Celebrating work

by Demi Prentiss

The Book of Common Prayer offers this collect for Labor Day (BCP, p. 261):

Almighty God, you have so linked our lives one with another that all we do affects, for good or ill, all other lives: So guide us in the work we do, that we may do it not for self alone, but for the common good; and, as we seek a proper return for our own labor, make us mindful of the rightful aspirations of other workers, and arouse our concern for those who are out of work; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

“All we do affects … all other lives: So guide us in [all] the work we do….” God calls us to bring God into every aspect of our daily lives, and aim to make our work holy, an expression of our relationship with God – regardless of whether our work is paid or unpaid.

How can we better remember – not just on Labor Day, but throughout the year – the work that the vast majority of people in our churches do, every day – work that is beyond the church walls?  How can we equip people to work for and with God, in our work as well as in our worship? So that we are equipped to recognize

  • the hopeful expectation of Advent among, for instance, all those in the medical profession – doctors, orderlies, researchers, lab techs, administrators;
  • the joyful celebration of Christmas and Easter among, God willing, those in the field of education – students, aides, teachers, janitors, principals, parents, and presidents;
  • the penitence and spiritual growth of Lent within and among the people involved in the legal profession – paralegals, judges, guards, lawyers, inmates, court reporters, legislators;
  • the overwhelming animating spirit of Pentecost among those in performance and entertainment careers – musicians, scenic artists, writers, dancers, directors, roadies, editors.

What if we take a page from the Black Lives Matter movement and dare to “say their names” – of their vocations – in our prayers and liturgies? What if, in addition to blessing backpacks as we head back to school, we extend our blessings to all those working in schools and colleges? And on St. Francis Day, as we bless the animals, we also bless all who interact with God’s creatures – as vets or zookeepers or scientists or pet caregivers? What other times and seasons might we dedicate to celebrating the Monday through Saturday lives of God’s people?

The psalmist prays, “[O Lord,] Prosper the work of our hands; prosper our handiwork” (Ps 90:17).  May our churches help us grow in our understanding that “our common life depends upon each other’s toil” (BCP, p. 134), through recognizing the ministry that each of us exercises through our daily work. And may God’s love flow into us and through our work, drawing us into Beloved Community.

‘The real play goes on….’

Editor’s Note: This is almost certainly the last piece Fletcher Lowe wrote in this life. Less than 12 hours after he emailed it to me, Fletcher died in his sleep, in his apartment in Richmond, VA. His wife, who proofread this blog entry before Fletcher sent it, believes he may have had a premonition that it was his last writing.

The Rev. Canon J. Fletcher Lowe

In addition to his many Episcopal Church honors and recognitions, Fletcher, who was named a a correspondent of the year in 2019 by the Richmond Post-Dispatch (RTD), was a founding member of the Virginia Interfaith Center and was executive director from 1998 to 2004. He also was a member of the RTD Opinions’ Community Advisory Board. Here you’ll find one of his columns.

by Fletcher Lowe

“The real play goes on after you leave the theater.”   Words of wisdom from a Broadway actor whose name I have unfortunately lost. 

But I do remember former US Senate Chaplain Richard Halverson, who put those words specifically in a Christian context: “Whether you are a pilot, plumber, pastor, physician, or working to meet innumerable legitimate human needs at an office, construction site, or home, you are working for God!” 

The question is, how often do Christians feel that at their work bench, they are working for God?  According to a recent Center for Faith at Work survey, only 30% of Christians “can clearly see the work they are doing is serving God….”  In my own personal survey – having visited over 400 Christians in their places of work – about 80% said our conversation of connecting faith with work was the first time that subject had ever been raised.  What an indictment on the Church, that the place where Christians who work spend most of their God- given time and talent is not a focus of interest for the Church?  Is this not at the core of what our faith is about?  “The real play does go on after you leave the theater.”  A congregation, rightly perceived, serves as a launching pad, a filling station, a base camp where people go for support before going to “the real play.”

That is why, for some of us, the Dismissal at the end of worship is the most important part of the Sunday Liturgy. What are the hymns and readings and prayers and sermons all about but helping “equip the saints for the work of ministry.” (Ephesians 4:12) Preparing for the launch, getting the fuel for the journey, being supplied for the hike. “And now Father, send us out to do the work you have given us to do….”  “Let us now go forth into our worlds of work and community and home, rejoicing in the power of the Spirit.” (Book of Common Prayer, p.366, adapted)

‘That’s who I am! That’s what I do!’

ILO / Apex Image

by Pam Tinsley

“That’s who I am! That’s what I do!” responded the gas station attendant to our heartfelt “Thank you!” for pumping our gas. Our interaction with him was a cheerful interlude during an otherwise long day of travel. Our previous stops at rest areas had felt a little odd since people still seemed cautious about interacting closely because of the pandemic. Then, in a small eastern Oregon town several miles from the freeway on a 101-degree afternoon, this cheerful guy brightened our day – simply by showing us the joy he took in his job.

That cheerful “That’s who I am, and that’s what I do” stays with me. What if all of us who are baptized repeated these words regularly to remind us of our baptism and baptismal ministry? When we remember to place Christ at the heart of our daily activities, those seemingly routine activities can take on new meaning. They can even become transformational. Maybe if our own attitudes might be transformed so that we feel the same joy as the gas attendant, and we then become leaven for the world around us.