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The Christmas card came down today

On Christmas Eve I handed David a Christmas card.

It was a copy of a card I have had for 55 years. It was done by the African American artist Allan Rohan Crite. In 1963 I received it from the Church of the Advocate in Philadelphia I had served on the summer staff working in the parish’s summer day camp.

David is one of the employees at Café Ladro. I’m there each morning around 7:30 am reading the news on my Kindle. I return later in the day for a second cup and either more news or a bit of work-related reading.

After Christmas I noticed that the card had been taped to the side of the pastry case. I was surprised. Maybe it held some meaning for one of the employees.

The Christmas season passed, and the card remained. More than two months. Maybe it had faded into the background and was now a silent witness.

Today it was there in the morning and gone by the evening.  Three days after Ash Wednesday. It was time. It had been getting a bit beat up in that busy work station.


The dignity of work

Bishop Benhase, OA posted a piece the other day, “A Benedictine Garbage Man.” He began with this,

Awhile ago one Thursday as I was home writing, I heard the garbage truck pulling into the lane behind our house. I knew our trash containers indoors were overflowing, so I went downstairs, grabbed them, and raced outside to get the bags to the workers before they headed down the lane. I got there just in time. I don't know what prompted me, but after a small-talk exchange about the weather, I asked one of the workers: "Do you like your job?" He smiled, and as I recall, said something like: "Well, it stinks (literally) most of the time. It's hard and hot in summer. But I do an important service for people in this city (he's right, imagine what uncollected garbage for weeks would be like) and I like the people I work with. The money's enough for me and my family to live on." I thanked him as he and his co-workers headed down the lane.

And closed with this,

 He doesn't expect his work to "save" him, prove him worthy of anything, or give him some deep sense of identity. His job helps others by providing a needed service. He enjoys the people with whom he works. His job supports his family's needs.

In the training of novices in the Order of the Ascension one of the developmental issues we place before members is this – “Shape a parish in which the daily life and ministry of the baptized is at the center of parish energies. Respect for the vocation and life of the laity.”

An expansion on that is offered in “the marks of parish development” –

The daily life and ministry of the baptized is at the center of parish energies

The central rhythm of all parish churches is the movement of members from renewal in their baptismal identity and purpose to life and ministry in their workplace, civic involvements, and with families and friends. The parish church is called to support people as instruments of God’s love and light in all of life.  It’s really about us learning to better cooperate with the organic processes of the parish—people become salt and light in Eucharist, prayer, learning and community so they might be salt and light in daily life.

For many parishes this involves a shift from asking lay members to focus on the institutional needs of the parish to a focus on the daily life of its members in the world. This calls for leadership that attends to the parish’s institutional needs in an effective and efficient manner while giving more attention to and respect for the baptized person’s daily life.


The Card

The Christmas card was a small way of saying thank you and at the same time to affirm the service these young women and men provide. They are polite. They say hello and goodbye. They use your name. They treat people with dignity – young and old, homeless and housed. You can see they enjoy working with each other. And they strive to get the order right and done with care.

I don’t know if any of the employees are Christians or hold to any religion. This is Seattle! When Michelle Heyne, OA, and I broke our fast on Wednesday the server asked what was on our heads. “Ashes.”  He looked confused. We explained, “it’s a Christian religious practice.” He said, “Oh. My mother’s a Christian. She probably knows about it.” Then he went on to serve us.

The Christian understanding of the dignity of work is not something that we own. It is an expression of God’s life among all people.

And one was a doctor, and one was a queen ... one was a soldier, and one was a priest ... one was a server and one was a barista.



A PDF – Apostolate in the Workplace