Action for Children -  A 'Newbie' Sets up a Christian Network

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A Workplace Oasis


Shortly after I joined the civil service in 1996, I moved to a different building.  It was so wonderful to meet an active workplace Christian fellowship there, and I joined immediately.  When I moved to the Home Office in 2001, one of the first places my friend took me to was the Home Office Christian Network (HOCN).  Once again, I found an oasis for mutual spiritual support and friendship in the very place I worked. In time, I became quite involved, leading Bible reflections, interacting with our stakeholders (e.g. management, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Team, etc.), editing the monthly newsletter and eventually becoming Deputy Chair till I left in 2015.
 
I arrived at Action for Children in 2015 not knowing anyone at all. Although my colleagues were friendly, I longed for the fellowship that I enjoyed with my HOCN friends. I prayed that God would raise up a staff network, not just because of me but because of those who would benefit from it. He did! One day, I met with our Head of Inclusion and we shared our thoughts about inclusion, a wide subject.  She welcomed my idea to set up a faith network and gave her blessing for it to start. The rest is history. 

Setting up


Where do you start when you’re new and based in one of many small offices? My job title, Head of Church Partnerships, was a magnet for Christians as they emailed or came to say hello. I also met other people through work meetings. All the initial network members came from those conversations. 
 
I learnt a lot from being a part of HOCN and that helped. Above all, I had learnt that the network should add value to the organisation as a whole and not just individual members. HOCN was involved in consultations and the Bullying Helpline, to name a few. Whatever shape the Action for Children staff network took, the organisation should feel its impact.
 
A little group came to together to talk about the network, and I was tasked with writing our Terms of Reference. I consulted network members, inclusion officers, the Christians on Action for Children’s board of trustees, and of course TWUK, till we fine-tuned and agreed it. As you’ll see below, it shows how the network can add value to our organisation.

The Network


Action for Children’s Christian network started in March 2016 to bring together a community of Christian staff to spiritually, intellectually and professionally support each other, their colleagues and the charity’s work. Our objectives are:

  • Fellowship – enable Christian staff to interact for mutual support and growth, and live Christian values in the workplace.
  • Advice – work with leadership and the Head of Inclusion to promote diversity and inclusion.
  • Pastoral care – support the spiritual and emotional well-being of all staff through prayers and value-adding activity.
  • Awareness - contribute to excellent service delivery by helping staff understand core Christian beliefs and how they affect our staff and service users.
  • Be a door into the community - help Action for Children engage and build effective relationships with all communities to promote and enrich our work. 

Starting out


We were relatively few initially, so a ‘big bang’ launch didn’t quite seem right.  I was determined that we’d start anyway – God is not limited by few or many (1 Samuel 14:6). So, I set up a fortnightly teleconference and put meeting dates in everyone’s calendar. The Home Office was spread across many sites and teleconferencing had worked well for them. Everyone is so busy in their day jobs, so we keep meetings to 30 minutes and they follow a standard format which combines worship, prayers and discussion. The discussion tends to focus on something relating to being a Christian at work, and prayers focus on Action for Children and personal prayer requests.
 
In the week when there isn’t a fortnightly teleconference, someone from the group shares a ‘word for the week’; we’re on a rota and it ensures that more than one person is contributing to the group. So far, we have found this quite enriching – a word in season each time.

Challenges


There have been challenges, and I’ll mention a few. We are based across different office sites and that makes it harder to proactively recruit members, and in turn impacts on our visibility. However, there are innovative ways to counter this like, teleconferencing, Skype, working with our internal communications team to help with publicity, a mention in our organisation’s induction pack for new staff, etc. Our Head of Inclusion is also a great champion for our network.
 
Consistency isn’t a surprising challenge as our primary purpose to do our day job takes priority over staff network activity. Sometimes turn-out at meetings is low but I remain encouraged by the feedback of colleagues who do attend – like when we discussed peace at a time when many of us really needed it or the day we discussed personal leadership, challenging our mind-set to see leadership at every level, even in every job. There are also those who ask for prayer and advice (sometimes in confidence) but who don’t take part in meetings; it is a blessing to make a tangible difference to them.
 
It can be lonely starting out but I’m driven by purpose and encouraged by current members.  I desire that, at some point, someone else with fresh ideas and vigour will become the next coordinator and keep the river flowing.

In a Nutshell


So, to sum up my top tips for setting up a Christian network (and even other staff networks): add value to your organisation; keep going in spite of challenges, especially low numbers; be innovative – use technology or whatever work tools are available; invest prayer for wisdom and opportunity; and be relentless, caring and enthusiastic.
 
Karis Kolawole
Action for Children Christian Network Coordinator & Head of Faith Partnerships