Friday, June 26, 2009
Working in a parish is not the same as work in the secular world.
In all the secular jobs I've had, although I remember many co-workers fondly, there was nothing other than the job the really bonded us. As it is, I've not stayed in contact with...well...anyone with whom I've worked in the past. The "friendships" were superficial and incidental, and even those who did remain friends for a time are no longer in my life for one reason or another.
Some of this has to do with my own conversion and having to take a moral stand with regard to one friend's "living will". (She and I were friends for years...that stance caused her to slam the door on our friendship.)
Others were really just not deep enough to last beyond our common employment.
Working in a parish, as I mentioned, is different.
It's not just "a job". Certainly, the actual work involved is definitely "a job". It's paperwork and organization (blech) and coordinating (blech again!) and tedium and a whole bunch of things I do especially when I know I have no idea what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, or how to go about it.
But there's more: there's the people. Catholics just like me. People at various stages in their spiritual life. People who love Our Lord and are doing their best to follow Him.
Working in a parish has softened me. In the past, on my blog, in my angry post-conversion stage I did what a lot of people do; I ripped and shredded people in their ignorance of our faith. In fact, I still do this, but with much less frequency now and even less hostility.
Well, now...I see the cause of that, and the futility of all the ripping and roaring of the blogosphere. Firstly, the people with no faith aren't reading the blogs. Thank God! If they did, they'd run away forever! (We ALL need to learn to hold our tongues!)
I've had the privilege, since starting this position, of speaking to people one to one, and some have had very real, deep questions and are simply in want of a little discussion, maybe even support. Others have been outright hostile, not understanding that living and sharing their faith is, in fact, a baptismal DEMAND upon us. They've been done a disservice in the lack of education they've received, don't know the first thing about what it means to be Catholic and they're confused, angry, hurt, grieving...a thousand things. They don't need harsh words. They need someone to listen and understand.
(They also don't need someone to water down the teachings of the Church, only deliver those teachings gently and with proper timing. I'm still learning this lost art.)
I've also learned that working in a parish actually DIMINISHES my "power" in the eyes of those who attend that parish. Those who don't work for the Church are in fact a bigger voice than any of us who function within the confines of religious education.
For example, if I go up in front of a group of people and say, with references, that we are obligated to attend Mass EVERY Sunday and Holy Day of Obligation, people want to know who I am to DARE to suggest they can't just "decide" whether they are "obligated" on their own. Yet if a fellow parishioner stands in front of them and says the same thing, they hear the voice as "non-authoritative" and therefore, someone to be believed. Thus, if I and that person are on the same page, the teaching has more credibility.
And of course, I've discussed in depth in other posts that if Father says something....it's golden. Even if they don't like it. Because he's Father. They might vilify me, they might vilify the other parishioner, but even if they vilify Father, they take his words to heart. That's a fact.
It really is like a big family of discombobulated siblings, some of whom don't get along, and others that do and form a united front and in fact, carry the rest of the family, rebellious or ambivalent, with their loving and fruitful labors.
As a parish employee, I get to know about 1% of that parish very well, because they're the people I actually SEE all the time. The good thing is that, where I work, that 1% is STELLAR, faithful, prayerful, and they're dragging me kicking and screaming on my way to holiness.
Having just come off of a very large unwieldy project as of today, I can honestly say that if it weren't for a few solid volunteers, everything would have crashed. And not just because one person simply doesn't have the ability to do it all, but because these people see and know my weaknesses and leap in to save me and the project. They've been carrying me and the program all week long.
It comes down to that common goal; wanting the good of others. It's natural to want to jump in and help when the ship is sinking. That's what they do.
I joked with a friend this week that I was really just a figurehead leader, but really....that wasn't a joke. I can't lead myself or organize myself out of a wet paper bag which has been ripped open on both sides and open in the middle.
Yes, I worked hard and did my best, but my best, to stay with the sinking ship metaphor, is a small plastic bucket with a large hole in the middle.
It's the people at this parish that made this week's program work. People I genuinely like and am enjoying getting to know better. And these very same people go out of their way to let me know they're praying for me, willing to help with anything I need...etc.
Working for a parish is, then, both a curse and a blessing. It's an experience of the suffering and the glory of the Cross, lived out within its shadow in ways most people could never understand. I barely understand it myself.
But I'm grateful. I love the teens who volunteer and do so much to make things work, I love the children who love others so easily and quickly, I love the adults who, in their watchful guidance not only guide the programs, but we, as staff, as well.
Maybe one of the things that's hard for me is "management". I don't like being a manager, and yet, people, volunteers, are coming to me and asking what I want to have happen. They are looking to my authority, and I stand back, amazed, thinking, "You're FAR more qualified to run this than I am!"
But I have to do my job, and yes, I do have a vision and am humbled by the people coming to me for direction as to what to do next. I'm humbled by their willingness to do so much...for nothing.
And I'm so grateful to know these people. Had I turned down this position, I would never have met them. They've changed my life, they've brought me closer to God and yes, they are friends. Not superficial friends, but friends in Christ, and that's an entirely different thing.
You all know my financial situation, which is like that of many parish workers; in the summer we lose hours. Yet, of all the people in my life who know of this situation, NONE have suggested I leave this position and find another, something more stable. It seems that everyone understands, at some level, that working in a parish isn't the same thing as working in the secular world. They might not understand how low the pay is and the reality of not having a living wage, but they don't suggest quitting.
There is something more here than just a job.
I won't be in this position forever. Whether I am called to religious life or not, there is one thing that I don't question: and that is that my current job is temporary. I WILL be moving on, if only because I can't live on it and will be forced to do SOMETHING.
Truth be told, I considered quitting a year ago, and a few times since then. Granted our economic climate and 10% unemployment rate has affected my decision to stay a little, but the fact remains that...this job isn't about me.
When I worked in Insurance, while our efforts were team efforts and customer-focused, it was all about the money. No one worked there just for the heck of it. People don't go to an Insurance Company and volunteer to do stuff for free. While other "careers" I've had were done in a search for something meaningful, it was the same thing..the money element was there.
What I realized last year, though, and even more so now that it's almost been two years, is that, in some strange way, this parish needs me. Not because I'm special or a saint or an expert. But because they are in need of stability. They've had a lot of change in the time before I came, and even now, they beg me not to leave any time soon.
That's not about me, personally. It's not a song of my glory. It has to do with their need for stability, consistent staff, not having to constantly evaluate the status or orthodoxy (or lack thereof!) of new people. Right now, the parishioners know what to expect from myself and those in our office. We work well together. We work with Father well, and even in conflicts, peace reigns in spite of frustrations.
Even though I'm almost completely incompetent, these people know me and have expressed they want me to stay. Some of this has been voiced out of a desire to not have any more "change". For others, it's been more personal, and I'm grateful for that. We all need to know we're valued in some way.
I've written a lot here, as usual, but I think I could write an entire book and STILL fail to explain adequately what keeps me at that parish. Suffice to say, perhaps, that it is Our Lord. He calls, He places, He draws us together and helps us to be faithful. We work together not for our good, but for the good of all, for the good of each other.
So often I walk down the hall to the church to spend some time with Jesus, pray for help, or even a little support, and apologize to Him for being such a bad servant. There I am, working in His own House and even in my unfaithfulness, in my doubt, things end up working out. People step in to fill my weaknesses. In that, He is glorified.
I know that everything of God is far bigger than any of us. I know that the project of this week was so far beyond any of us that we can never fathom the eternal consequences and graces.
This week was brutal, but it was clear that God was present, held the entire thing in His hand, and I even "felt" His hand on me at times.
I need to remember those moments in times when I don't understand what I'm doing. Every little thing is for Him, and ultimately, about Him.
I'm grateful no one has suggested I just quit my job. I don't want to. Even as I grumble and procrastinate and stress out, I've never had a job that has so revealed the heart of Christ. I've never before had a job that brought me so easily and quickly to my knees.
I've never before had a job that hit me so hard in ALL of my weaknesses, forcing me to see how God works...because I simply cannot.
And everything that happens belongs to His Glory.
Apparently this lesson was so important for me to learn and continue to learn that God called me into a parish to learn it. They say that the Church is a hospital for sinners. I'm a permanent resident.
That's what it means to work for God, and not for the world.
It's a terrible, frustrating, agonizing, glorious and joyful experience and I'm grateful to God for this experience and for the people who have truly made me realize what it means to die to myself in order to live for others.
This is only the tip of the iceberg....