Theme: Christians in the Workplace
by Mrs. Amy Bozeman
by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick
by Mr. Jeffrey Hoff
by Fr. Sean Levine
More information about our authors can be found here.
Theme: Christians in the Workplace
by Mrs. Amy Bozeman
by Protodeacon Peter Danilchick
by Mr. Jeffrey Hoff
by Fr. Sean Levine
More information about our authors can be found here.
By Amy Bozeman
A month ago I was approached about writing, for this blog, about Christianity in the workplace. I agreed, obviously–and yet, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how I would write about such a thing. Being a Christian in any workplace is a challenge. I don’t know that I’ve ever even put any thought into “integrating” my Orthodox Christianity with my vocation as a Registered Nurse. Perhaps I have never really accepted the challenge of evaluating how my Christianity was playing out at my work. So, right after accepting to write this piece, I found myself truly stumped and staring down the paper. I wasn’t sure where to begin.
It occurred to me that I could try to be a little more experimental at work in order to come up with something objective. Thinking I was clever, I started with a vision of the “perfect” Christian nurse and tried to match my actions to that illusion. As some sort of test, I focused more on getting my prayers in before my 13 hour night shifts. I even listened to some good Orthodox music as I drove into work. Following all the rules I knew about workplace Christianity–many of which I Googled–I had my halo firmly in place and imagined I was much like the Angels of Mercy we all see in the media. HA!
A couple of difficult shifts into this project, my Nurse-Angel delusion completely dissolved: I quickly learned that the shifts I started off “right” were in fact even harder than usual–and the more I tried to be Christ-like, the more I failed. In fact, I was followed last month by what we nurses call a black-cloud: I was overwhelmed with patients, our unit was busier than ever, and I saw more emergent situations, including more death. Every possible “bad” thing that could happen at work seemed to happen–just short of my making a fatal error and killing someone. The challenge had become too much and i contemplated backing out of this article.
And in response, I did what I apparently always do: I ranted and raved about my coworkers and patients, I cried, and at home, I threatened to quit my job because I just couldn’t do it anymore. In fact, the more I looked for God at work, and the more I tried to be like Him, the less I found Him, and the more I saw how very godless I can be.
Mid-month, after hitting this wall, I had to admit: Super-Christian-Nurse just didn’t exist. And no, she never would. Seeing my pride, I recognized how I had always considered myself above reproach at work: I refrained from gossip; I didn’t lie, cheat, or steal. My co-workers even told me I was a “good-person” and was “trustworthy.” I had everyone’s respect, and yet, I was still missing the mark.
Logging off Google in order to find some real answers, I started asking around about Christianity in the workplace. And answers began to trickle in: one friend reminded me of a favorite quote by Mother Theresa of Calcutta that has always inspired her working with people: “Let no one ever come to you without leaving better and happier. Be the living expression of God’s kindness: kindness in your face, kindness in your eyes, and kindness in your smile.” I had to ask myself, were the people I encountered at work leaving my presence better and happier? I didn’t think so. I was leaving work feeling frustrated and unfulfilled because my work was not other-centered. Oddly enough, as evidenced by my prayers, nursing had become all about me and what I could get out of it!
A priest I spoke with at this same time told me I was very “blessed to be a nurse because you can pray for your patients without them really knowing it.” This struck me–how often was I praying for myself at work–that things would go well for me, that my work load would not be too heavy, that I wouldn’t make a mistake, that my paycheck would be hefty? I had worked so hard at saying my prayers that I had forgotten to pray for the people, the living icons of Christ, I encounter every work-day, face to face.
Following on the heels of this revelation was a conversation with a monastic friend of mine about compartmentalization and how we must be our true selves in every situation. How often do I switch persona between Nurse, Wife, Mom, Friend, and even Christian? Even living on a seminary campus challenges my authenticity as I leave this Christian microcosm to work out in the big, bad world. I had to wonder: was I really being Amy, a person the Holy Spirit dwells within, in both places? Is my faith like the lunch I pack up before work that I will only take out periodically and then pack it away? Or is it like my nurse’s uniform, something I wear that visually identifies me for all the world to see?
My month of reflection ended like this: scheduled for two, thirteen-hour night shifts back to back, I trudged into the hospital and was hit with some of the busiest shifts I have ever worked. I saw 10 babies born, and saw 3 babies tragically die. I circulated several emergent lifesaving c-sections, was bled on, yelled at, grabbed at, and argued with. I didn’t have one moment to pray, to share the Gospel, or be my “authentic self”, much less eat anything or even go to the bathroom. I came from these shifts completely bereft and wondering if my faith can even come up for air when I am so busy and overwhelmed. Once again I was tempted to opt out of this article because I was completely empty of words about what I had experienced. I had failed.
And then, after getting some sleep, and speaking to my husband about my apparent insanity and schizophrenia, I was reminded of something St. John Chrysostom once said:”Why do you beat the air and run in vain? Every occupation has a purpose, obviously. Tell me then, what is the purpose of all the activity of the world? Answer, I challenge you! It is vanity of vanity: all is vanity.”
If my work is all vanity, then what is the point of work at all? Doing a little celebratory dance, I thought maybe I had an excuse, from St. John, no less, to turn in my resignation! Then it struck me: the point of everything is always Christ. And as a Christian, my presence in the work environment is not about me, instead it is about bringing the presence of Christ into all that I do.
The thing is, my spiritual life outside of work is always going to carry into the workplace. It is not possible for me to be more or less Christian dependent on my environment. It doesn’t work that way. And I can bring Christ’s presence into work only in as much as He is present in me. Just by my being at the hospital, I have brought Jesus to people, because I am authentically Amy, an Orthodox Christian. And yes, it is a huge challenge–one that this Christian nurse refuses to ignore any longer.
By Protodeacon Peter Danilchick
“How can you, a churchman, go to work for a capitalistic oil company?” asked Fr Alexander Schmemann, when I became an employee of Exxon in 1970. Fr Alexander, then Dean of St Vladimir’s Seminary, and I had been acquainted for some years before. We’d corresponded on and discussed church issues, especially when he visited Syracuse NY. I was in graduate school there studying engineering.
By this time, I was accustomed to Fr Alexander’s forthright manner and quickly responded: “Don’t worry, Father. Exxon is a very ethical and moral company. If I step out of line one iota, I will be gone.” This statement that I made at the beginning of my Exxon career, I could repeat with full confidence thirty years later.
Five years after starting at Exxon, I was ordained Deacon in the OCA and remained an Orthodox deacon and Exxon analyst, then manager, and finally executive through the next three decades.
If you’ve ever seen old Western movies, you might have viewed a scene in which the cowboy hero jumps on two horses, one foot on either saddle, and rides away chasing the bad guys. It’s quite a trick. I have often felt the same way juggling both Church and company responsibilities. It becomes even more complicated when you are a husband and father of three children and you move around the world every two or three years.
Since this article is about the workplace, I’ll concentrate on that. Frankly, I encountered little conflict between my life at Exxon and my life in the Church. Was this because I had low expectations for both? I don’t think so. Rather my Church vocation as deacon (the one who serves) became both tested and fulfilled during the hours at work.
We all know what Jesus said about authority and service: “Do not be like the rulers of the Gentiles, who exercise authority over others and lord it over them. He who would be great must be the servant…he who would be first must be the slave of all.”
In my very early Exxon days, before I was ordained, I didn’t want to be great and I didn’t want to be first. I wanted to be humble. I didn’t speak out a lot in meetings, trying not to call attention to myself. I deferred to others’ judgments, even when I had questions about them. I mistakenly thought that this was what Christians in the workplace should do.
My manager had noticed this, took me aside, and emphasized to me that I had a responsibility to the company and in fact to all the others in my work group, to speak out and to take a far more active role. I began to realize that love for and service to others means involvement, taking responsibility and speaking out when we see better ways to do things. It doesn’t mean hanging back, being silent, and “going with the flow”. At about the same time, I came across St John Chrysostom’s saying: “If one sees his brother doing something wrong and under the guise of humility does not correct him, that same brother will condemn him at the Judgment Seat.” This is a great responsibility that we all have, to make a difference with our brother or sister, with kindness, generosity and compassion, to “speak the truth in love.”
After some years, I began to take on managerial responsibilities, leading groups as varied as twenty professionals in head offices and over a hundred operating personnel at an oil refinery. At the same time, I served the Church in Texas, Tokyo, Singapore, Sydney, Hamburg, and Hong Kong. The robe and stole that I wore at Sunday Divine Liturgy was still with me in a spiritual sense throughout the week, although I wore a hard hat and jeans in the refinery, and a business suit and tie in the head offices. Regardless of apparel and surroundings, I knew that I must serve those for whom I am responsible at work just as I serve the Lord and His people at church. This goes not just for deacons but for all of us in the Church. The robe (or sticharion) that both the priest and the deacon wear as their “first garment” when serving liturgically is nothing but the baptismal robe that we all were clothed with at our own Baptism. That robe is indelible – it cannot be erased. We have put on Christ. That robe shines every day — if we want it to, with God’s grace.
Soon after my ordination, we moved to Houston, Texas. I was interviewed by the Houston Post newspaper religion editor regarding some mission work I was attempting in the city. An article was subsequently published, which had my picture in clerical attire. The head of my department at Exxon read it, and had copies posted on every bulletin board in our 500-person office. Needless to say, I received a few reactions from my colleagues on that. But I did receive one of the nicest compliments I’ve ever received, which paradoxically remained as the greatest challenge to me for my entire life. One of the department secretaries came to me after the picture posting and said: “I knew there was something different about you – and now I know what it is.” I felt overwhelmed by that simple statement (I still do) and learned a great lesson. People know who you are despite all your efforts to conceal it (or to fake it), both for good and for bad.
Fr Tom Hopko said a lot of things about Christians in the Workplace many years ago which are recorded in his CD “The Work of the People of God” published by St Vladimir’s Seminary Press. One experience he recounted there made a big impression on me. He was asking someone in his parish what he did for a living. The man said that he worked in a factory and that he made holes in metal plates. Sounds simple, right? The man went on to say: “But I make great holes. The young fellas coming in, they don’t make such great holes.” The lesson here is that whatever we do, we do the absolute best we can. In this way, we take responsibility and serve others through our work. The next person down the assembly line depends upon us to do our work properly. If we foul up, they foul up. The words of St Paul should echo in our ears: “we are members one of another.”
By far the greatest satisfaction that I ever received at work was working alongside people, whether they were my superiors, peers, or subordinates on the organization chart. That didn’t make any difference. We worked together for a common cause. We sweated together as deadlines drew near. We shared each others’ successes and failures, victories and defeats. We encouraged one another when times were tough and celebrated when times were good. I’ve been retired for many years now. When people ask me if I miss the work, I say “no, but I miss the people.”
In many of the epistles of St Paul, he ends his letters, whether they are scolding or encouraging, with words of tenderness about the people, his beloved co-workers. One of the great opportunities for us all in the workplace is to truly regard it as the “vineyard”, as a living laboratory of love and service, kindness and generosity, forbearance and patience.
Not all of us can go to a monastery or to a life of full-time church service, and to practice these virtues there – but we can certainly go to work. And hopefully, when co-workers hear that we are Christians, they’ll say: “I knew there was something different about you…”
By Jeffrey Hoff
I have been a practicing Orthodox Christian for my entire life. Since graduating college five years ago, I have maintained a job in the “working world,” a place where my colleagues and peers are not necessarily Christian, and where I’ve worked for and with organizations that have no Christian mission or affiliation. This, by definition I think, makes me a “Christian in the workplace,” with “workplace” being defined as an ordinary work environment without a specific religious or charitable mission.
After four years in undergraduate, and several internships in financial services and technology/media, I worked at a software consulting firm where my clients ranged from global, Fortune 100 companies to smaller organizations in the US and Canada. Since switching jobs two years ago, I’ve worked in an industry that is the object of scorn and criticism. I am employed by a hedge fund, which most know of by way of the mainstream media’s coverage of the current financial crisis impacting our global economy.
In this article I won’t discuss why I believe most negative impressions of the finance industry are misplaced, but suffice it to say that hedge funds are in many ways like people: some hedge funds take questionable action and behave out of compliance with industry standards, while others act with integrity, stringently following rules and staying away from the ‘gray areas.’ The particular firm for which I work happens to fall into the latter group, which keeps my conscience and heart at ease.
Still, my employer obviously wasn’t founded for the purpose of conducting charitable deeds, advancing Christianity among our American population, or praying on behalf of those who cannot pray for themselves (obviously!). My colleagues and our vendors’ employees hold all sorts of ideological beliefs and affiliations (ranging from graduates of rabbinical school to agnostics and atheists). It’s certainly not an environment where I am nurtured and encouraged by like-minded believers and followers in Christ to grow in my faith.
Instead, the goals of our company is to reduce financial risk and increase financial gain; in other words, to take a sum of money and then make more of it. The camel passing through the eye of a needle is sounding more and more realistic, don’t you think?
Add to the mix that the industry that employs me is represented by a large bronze bull (commandment number two, anyone?), and that I work in Manhattan (SoHo) where everything but the true God is worshiped (high-end retail, electronics, gold, arts, financial markets, cupcakes), and one might as well assume that I’ve relegated my existence to that of a non-believer, or even worshiper of evil. Well, I don’t believe that’s so.
To be a Christian in the workforce, I have learned that my faith must inform my work, and not vice versa. This means choosing what is right over what is appealing or tempting. This means following rules, no matter how small or insignificant. This also means doing thorough, honest work (for after all, isn’t that what I am being paid to do? Not doing so would be stealing!) — and this is what I mean by integrity.
Every last action that I complete is done with thorough care and attention. I don’t pass off sloppy work to my manager at 5 PM in an email so that he can clean up my mess. I don’t submit carelessly-compiled reports and summaries that people can’t read or decipher. And I don’t take credit where credit is not due (or even when it is due, often). Take credit for nothing, and responsibility for everything. Am I tempted to do be lazy? Yes, of course. It would make my life a whole lot less stressful and more carefree to just get things in a “good enough” place. But, being a Christian in the work place means that I must be dedicated to the quality of what I produce because I am being paid to do it, and falling short would be swindling my company. It also means that I must be dedicated to supporting my colleagues and peers, because not doing so would be not aligned with the absolute command to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” With all of the stressful moving parts of my daily work effort, it would be so easy to half bake so many things, but for the Christian worker, this is simply not an option.
Part of being a Christian in a non-Christian workplace means upholding my religious values among those that might condemn them. I realized quickly that my coworkers don’t share the similar views on contemporary ideological and religious topics, and this fact disappoints me. Even more than it disappoints me, though, it brings out the worst in me! It causes me to judge my colleagues, to criticize their choices and their behavior, and to attribute their actions to the fact that they are “non-believers.”
Shame on me!
This judgment, of course, is only done within my own thoughts, which are not made known to those around me. Still, one of my first lessons learned about being a Christian in the work place is not judge those around me, but to rather look at my own faults and treat my neighbor with patience, acceptance, and love. The ordinary day-to-day grind of my workplace has grown my patience, acceptance, and love for those around me when they do even the most annoying or inappropriate things. Furthermore, learning from these experiences, I am able to better reflect and pray on how I wish to conduct myself in a way that does reflect in the image of how Christ would act.
Each of us has been given talents by God, and we have been charged by Him to use them (to share them with others) in the best and fullest way we can. You will note that I am not a gifted writer, and you can trust me as I tell you that I have few other gifts! It is probably true that my greatest skill, and what I can offer most to others and for the glory of God, are my analytical skills, which I hone in the workplace, but also share for the Glory of God in other capacities outside of the work environment.
Many of us know the lawyer who helped negotiate a contract, the health care professional that finds pro-bono medical services for the poor, the musician who helps lead the choir, and the cook that makes a successful pirogi sale. I like to think of myself as the finance and technology guy who keeps the books and finds the bargains. And I have my “workplace” to thank for helping me to use and grow my talents so that I can continue to contribute my greatest talent with integrity in the workplace, and with love for our Lord and His Church in all parts of my life.
By Fr. Sean Levine
The very first image/saying that comes to my mind when I hear “Christians in the Workplace” is that quite famous saying attributed to Francis of Assisi when dispatching missionaries: “Everywhere you go, preach the Gospel; if you must, use words.” This rings especially true in the military context where words mean little and actions mean everything.
I reflect upon the role of Christians in the workplace from a dual perspective: first, as an Orthodox Christian among the largely non-Orthodox, non-Christian, non-religious military culture, and, second, as an Orthodox priest serving as an Army Chaplain among a largely Protestant, Evangelical chaplain corps. That is to say, I serve as a priest not in a parish, but side-by-side with non-Orthodox clergy within an increasingly secularized military culture. I am a Christian in a non-Christian workplace, and, thus, I remain familiar with the challenges inherent to such an environment. The most significant characteristic of the milieu in which I work is this: arguments abound and words flow like water from an open fire hydrant. Everyone has something to say. Few people have something (someone) to which (to whom) to listen, so people are always talking and no one (it often seems) is listening. I am suggesting that one of the most powerful things a Christian can do in the workplace is “be seen but not heard.” Shift into “stealth mode” and go about doing the good of the Kingdom without drawing the attention to ourselves that comes as a result of incessant vocalization.
Now, this runs counter to the general philosophy of many who insist that Christians must always be talking: always talking about the faith, always filling people’s ears with truth in order to refute falsehood, always vocalizing a defense for the faith amidst a rapidly growing secular ethos so that truth can eclipse societal lies rather than the opposite. Many see silent Christianity as a “cop out” and an excuse for timid, cowardly Christians who refuse to muster the courage to speak the truth in the face of stiff and relentless opposition.
I beg to differ. It occurs to me, based on many observations, that Christians (Orthodox and not) often become just another voice in an obnoxious cacophony of verbiage. Granted, effective articulation of the faith has its place. Yet far too frequently, Christians in the public sector show a propensity for talking and arguing, but a severe revulsion to doing something practical; as if the world will instantly stop turning on its axis if the Christian opinion is not expressed into the secular verbal vortex, but nothing depends upon simple, quiet, unassuming action. It is far easier to speak than to do, but, I argue, it is the doing that matters long before the speaking. This is the irony that strikes me.
In an over-stimulated world flooded with verbal messages, I would encourage Christians in their places of work to preach the Gospel first with actions; with stellar performance in any field. Let “the world” see us doing the right things at the right times in the right places. Let our co-workers (leaders/bosses, peers, and subordinates alike) watch us live the law of love in an often loveless world. Conserve the energy spent on arguing, convincing, and defending Christianity so that this energy can be expended in living the Gospel right in front of people devoid of any good news. Let us be the Gospel we are called to proclaim. Like an icon, let us speak by being seen.
From my perspective as a military chaplain, I am fundamentally convinced of this method as the main mode of existence in day-to-day life and work among military service members and their families. A soldier will not come to a chaplain because of his preaching, but they will slowly warm up to the chaplain’s preaching once they witness a chaplain’s genuineness and compassion in that chaplain’s actions. I believe that this extends beyond my own context into other workplaces, and perhaps I should edit my earlier challenge to Christians to “be seen but not heard.” Instead, let us “be seen and then heard.” Let us be seen, in whatever workplace we find ourselves, simply working hard, loving those around us through practical acts of mercy, and living a life worthy of the Kingdom. Then we will develop a truly interested audience, and they will be interested to hear not so much about us and our “views,” but Jesus Christ whose own life is in us and is shining through us. Christians should bear witness to the blessed life in Christ within their places of work; when it becomes necessary (i.e. when our actions have already spoken louder than our words ever could on their own), use words.
Mrs. Amy Bozeman is a Registered Nurse specializing in Labor and Delivery. She has been married for seventeen years and is the mother of two teenage boys. Her husband, David Bozeman, is a 3rd-year student at St. Vladimir’s Seminary and a deacon in the Orthodox Church in America. She is also a free-lance writer and editor for Scrubs magazine, a Nursing Publication.
Protodeacon Peter Danilchick is attached to St Mary Orthodox Church in Falls Church, VA (Romanian Episcopate). He is a member of the OCA Metropolitan Council, a Trustee of St Vladimir’s Seminary, and a member of the Secretariat of the Assembly of Bishops of North and Central America. He has been a Deacon for thirty-six years, serving the Orthodox Church in the USA, Japan, Singapore, Australia, Germany and Hong Kong (overseas mostly with the Ecumenical Patriarchate). During that time, he was employed by Exxon Corporation, serving, among other positions, as President of Exxon China Petroleum and Petrochemical Company in Hong Kong, and Vice-President, Planning, ExxonMobil Asia-Pacific Limited in Singapore. He and his wife Tanya have three children and eight grandchildren.
Jeffrey Hoff is a full-time IT Professional in the financial services industry. He grew up attending Sts. Peter and Paul Orthodox Church in South River New Jersey. He attended college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He is married to Tatiana Hoff, who has also contributed to “Wonder” in the past.
Fr. Sean Levine has been serving the men and women of the Armed Forces, first as a Chaplain’s Assistant and later as a Chaplain, for nearly 14 years. Recently ordained as an Orthodox Priest (OCA), he currently serves as a chaplain in the army assigned to Fort Lewis, Washington.
We thank Holy Trinity Orthodox Cathedral in Boston, MA for the use of some of the pictures of deacons in this issue. Their website can be viewed here.