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/ 7 April 2017

Offering opportunity, seizing the second chance

Bishop Graham and Gary on top of the scaffold tower

Gary Flynn has quite a story. Coming from a background of scaffolders, he kept on the family trade, and had built it into a fairly successful business. Yet the surface prosperity hid a nagging secret. Despite all the money, the second home, and the trappings of wealth, he felt a deep emptiness, a void which a cancer scare brought urgently to the surface. He was invited on to an Alpha Course, and had a profound encounter with God, which changed his life and priorities radically. He still runs the scaffolding business, but seems less bothered now about whether or not it earns fantastic profits. Instead, what matters are the opportunities it gives him to share his faith with others, and, along with his regular staff, on occasion to give ex-offenders or homeless men the chance to get a step on to the employment ladder and to rebuild their lives.

Meeting him was fascinating. Coming away from an afternoon spent with Gary and his lads (who incidentally taught me to build a fairly basic tower of scaffolding, which remarkably held our weight without collapsing) gave me a lot to think about.

First, it made me think of how sharing our faith has to be an overflow of our own faith and joy in the Christian life. Gary tries to share his faith respectfully with anyone who will listen not because has been told to, or because he feels he ought to, but because he has experienced something deep and strong in his own life which just has to be communicated. As Jesus once said, ‘the mouth speaks what the heart is full of’. Many of us may not have Gary’s dramatic experience, but we do perhaps need to rediscover the wonder of our own faith – why we are Christians, and what we value so much about it – as that is the story we need to share. Sharing our faith is simply sharing what it means to us to be a Christian. There may be others who can answer the complicated questions that arise when we speak of our faith to others, but all of us are called not just to be worshippers, but witnesses, pointing away from ourselves towards Christ who is the light of the world.

Second, it taught me that every profession gives opportunities to touch lives with the love of God. For Gary, it is the ability he has to take on employees, and train them in a manual profession – an opportunity he uses creatively to seek out those needing a new start. Cities need scaffolding, especially cities that are growing, like London. Yet they also need scaffolding companies with enlightened employment policies, which do not screen out those with criminal records but welcome them back into social life. Gary’s employment policy is an expression of the Christian belief in redemption. We believe there are evil acts, but no irredeemably evil people. The world is not neatly divided into the good (us) and bad (them). We are all a mixture of both, yet drawn, invited, called, to grow into the likeness of God in Christ, through a life of simple trust. So many ex-offenders find it hard to get jobs due to their criminal record, yet Gary believes in redemption, and has found a way to express that through the way he runs his business. People learn to trust when they are trusted, and Gary’s calculated risk of trusting people with a difficult background, has the potential to teach trust, both in God and in others – something which is vital for good, healthy life and relationships.

Third, it reminded me that small victories are worth it. Gary is the first to admit that not all those he has given a job to have had their lives turned around. In fact, with most, it has led to them reverting to old patterns of life. Yet the remarkable thing is not that some fall by the wayside, but that a few do see transformation and seize the second chance offered them. The remarkable thing is not that we fail, but that occasionally we get it right. It is a sign of the Kingdom of God invading the kingdom of darkness, a sign of the day when the whole earth will be filled with the glory of God.

I loved my afternoon with Gary. He wears his heart on his sleeve, is infectiously positive and it’s hard to spend any time with him without being drawn to the source of his own motivation and energy – Jesus Christ. He made me want to be a little bolder in sharing my faith, more imaginative in how I use my own role to set up signs of the Kingdom of God in London, more thankful that there are Christians like Gary around.

What does it mean for you to be an ambassador for Christ right where you are? Read more stories and share yours www.ambassadors2020.org @ambassadors2020.

About Graham Tomlin

The Rt Revd Graham Tomlin is Bishop of Kensington. He is the author of many books, most recently, The Widening Circle: Priesthood as God’s Way of Blessing the World (2015). Bishop Graham is also President of St Mellitus College.

Read more from Graham Tomlin

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