September 7, 2023

Take Your Priest to Work Day

A few years into my priesthood, I began to realize how little I knew about the professional lives of my parishioners. Parishioners with flexible professional schedules often came to meet with me at the church building, but I hardly ever went to their offices or workplaces. I had a little more visibility on the work lives of parishioners who donated their professional services to the church, but even that didn’t feel complete or authentic.

So, I started asking people to invite me to visit them on the job, and “Take Your Priest to Work Day” was born. So far, I have visited a farm, a soap factory, a flight simulator, a grain elevator, a cotton gin, an Army Corps of Engineers construction project, and several other places. I have even petted a possum at our local nature center.

Through these visits, parishioners have begun to make new connections between their faith and their work. Their co-workers have begun to see them as people of faith. And, I have developed a much fuller understanding of my parishioners’ whole lives. Whenever possible, I visit around lunchtime so that we can continue deepening our relationship over a meal.

No one has turned me down yet. Most of my parishioners are proud of what they do professionally and feel honored that I want to know more about it and about them.

These visits have also given me a deeper understanding of my parish’s context: The American labor shortage is no longer theoretical to me. I pay attention to the price of agricultural commodities and the stock prices of Memphis’ largest employers. I can see why farmers and conservationists often disagree with one another, and I can also see the common ground that exists between them.

Business school professors will teach you to understand your company’s “means of production” – that is, all the people, equipment, and raw material that your company needs to do what it does. People are the church’s means of production. People are the means by which the church brings about the Kingdom of God, and their ministers need to understand them more comprehensively than we often do.