Wednesday, September 9, 2015
Bringing Church to Work: A Labor Day in the Pulpits homily
For those of you I have not yet met, my name is Chris Harris, and I’d like to start by saying thank you for the amazing welcome you have given Joe and me this past week! I am very much looking forward to meeting all of you in the coming months and years as we begin our ministry together. I also want you to know how excited I am to be a part of this community. As a Canon of the Cathedral I had the unique opportunity to travel the country and speak on topics of congregational development in turn gave me the chance to see how different churches are responding to this cultural realignment we are in the midst of; You’ve all heard no doubt about the declining church attendance statistics, the fewer number of Americans identifying as “Christian,” the rise of the spiritual-but-not-religious and so on? Yet despite these undeniable shifts in the culture, I’m continually amazed at how many churches out there are still, for the most part, carrying on as usual; resisting change, hoping I suppose that this will all pass. Fortunately, there are churches, like St. Bart’s and others, who are working to maintain the traditions we cherish and those things that make us uniquely Episcopalian, while embracing change and experimenting with new ways of being church. Churches who will flourish in this post-Christendom 21st century will be those who are willing to try on new ideas, take risks and step outside our comfort zone. Most importantly, they are churches like this one that take seriously the need to answer one of the Bishop’s favorite questions: “What will your church known for?” Put another way, it’s that old question, “If your church were to close its doors tomorrow, would anyone in the community notice? Would our neighbors care?” It’s a way of getting at what impact we are having in building the kingdom out there, that we proclaim each Sunday, in here.
If all of this sounds like it belongs in a congregational development seminar with little relation to your life, have no fear, because the Bishop’s question is just as important for each of us to ask about our own lives: “What am I known for?” Or put another way, “If I were to stop being a Christian tomorrow, would anyone notice? Would my neighbors care?” (Aside from my car being in the driveway on Sunday mornings that is!)
As with the church as a whole, it’s a way of asking, what difference am I making in the world in my context? In my community, my family, my neighborhood…and on this Labor Day, in my workplace or in the marketplace? At my prior church, we participated in something called Labor in the Pulpits which was a network of churches, mosques and synagogues which used Labor Day weekend as a chance to lift up the holiness of work and to reflect on how we live out our faith on the job.
This past week, the entire nation has been treated to someone trying to work out their faith in the workplace as a clerk in Kentucky attempts to work out who is saved and who isn’t from the counter of the marriage license dept. Not surprisingly, the result hasn’t been too pretty; with the attendant media circus, angry factions chanting and pointing fingers, debates about hypocrisy and hate, who’s going to hell and who isn’t. Somehow, none of that looks very much like the kingdom of God to me. I don’t see a lot of love being spread, or healing happening.
The media attention in these moment is particularly sad when you remember that of those 80% of Americans who don’t go to church with any regularity – the very people that churches like ours are trying to reach. Surveys show that those Americans cite two main reasons for why they say away: Christians are too judgmental and too hypocritical. Thanks to our friend in Kentucky, they all have one more reminder as to why they took a pass on Church this morning.
Fortunately, this past week as all of this was playing out, I was reminded of a completely different way of bringing your faith to the workplace. On Thursday, a dear friend of ours died, Deedra Hardmin. She was one of those people who never met a stranger, who when she talked to you, she made you feel like the only person in the room. Have you met someone like that? I heard that said several times last week about Bishop Kafity actually. It’s a wonderful gift isn’t it? One that we might all aspire to as it is the gift of presence; a gift that in this busy, over scheduled world of texting and email, can be a real ministry.
It was that gift of hospitality that made Deedra a natural greeter at her church where she was the first to welcome countless people with open arms and a kiss on the cheek. She always looked for those just on the outside and invited them in, into her church and into her circle of friends, where she made you feel like family. She carried the heart of her church in that way. But what I really loved about her was that she brought that ministry of hospitality to her workplace. At the bank where she worked, she made a point to greet and meet everyone who came through their doors. And once she got to know you, she never failed to wave you into her office to say hello whenever you came by. She’d sit me down, ask how my mom was doing, how’s Joe’s mom, then ask about someone she heard mentioned on the prayer list and how we might help them. There were times her office at the bank felt like coffee hour; no sooner would I get up would she be waving someone else in for a similar hello, but not before introducing us and explaining how we have someone else in common, etc.; People met friends through Deedra.
So persistent was she in her hospitality, I actually worried at times that she’d get in trouble with her boss. I‘d actually try to keep my head down when I came in to make a deposit so she wouldn’t see me, but sure enough, out of the corner of my eye, there was Deedra, waving through her windows, insisting I come back and say hello (I wouldn’t get away THAT easily!). I realized over time, that she wasn’t going to get in trouble. Like her beloved church, she was helping to carry the heart of that bank. Her ministry of welcome and hospitality was helping to create community and a sense of family at the bank just as she did at church.
Over the last week while she was the hospital, that sense of family followed her where she received hundreds of customers, parishioners and friends, intermingling and intermixed, just like her office; a revolving door of friends, family and visitors that made up her extended family. It was a picture of the kingdom of God to me, where all are welcome – NO EXCEPTIONS.
Unfortunately the quiet faith and small acts of love will rarely make CNN. But they are the very ‘works of faith’ that James refers to in today’s epistle; the small acts of kindness that can make the biggest difference. As we begin to imagine what this church might be known for, why not start with each of us reimagining how we might turn our work places, our neighborhoods, our families, into mission fields to spread the love that we proclaim here each Sunday. This Labor Day, what if we rededicated ourselves to the most important work of our lives and in so doing, help make this world look a little more like the heaven, that the Deedra Hardmans and Bishop Kafitys, and all the saints the have come before them, now call home.
Chris Harris is director of Congregational Development at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church in Poway where he is a candidate for holy orders. His passion is helping people find God in the unexpected areas of life. You can reach him at 619-995-9600 or firstname.lastname@example.org or friend him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/chrisharris00