ministry. Ordained ministry is not defined by particular tasks which only a priest can perform, it is a sense of being that is taken into every aspect of daily life. This is how the church reaches and relates to the world at large.I am the only priest that many of my weekly contacts will ever meet. I am certainly the only priest that most will know to talk to, work with, argue with, experience everyday life with. In a sense it’s an onerous thought that people may judge the priesthood, the church and even Christianity by how I behave. My presence dispels the mystique that sometimes can surround ordained ministers. While that was always one of my intentions, it is a huge responsibility.Ministry in secular employment can be a lonely ministry. When I take church services I am dressed as a priest and acknowledged as such. This sort of affirmation does not happen in the workplace. Most of the time it is an invisible ministry.
Being attached to a supportive parish is vital. I am fortunate in being part of the Gateshead Parish Team. My ministry is recognised and supported by my ordained colleagues and by the congregation. I am given the encouragement and space to carry out my ministry at work with relatively few parish responsibilities.
There is no blueprint for ministry in the workplace, it is very much a case of seeing how it goes. I am amazed and delighted that the more I experience the more I see the need for such ministry. My most important campaign is still progressing – that is to help the church realise not just the validity of ministry in the workplace but its necessity for the life, development and growth of the church itself.
I work alongside people of all beliefs and no belief. A day does not pass without some conversation about matters of faith – conversation that only happens because people know I am a priest. My supervising parish priest recently put it thus - your ministry reaches the parts other ministries cannot reach. While this makes me feel somewhat likened to a beer advertisement, I understand and appreciate what he means.
Importantly, my life at work also impacts on my ministry within Gateshead Parish. It is not a ‘one way street’. The church learns about God from the world as well as the world learning of God from the church.
This article appeared on the Diocese of Durham site.