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Happy (Belated) Labor Day!

Last week a Washington Post article declared the eight-hour work day to be dying.  It stated “only about half of office visits now last for at least six hours at a time.”

Today another article in WaPo argued for compensation for the emotional work one does.  That article concluded, “As workplaces continue to evolve and ‘hard skills’ are taken over by robots, emotional labor is the human skill in otherwise digitized, AI-dominant, impersonal environments that will prove essential. Rewarding such labor is not only just — it is, quite simply, common sense.”

This Sunday in First Forum we had a presentation on the changing nature of work.  Our presenter Terrence Batiste only got through half of his prepared talk because there were so many questions and comments.  One of his main themes is that most professional work is moving away from making something or simply completing a task, to being compensated for our thinking and ideas.

Meanwhile, the changing nature of work is also impacting the church.  This weekend “Clergy Facebook” was lit up by an article written by a Presbyterian minister on why he was leaving pastoral ministry, burned out after only a decade.  Various colleagues of mine from around the country were sharing this with their own comments.  One, Molly Phinney Baskette who pastors a UCC church in Berkeley, California, wrote a longer piece also celebrating her 25th anniversary in ministry.  Her essay included this bit of data, that might be startling if you haven’t been keeping up on all the articles about clergy burnout in recent years:

It was bad even before the pandemic: according to an Alban Institute study in the early Aughts, 50% of seminary grads dropped out of ministry in the first five years.  A Duke University study just a few years later (2007) reported that a whopping 85% dropped out in the first five years. They both agree that 90% of ministers don’t make it past the 20-year mark.

Elena Larssen reposted a piece she had written last year for how this has impacted the UCC and what factors are motivating the great clergy resignation.  I’ve also been hearing from colleagues in various denominations about the clergy shortages they are experiencing.

Pretty much every sector of work was undergoing major shifts before the pandemic, and the pandemic has focused attention on those trends and accelerated them.  How is your sector changing?  And how might we think about all of this theologically?

In her book Christianity and the New Spirit of Capitalism, theologian Kathryn Tanner takes a critical eye to the “scarcity-propelled efficiency dynamics” of our current finance-dominated capitalism.  Part of our economy’s deep flaw is the way it marks time.  She’s critical because this isn’t the way Christianity marks time.  Our approach should center “fulsomeness”—“One has all one needs now to meet the present challenge.”  The Christian approach is about giving one’s attention in every moment to the things of value present before you.  She writes, “Glorying in God’s own eternity, one would come to enjoy oneself a never-ending day, a day in which one remains forever present to oneself, aware of oneself, in God.”

The implication is that workplaces are changing because they were built upon unhealthy and false ideas.  As the world goes through these major paradigm-shifts, we in the church need to center a healthier approach to work informed by our Christian spirituality.

Two Easter seasons ago, our worship series focused on Christian ideas of time and how they relate to the ways in which we experience resonance and make meaning in our lives.  I think those ideas are relevant for our contemplation of work.  The writings of Andrew Root focused our worship in that season.  It’s worthwhile to go back to the key quote from his book The Congregation in a Secular Age:

We long to find a true fullness that draws us not through time, into some future, but more deeply into time itself.  We long to live so deeply in time that we hear and feel the calling of eternity.  We yearn to find once again the infinite in time, to find the sacred in the present, and therefore to be truly alive!


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First Central Congregational Church