1977 AACS Niagara Conference
Perspective Report by Linda Leenders
Resting from the daily vocational work of their hands, 800 people gathered together on the August 1 holiday weekend to reflect on the theme “The Work of Our Hands”. Coming from all walks of life and numerous provinces and states, this large body of Christians met to grow in a unified view of work at the 1977 Ontario AACS conference, held again at Niagara Christian College in Fort Erie.
We could have good hope of sharing such unity even at so diversely peopled a conference, because whether we ate or drank, sang songs or played games, sat and discussed in the sunshine or ran for protection from thunder storms, we could be conscious of the one thing that brought us there — our common commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. That made it good to be together.
The common view of labour that shaped each speech and workshop was that labour means service — three-fold service. First, our work is a response to our Creator, a form of our ultimate service and worship of the Lord. Second, the products made and work rendered is for serving our neighbours needs . Third, we are serving or meeting the needs of our Lord’s creation by stewardly caring for and developing all its resources and potentials. And a by-product or blessing from such service is self-realization. As Sander Griffioen pointed out, self-fulfillment — the satisfying of our desire to feel wanted and needed — can never be realized when made the goal of our work, but will naturally be realized when our work is other-directed service. Working for self leads to death, but accepting the accomplished work and victory of Christ leads to life. Having His Rest, we can sacrifice ourselves also in our vocations and experience His Shalom more fully on earth.
Deviations from this understanding of work have historically caused work to be a curse rather than a blessing. In his opening speech Ed Vanderkloet, Executive Director of the Christian Labour Association of Canada (CLAC), clearly showed this from history. He traced the varying concepts of work held by the Greeks and Romans; the Church in the Middle Ages; the people of the Reformation, Renaissance and Enlightenment; and the Nazis, Communists and Capitalists of our modern era. Only to the extent that work is structured according to the Christian idea of service can Shalom be experienced.
Dr. Griffioen, Senior Member in Economic Theory at the ICS, continued Saturday afternoon to clarify the distortion of work in our culture. Our glorification of productive work to the point of its determining a person’s worth has led also to the degradation and dehumanization of work. In an attempt to increase the productive efficiency of labour, we have broken it down into manageable, machine-like time units without attention to its quality — the wholeness and meaning of the work. Griffioen also stressed that if labour is to have a real future, we must view it as service. We must structure our work to be faithful to that end under the umbrella of God’s Shalom.
The structuring of work situations to help us be obedient and live full God-praising lives came up in each of the workshops. Workshops were held on management (led by Kees Vreugdenhil) , the co-responsibility of workers (Co Vanderlaan), job frustration (Sylvan Gerritsma) , work and families (Mary Vander Vennen) , and work and women (Dr. Mary Vander Goot) .
This last workshop seemed to inspire the strongest emotional debates. Again we can be guided and stabilized by the message that came through both the Sunday worship service and the Bible study: Each person’s calling from God, whether male or female, is not to a particular vocation; rather, our calling is to accept and live God’s full redeemed life, to live out in our flesh the will of God. If there is a need and God has qualified us to meet it, both in talents and vocational opportunity, then we are free to serve God through that vocation. If a woman’s vocation is nurturing her children and their need for her full time continues, and if she is serving God in her mothering, then she is obeying her calling to be a workman approved of God. If her children’s need for nurture is being met as obediently as possible and she has time to serve in another vocation she is free to respond. The same holds true for a man in his chosen vocation: if he is able to obey his calling to be God’s child in his present vocation and a true need for him continues there, he is obedient to remain. If an opportunity can be found for him to work out his calling with more structured freedom to be obedient, then he is free to change.
The chief thing for every person is to search out and know in his own heart that he is doing the will of his Father. That was the unifying confession Of our conference. Living out this confession, like the conference, is a Body-thing — we are many members, helping each other bring Christ’s Shalom into the structures of the whole creation.
Linda Leenders teaches remedial reading half—time at the Christian grade school in Brampton, and is completing an M.Phil. in psychology at the Institute.