A new report has been published looking into the lived experiences of Christians working in science, technology, and medical professions in the UK.
Revd Dr Justin Tomkins, who authored the report, surveyed more than 300 Anglicans on how the Church could be praying for their work; ethical issues which they have encountered in their careers; and how they see their area of work changing society in the next decade.
The research had its origins in a 2017 ECLAS-funded Scientists in Congregations project, titled Faith, Technology and Tomorrow.
Revd Dr Justin Tomkins spoke to ECLAS about his new research.
What is your own faith and scientific background?
My background is in chemistry with my PhD involving DNA, which gave me the chance to work on the interface of chemistry with biology. Later on, I spent a few enjoyable months carrying out research in the pharmacy department of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. During my preparation for ordination in the Church of England some years later, I found my scientific background being interwoven with my theological training. One aspect of that involved research work on theology and human enhancement.
Tell us about your ‘Scientists in Congregations’ project.
Our project was called ‘Faith, Technology and Tomorrow’ and ran during 2017. I valued the chance to work on that with Josh Naylor, a Clinical Scientist working as a Radiotherapy Physicist in the hospital next door to the church in which we were both worshipping (St Mary’s Church, Longfleet, in Poole, where I was the Associate Vicar at the time).
We arranged a number of events. One highlight was a ‘behind the scenes’ tour of the hospital. Another involved Christians working as GPs, hospital doctors, medical scientists, and data and IT coordinators reflecting together on their work and faith. Simple questions such as ‘What does it mean for you to be a Christian at work?’ and ‘What ethical issues do you face there?’ opened up rich discussions about God at work in the world of medicine. Some professionals even commented that ‘we haven’t had these conversations before’. Others of us listening in felt that our eyes too were opened to new insights.
That affirmed for me the real value of professionals on different technological frontlines being able to reflect together. Their insights can help inform the rest of us in the wider church of what God is doing within their contexts, as well as encouraging those professionals with a sense of affirmation, inspiration and encouragement.
How did that project lead on to your recent survey?
I wanted to expand that conversation, to draw on the wisdom of Christians from other scientific and technological fields, as well as medicine, and on the insights of more people, and from further afield. We had responses from over three hundred professionals working in science, medicine and technology. They were all connected to the Church of England and spread geographically across the country. From their responses I drew out the ten lessons described in the report.
What are your hopes for the future impact of this work?
I’d love Christians working in science, medicine and technology to have a greater sense of being affirmed and prayed for by the wider church. Maybe that’s particularly important for those who may not feel as connected to the local church as they might like, and yet are thrust out into a complex and challenging technological front-line. I’d love the rest of us to be able to share in more of the insights of the work being done in these remarkable fields, at this time of such rapid technological change. I’d love us to be able to wrestle together about how we all live and pray well in the technological world of today and tomorrow.
The report is available for download here.