Like many hidden treasures, this artefact was discovered by chance. During an office tidy-up, colleagues in Communications Directorate came across an old book in a cupboard. Musty and dog-eared, its yellowing pages showed its age.
Written in fountain pen inside the cover were the words ‘Civil Service Christian Union HM Office of Works Branch’. The book turned out to be the record of annual meetings of the group, beginning in 1924.
As such it may well be the oldest staff network in Department for Transport. The book was passed to the then Secretary of the Department for Transport’s Christian network.
It certainly makes for interesting reading. As early as 1928, the Chair was bemoaning the fact that colleagues were too busy to attend the group’s meetings. Plus ca change!
There are fascinating allusions to important historical events. The annual meeting in 1927 refers to a meeting the previous year being cancelled ‘due to the strike’, which I presume to be the 1926 general strike.
Particularly poignant are the wartime entries. The minutes of June 1940 record the Chair encouraging members with the words: ‘Although we may face moments of bodily fear, may our minds always have the courage derived from our faith’.
In the following year, having been through the Blitz, the Chair is recorded as saying: ‘Since our last meeting we had been through some of the horrors of war, but this was a test so that we might know ourselves. If we relied on ourselves we should be very disappointed. It was by putting our trust in Jesus that we would find peace and joy’.
It is sobering to think of our forebears continuing to come to work in Whitehall during this dangerous time.
The book continues through the 1950s, recording the election of officers, charitable donations and other administrative matters. The last entry in 1961 saw the group in their new accommodation in Lambeth Bridge House (a building which some colleagues today will still remember).
The heritage continues
The Department for Transport, as the eventual successor of the Ministry of Works, continues this heritage. A Christian group still meets on Wednesday lunchtimes most weeks, just as the group did all those years ago. Our membership today reflects the diversity of the contemporary Christian church in London.
As well as those from the Anglican tradition, we have members from Catholic and Baptist churches as well as from the growing BAME-led churches and other modern expressions of the church such as Hillsong.
We may not always agree on the finer points of theology but we know that we have more in common which unites us, and so we enjoy meeting together – to pray for the work of the Department and to share and encourage one another as Christians in our place of work.
2019 is the Department for Transport’s centenary and as part of the events to mark this, the book is going to be displayed in a cabinet in our Reception at Great Minster House.