At this time in my life, I think about work differently than when I was working in a specific profession. Several of those musings took place during worship at our church the day before Labor Day, which prompts the following quiltwork of thoughts.
At my age, I am rewarded for the various personal and volunteer roles I am immersed in—the pay is just different. In a way, I’m still being paid—I receive a pension whose dimensions were sculpted by the ELCA. Those years of the ELCA’s contributions to the pension plan are now coming back to me as a kind of delayed payment for the work I did. I am very grateful that I could work for such an enterprise—folks who take seriously the well-being of employees like me.
I look around at workers today, and see that most of them are working hard to afford the basics of life. Not just skilled laborers or folks who are part of the gig economy, but also non-union shift workers, servers and retail associates. I may be wrong, but my estimate is that society’s view of the value of their labor has gone down. That in many cases workers are being taken for advantage, disregarded or even discarded.
I admire workers of all kinds. I dropped out of churchwork in my 30s and administered a Federally funded job-training program. When that program’s funds disappeared, I then spent some years in the meat provisioning business. That’s where I learned how intelligence can reside in one’s hands, how too many people are not presently capable of holding down a job. How the dimensions of so many jobs are truly fascinating. I saw ethical employers doing the right thing, and other business owners squeezing their workers to the point of despair.
Years ago, I had the pleasure of reading the now-classic God the Worker, by Robert Banks. The author digs into Scripture to find all the ways in which biblical writers described the work that God does. Yes, Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier, but also gardener, composer, orchardist, garment maker, potter, shepherd, builder and architect—to name a few. It gave me comfort—and excited me—to know that Jesus worked with his hands until his 30s, that most of the apostles were skilled laborers. That this gracious and loving God has a particular love and understanding for workers of all kinds.
I carry those thoughts with me today, strongly so. Because of that Federal job-training program, I know the rough dimensions of many occupations, so can ask beyond-ordinary questions about others’ jobs. That’s why I am one of those folks who engages waitresses in appreciative conversation, prays for soldiers, thanks skilled service providers who keep my home in good repair. Why I agonize when I see under-employed young adults struggling to find meaning in their present occupations. Why I cringe when I hear mothers describe their callings with “just a housewife” language.
My persisting vision for congregational vitality is that members know each other by their occupations or unpaid work. (Homemakers and volunteers, I’m thankful for you!) That pastors and leaders see their mission as “equipping the saints for ministry” (Ephesians 4:11-12) and that congregational programming morphs into that exciting shape.
Look around today—part of the continuing “labor days” God affords—to see how the labor of others makes your life possible, and thank God for all workers!