David Clark (1934-2023)

By June 2, 2023 Blog

In May I was saddened to hear of the death of David Clark, Methodist deacon and theologian, creator of the Kingdom at Work project and many other prophetic initiatives aimed at encouraging and enabling Christians to join in with God’s Kingdom work at large in society, the workplace and public life.

David initially served as a Methodist presbyter in circuit ministry, and taught at Westhill College in Birmingham – there launchingthe National Centre for Christian Communities and Networks, the Christians in Public Life programme and the Human City Institute.  In 2005, David took the unusual step of relinquishing his presbyteral orders and becoming a deacon – a characteristically individual and carefully thought-out move underlining his commitment to Christian service and his view that the Church’s fundamental calling was also at root diaconal – to be a servant of the Kingdom of God.  In a long, productive and fruitful retirement he continued to write and to catalyse new initiatives, including the Kingdom at Work project, based on his book of the same name, which aimed to equip Christians to join in with God’s Kingdom activity in transforming workplaces.  Just before his death, he learned that his twefth and final book had just been accepted for publication.

I first met David in the late 1990s when I was a new PhD student at Birmingham University’s Theology department.  David was teaching at Westhill and was seeking volunteers to help start his new project, the Human City Institute (which still exists today).  Over the course of a year David put me to work taking notes of conversations at a series of public hearings, held in at Birmingham’s city council offices, in which prominent public figures would reflect on ‘What makes a human… [education system, police service, media, etc.].  As I wrote these notes up, David was characteristically both encouraging of my efforts and exacting in his standards, giving me ‘marks’ for each piece of writing with a smile on his face.  He also introduced me to various sociological writing on community which influenced aspects of my PhD.

After some years away from Birmingham I reconnected with David in the early 2010s: Saltley Trust had just published the report Faith and Work in Theological Education and Training (written by Hannah Matthews), whilst David had recently written his book The Kingdom at Work.  With these shared interests, we began to talk about how to move the agenda on a step further.  The result was a 2014 conference – Educating for Mission in the World of Work, the results of which can be found on the Trust website here, alongside the bulletins of the Kingdom at Work project, which together constitute a rich repository of reflection on different aspects of the relationship between faith and work.  This collaboration was followed by a series of conferences bringing representatives of different UK faith and work organisations together at The Ark in Alvechurch for a day of networking and conversation about developing the churches’ commitment to the world of work.  At these conferences, David also further piloted ideas for an accessible resource which could be placed into the hands of individual Christians and small workplace Christian groups to enable them to evaluate and transform their workplaces through the lens of the Kingdom of God.  This work is continuing in the Kingdom at Work project, which David helped to steer until what he called his ‘second retirement’ in 2021 – at which point his intellect and energy appeared to us still entirely undimmed.

As with many Christian theologians on the more radical wing of his generation, David immersed himself in both theology and sociology, and in many respects his creative output emerged from a critical conversation between these two disciplines.  David saw God already at work in the world before Christians even cottoned on to it; the Christian’s role in public life was to discover what God was already doing, and join in.  David saw the search for community at the heart of human desire.  In human terms, he regarded community as fundamentally shaped by a search for security, significance and solidarity, and shaped by processes of socialisation, which could become distorted by controlling forms of leadership.  For David, redemption of this search came in the form of the Kingdom of God, a community characterised by life, love, liberation and learning in which those deepest human needs were satisfied. The Kingdom at Work project, now developing under the wing of CHRISM (Christians in Secular Ministry), continues as a legacy of this vision.

At his funeral service in Bakewell on 26 May, the congregation heard read David’s own reflection, written a few years earlier, on why, for him, life after death was the logical corollary of a loving God.  It was a privilege to work with him in life, and I trust he is now enjoying the fullness of the Kingdom of God whose service was his lifelong work.