Thursday, September 23, 2010


I met a friend for lunch today, a woman who serves at a church part-time, but also works full-time downtown in an office.  We talked about teaching liturgy to children, and to adults.  We talked about the importance of worship, the difference between private devotional time, and public worship, the need to gather.

We met downtown, near where she works, in a little sandwich shop right next to a financial services office.  There was an entrance to the bookstore of a Catholic church just across from where were eating avocado veggie wraps.

I don't get downtown much anymore.  I think I can count on one hand the number of times I've been downtown in the last year.  But I used to go downtown every day.  I used to take the bus to my office, where I worked in insurance, first as a clerk, later as an underwriter.  Even earlier, I worked as a secretary for a large investment firm. 

I was an earnest young laywoman in those days.  I taught Sunday School.  I sang in the choir.  I organized adult forums.  I served on the church board for awhile.  I love the liturgy, singing, teaching children -- but I wondered what my faith had to do with downtown, where I worked in an office, answered phones, gave out insurance quotes.

I knew that my faith had to do with giving money to my church, so, even though I didn't make a lot of money, I tithed.  I read books called Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, and wondered about living in a way that served the poor.  I gave up things for Lent.

But I didn't know what my faith had to do with what I did all day, five days a week, downtown.

Eventually, I realized that I was called to public ministry, to speak aloud the gospel, to teach, to lead.  It came in fits and starts, this realization.  Part of my struggle with downtown was a struggle about my calling, I think.  But the other struggle was a struggle that still continues in the church.

What does my faith have to do with downtown?

Most people get the idea, I think, that their faithfulness is measured in the especially religious things they do:  teaching Sunday School, taking communion to shut-ins, singing in the choir, sitting on the church board.  But what about downtown?   How can we be faithful downtown?  I think some pastors, by their silence or their attitudes, give the impression that, actually, we can't.    Don't even think of trying to be faithful downtown, working at your office, writing insurance quotes, gathered at the water cooler or the coffee pot. 

Maybe it's that pastors just don't get downtown enough.  When I look back, I am startled to think how I lived my faith in my nine-to-five job, downtown.  I think about conversations with coworkers,  the people I knew who were in no way church-goers.  I thought about the young woman who came to me for advice, the woman who called me her "Lutheran friend".  I thought about how just doing the best work I could was faithfulness.  But I wouldn't have thought that, then.

It's more than a little ironic, I think:  Luther's reformation was, at least in part, about breaking down the hierarchy of vocations.  Luther didn't believe that religious callings were any holier than anything else God could call us to do.  Luther believed that a shoemaker or a teacher or a streetcleaner was called by God, doing God's work in the world.

Downtown.   The church isn't just in the church on Sunday.  The church is also downtown.  But wouldn't it be so much more powerful if we knew it?


Elaine Dent said...

Beautiful and powerful way of putting that. Thank you.

Mompriest said...

I've often thought that most people in the pews come to church on Sunday looking for that "Spiritual" moment with God, but who then go home unchanged and ok with that. It's a sad thought for me.

PS (PSanafter-thought) said...

If I understand your piece and the metaphor of downtown, you are saying that our faith "downtown" isn't just that we are faithful in our work, doing it with integrity, but also about how we speak about our faith while in our natural day-to-day environment(s). Is our faith (and our God) something that is important enough to us that it might, at times, bubble through our conversations? Would our co-workers know that we are faithful Christians?

[And how do we do this without becoming one of those people we might not respect because he/she wears his/her faith so much on the sleeve that all we see is that simplistic sleeve?]

If we were on trial for being Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict us?

I've thought about the vast mission fields that are always right around us. Will God hold us accountable for not being His witness?