Peter Riley tells the inspiring story of practical Christianity in action in a manufacturing company that was twice on the verge of failure. He reveals how apparently hopeless situations can be dramatically transformed into new life – a familiar Christian theme… An honest and caring relationship, with notable contributions by some key employees, made all the difference, and brought the company into profit after many years of losses. Peter sees the creative work of the Spirit at work, but also Christ using Peter’s mistakes to bring about His Kingdom, and a loving Father’s hand throughout.
Just three weeks before the outbreak of the Second World War, a solitary Jewish refugee called Hans Neuhaus founded a business in a sleepy industrial town on the edge of the Pennines. Separated from his wife and son who were living in Nazi Germany, he could have had no idea that his new enterprise would one day become a test-bed for ‘what happened when God turned up at work’ which is the subtitle of a book I have written called The Anglo Files. A brief overview of the Christian theology of work might suggest a steady progression of thinking during the last 50 years. In 1974 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones acknowledged: ‘Christianity is not confined to Sunday; it is something that manifests itself in the whole of life’1 In 2001 Mark Greene wrote ‘God is still at work. At work. Using his people as agents of grace, as messengers of the Gospel, as transformers of systems, as entrepreneurs of love reaching out’2 and by 2017 Richard Higginson and Kina Robertshaw summarised the views of 50 Christian entrepreneurs by saying that work embraced: ‘Four kingdom imperatives: making the world a better place, embodying Christian values, witnessing by word and charitable giving’3. I wholeheartedly agree with all of these distinguished authors but have often wondered if there’s something more….
I have become intrigued by the possibility that one of the central tenets of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven’ could be tangibly demonstrated through the very nature of a corporate body – for example a business. This is hardly a new idea as 2 Chronicles 9: 12-13 describes how the excellence of Solomon’s kingdom was such that: ‘All the kings of the earth sought audience with Solomon to hear the wisdom God had put in his heart’ (NIV). This earthly manifestation of the Kingdom of God is also prophesied in Isaiah 60:3 ‘Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn’ (NIV). So what if a business owned and/or run by a Christian could be so transformed that it becomes an exemplar of the Kingdom of God?
This possibility takes me back to the story of Hans Neuhaus who in 1939 utilised his skills to start up Anglo Felt Industries Limited in Whitworth near Rochdale to manufacture felt interlinings for its shareholders who were local footwear manufacturers. Although the company prospered until the early 1970s, the retirement of Hans followed by a rapidly changing marketplace led to desperate times. By 1984 the business had lost large sums of money and in a last-ditch effort, I was appointed CEO as my ‘baptism of fire’ by the parent company for whom I had worked for seven years as a graduate management trainee. Within two months circumstances became even worse following my meeting with our Sales Agent (responsible for around 70% of our turnover). He immediately told all our customers that we were closing down and offered a competitor’s product at a cheaper price resulting in the loss of 30% of our sales and forcing a price reduction to remain competitive. So to summarise the situation I was then facing:
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