Article of the week: A gentle influence

15 August 2020


Rhoda Atkinson (Croydon Citadel) writes about her Christian witness in the office and while working from home

I AM part of the Judicial Office at the Royal Courts of Justice, where the main part of my job is to draft advice for the lord chief justice and the lord chancellor. Each morning before the lockdown I would get up at around 4 am to be at my desk by 6.30 am. Like many folk, I am currently working from home – at the time of writing, I am logged on at 5 am. There aren’t many benefits to being up so early but I do see some wonderful sunrises.

It is no secret that I attend The Salvation Army, and I have been known to wear my uniform around the Royal Courts of Justice. One such occasion was when I attended the funeral of General John Gowans. Returning to work I was called into an urgent meeting with the senior presiding judge. With no time to change I hurried through the corridors and was greeted with a rather surprised look when he opened his door to find me in full uniform.

As a Christian and Salvationist, those I work with expect something different in my behaviour. Colleagues speak to me about problems they are facing or when they just need someone to listen to them. A few years ago, when we were all called into a room to be told that a colleague had died suddenly during the night, I was asked if I could pray with everyone.

On another occasion I had an in-depth conversation with a man who was struggling with several aspects of his life. The next week he came to tell me that, for the first time since being a child, he had prayed. ‘The problems haven’t gone away,’ he told me, ‘but I feel the burden has been lifted and I have hope.’

Others have told me that they swear a lot less in my presence! And some, knowing I’m a teetotaller, have felt inspired to give up alcohol for events such as Dry January.

Every December I put my ‘Jesus is the reason’ decoration on my desk – a reminder to those I work with of the real meaning of Christmas. A few years ago, when I was involved in the Army recording several songs for the BBC’s Songs Of Praise, a number of my colleagues started to watch the programme in the hope of spotting me. Some enjoyed the programme so much they are still watching.

In late 2017 I was asked to commence a choir at the Royal Courts of Justice. We sing a wide range of songs but I have to admit we do sing a lot of Army and other religious music. One member of the choir, who joined last summer, was a Salvationist when she was younger but hadn’t attended a place of worship for more than 20 years. We soon reminisced about the Army and her memories, and discussed why she stopped attending. Imagine my joy several months ago when she told me that, following our conversations, she had felt led to attend a meeting. And again, when she told me that she was walking past an Army hall in December, saw that there was a carol service inside and walked into the hall to join in.

As soon as the choir was formed I decided that I would plan a carol  service in the main hall at which the group could sing. Nothing like this had been done before but, with prayer and perseverance, it all came together. This is now a firm fixture at the Royal Courts of Justice, with lord chief justice Lord Burnett attending and providing a reading, along with other senior judiciary, and with a small group of musicians from the Music and Creative Arts Unit at THQ providing the accompaniment for the carols and the choir. I was privileged last December to have territorial leaders Commissioners Anthony and Gill Cotterill attend and provide the Bible readings. While I am not allowed a sermon or prayer in the service, I am glad of the opportunity to hold it and share something of the true meaning of Christmas with those who attend.

Like all other choirs, we are not functioning at present but we are in regular contact. Since lockdown, I have also been sharing verses from the Army songbook with colleagues each day. This has proved a real ministry, as recipients often come back to me saying they were just the words they needed that day. My work can be extremely stressful, dealing with some difficult situations, but I would like to think that I have a gentle influence on those around me, and that they can see the difference that Jesus makes in my life.



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