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John Palmer: Why Whoopi Goldberg can do no wrong

Monday 21 May 2018

John Palmer, Senior Editor at Acas discusses religion or belief discrimination.

John Palmer John Palmer

John is Senior Editor at Acas.





This month we're releasing brand new Acas guidance on Religion or belief discrimination.

We're so proud to have written this guidance with assistance from groups representing employers, employees and many different religions and beliefs. Plus, our own fantastic Acas staff from all major religions and beliefs helped us too!

The hope is that we're really going to help employers and employees think a little more about the impact their workplace cultures and practices have when it comes to things like:

  • awareness and understanding
  • professional respect for the beliefs of others
  • handling the challenges that can arise.

As a practicing Catholic who was delighted when my manager understood my need to go to church on holy days - and slightly exasperated from the sheer quantity of well-intentioned colleagues telling me I had pen ink on my forehead when I came back from Ash Wednesday mass - I understand what sort of positive impact this advice can have.

It's easy to treat the different branches of Christianity - or even anyone who has a belief - as a group. We see this in equality and diversity surveys a lot. That's healthy most of the time because its easy to lose focus on what we hold in common with each other. However, understanding differences (even between individuals of the same religion) can really help you understand your colleagues.

One very obvious difference in Christianity is the much higher-than-average level of attention and devotion that is given to the Virgin Mary by Catholics, especially during May and October. So, I'd like to take this opportunity to share my understanding of one of the more visible symbols associated with Catholicism and the Virgin Mary in particular: rosary beads!

We see more rosary beads than we might think - they're frequently worn as jewellery, many cars have them tied around rear view mirrors, but my favourite has to be Whoopi Goldberg being dragged along by her rosary beads by a frustrated Maggie Smith in Sister Act!

But what are those beads for? What do they mean? Why the gaps between the beads?

  • The rosary is actually a form of prayer and the beads or knots aid the praying.
  • The beads are in groups of 10 because the rosary involves saying 10 "hail mary" prayers in a row - also known as a 'decade'.
  • They are divided by another bead because each decade is preceded by the "lord's prayer" and followed by a "glory be".
  • There are 5 'decades' in each rosary prayer. These each represent a 'mystery' in Catholicism
  • There are 4 different sets of mysteries in Catholicism: 
  1. Joyful mysteries (e.g. when the Angel Gabriel told Mary she was to be the mother of God)
  2. Sorrowful mysteries (e.g. when Jesus died on the cross)
  3. Glorious mysteries (e.g. when Jesus was resurrected from death)
  4. Luminous mysteries (e.g. when Jesus turned water into wine).

The rosary also holds personal significance too. I will try to find a person or reason to dedicate each 'decade' of the rosary to: family, friends, work colleagues and the customers and stakeholders I work with. As we enter Ramadan, I'm praying for my Muslim colleagues who are fasting, abstaining, praying and almsgiving, especially on the hottest days!

So, what good does this do anybody in the workplace?

  • You'll see there is more to your colleagues than their job titles.
  • Knowing more about beliefs helps you better understand, respect and work with each other.
  • Helping to sort something out (like a slightly longer lunch break if someone needs to pray or attend a religious service) can make all the difference in the world.
  • We can all acknowledge that Whoopi Goldberg can do no wrong.

If this motivates you to find out more about religion or belief when it comes to things like recruitment, dress codes, fasting, catering and managing a diverse team, come to Religion or belief discrimination and take a look at our new guidance.


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