The Factory: A reflection on Matthew 28.19. Advent 4 2013.

There was once an entrepreneur, who lived abroad, who bought a factory in South West England at auction on the Internet. He took a big risk because he had not visited England for many years and only had a dim recollection of the geography of England from his brief visit many years ago. Yet he decided to sink everything into this project. He relied on the auction particulars and was impressed by the pictures he had seen on his computer in going forward with the purchase.

One picture showed a very large old factory, full of equipment which the workers did their very best to keep in good working order. The auction particulars waxed lyrical, “some of the workers have been employed for many years and any buyer will find them to be dedicated to the factory”. He was struck by the loyalty of the workforce and their obvious dedication to the factory. The factory website was full of stories of loyal service with pictures of employees’ retirement presentations. He wondered why there was no mention of any new apprenticeships?

Another picture in the auction catalogue showed a great deal of old equipment, which was described as “very well maintained”. He could see that everything was regularly polished and he was impressed that the particulars made specific mention that “if any part of the factory needed to be repaired then the workers did their very best to attend to it within the modest budget that was set aside for this purpose”. The entrepreneur could see this had been a struggle but was struck by the clear dedication the workforce had to the factory.

Having completed the purchase the entrepreneur decided to come to England to take a closer look at the factory for himself. He bought a plane ticket and a few days later arrived at the factory gates where the workforce greeted him. They gave the new owner a warm welcome as he was ushered into the factory. He was swept through the wrought iron Factory gates, which proudly displayed the Factory Motto, which had been fashioned in some bygone era.

“Tell me,” asked the new owner, “what do you make in this factory?”

The shop steward looked at the entrepreneur; there was a look of mild bemusement on her face. “Make?” she said. “”I’m not sure I understand what you mean?”

“Well this is a factory isn’t it?” replied the owner. “I’ve clearly acquired a loyal workforce and lots of old, but highly polished equipment, yet it’s not clear to me what we are producing?”

“We stopped production years ago,” said the Steward. “We think it is important that we maintain the factory.”

“Why?” asked the owner.

The shop steward looked around at the workforce, who looked at each other, bemused by the owner’s question.

“I’m sorry. I don’t understand the question,” she responded, as she looked around again, forlornly hoping that one of the other workers would help her answer the question the owner had put. She could see everyone scratching their heads and looking equally bemused.

 “Matthew 28.19,” said the owner.

“Our Motto,” said the shop steward. “What about it? It’s on our Factory gate. We see it every day as we come into the Factory.”

“Do you know what it says?” asked the owner.

“It says Matthew 28.19” replied the shop steward, pleased that she was able to answer this question. But as she spoke she could see the owner bury his head in his hands as he gently breathed out a huge sigh.

“What’s wrong?” remarked the shop steward as she looked quizzically at the owner.

The owner looked with compassion at the workforce but came to the rapid realisation that the Factory Motto, which was proudly displayed over the factory gates, had no meaning for the workforce; they seemed to be suffering from collective amnesia as to what their work was all about.

“Should I close the factory or is there any hope?” pondered the owner, not realising that he had spoken his thoughts out loud.

The workforce looked on in panicked amazement! They began to scurry around asking themselves “What does our Motto mean?” “Why is the owner being so cruel in thinking that the Factory needs to close?” “How dare he come along here and suggest such a thing!” “We’ve polished the machinery. Isn’t that enough?”

The owner looked at the completed purchase contract, which he pulled out of his coat pocket, and wondered what he had taken on…