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13 February 2009updated 22 Oct 2020 3:55pm

Faith and adversity

Rounding off our series on faith in the financial crisis, the Industrial Chaplain at the Corus steel

By Val Morrison

It was cold, and silent in the Aldewarke Primary Mill at Corus Engineering Steels in Rotherham. It is always cold in the mill in winter but usually there are pockets of warmth. On this day it was the silence which struck me. I had never before been able to hear my footsteps on the metal walkways – this is an environment where ear defenders are not just advisable, but essential. Not on this day though. Two days after the announcement that this section of the works was to close, no steel was being rolled.

Opening the door to the pulpit where the men were usually working I found seven of them sitting quietly while another paced the floor. The usual activity was absent: they had been there since the beginning of their shift and this was only half way through. There was nothing to do and nothing clear to think about.

In the weeks running up to the announcement conversations had been about the lack of orders. Everyone knew things couldn’t continue as they were. Many of these men had been through downturns before but this one was different. It happened so quickly, one week they were busy and only two weeks later the orders for steel had plummeted. The future was uncertain. What made it worse was that it all seemed so out of control, no-one blamed local managers or even the company, it was clear that the situation was bigger than any of them. We talked about the part the banks had played and whether the government could have done anything differently. Uncertainty is the most difficult thing to deal with and many conversations I had were about fears for the future.

Now there is more certainty. For some there is relief that it has been decided. Some of the older men have voiced their gratitude because they will probably get a reasonable package whilst at the same time feeling sorry for their younger colleagues who have mortgages and young families. A recurring theme is the recognition that once the jobs have gone they will never return and that of course has a knock-on effect on the community. Corus is a major employer in Rotherham. It is estimated that for every one job at Corus two will go outside the works and for some this means wives, sons and daughters also out of work.

And what is the place of the chaplain and religion in this environment? Faith can engage with this situation at a personal level, following Christ’s example and being alongside people who are concerned about their future, listening, giving space for the voicing of those concerns, sharing some of the pain. But there is a bigger picture. Christianity teaches us that we are all interdependent, that God has given us the gifts of creation, of skills and the ability to create wealth. But those gifts were entrusted to us to steward for the time being. Some of us have not taken that responsibility seriously and the result is that everyone suffers. Christianity tells of a God of hope who can transform the least promising of situations. On my last visit to Corus someone said ‘This may be the start of something really new and exciting for me’. It is hope like that which faith can offer.

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Val Morrison is the Industrial Chaplain at Corus Engineering Steels in Rotherham

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