My colleagues in parish ministry hear comments from time to time such as, “You don’t understand what it’s like in the real world. It’s much harder to be a Christian out there.” And, to a certain extent, they’re right. At the very least, working in the Church brings different kinds of challenges than the work of honouring Christ among people who, at best, have pretty different values and, at worst, think our faith is just a big joke.
So I find myself in a unique situation as I wander through the hallways of a public university wearing a collar. After ten years of working and studying in Christian institutions, I’m beginning to understand what those parishioners are referring to when they talk about the challenges of being and seeing Jesus in their work places. For example, my lunch conversation last year might have involved a rigorous debate over the authorship of 2 Timothy or whether a server should cross his or her thumbs during a liturgical procession. A typical lunch discussion this year, however, might involve an awkward conversation about why I think people are spiritual beings just as much as they are physical, mental, and emotional ones. For this discussion, I would find myself drawing, not so much on Scripture, but on the Indigenous teaching of the Medicine Wheel in an attempt to build bridges between traditions.
Some days I feel pressure to be perfectly giving and kind to everyone, as if their interactions with me might make or break their acceptance of the faith. Other days I want to leave the collar at home and pretend I’m not the Christian minister so they can recognize me as just another person like themselves, looking for meaning and connection and authenticity on my journey through life.
Yet most days, I am amazed by the interactions I am privileged to have in the workplace with people from a wide variety of traditions. As much as my presence confuses some people, others are intrigued enough to share their stories, to ask difficult questions, and to invite me into prayer with them. In the church it’s easy for us to take these little bits of trust and community for granted because that’s just what we do; but in most public workplaces, sharing stories and making space in our lives for one another isn’t part of the culture.
When I bring a little of my culture into the lives of others at work by sharing my faith, my story, and my hope, I am blessed in turn by being invited into the story of another. In these first few months at the university I’ve had great conversations about Sikhism, Chinese New Year, Buddhist meditation, and Roman Catholicism under Stalin. I listen, amazed, to how God has shown up in places quite outside my own context and how God has faithfully provided for people very different from myself.
As I interact with “the other” in the workplace, it occurs to me that Jesus spent a lot of time doing just that. He heard the stories of the Samaritan woman, the Centurion, and the Pharisee, and in turn invited them to see where God was at work in their lives and join him in the life of the kingdom. It seems to me that those of you with regular jobs in the regular world have a special vocation to be like Jesus in this way, hearing the stories of others and in turn sharing God’s story with them. Could it be that simple?