Why the Pandemic Is Great News for Faith-Work Connection

Reprinted from Workship.

There have been a lot of terrible things that have happened in the area that takes up most of our lives, that is work, during this time of coronavirus:

  • Many people have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic; and hardest hit are people with precarious work in hospitality, the arts and tourism
  • Some people have lost their businesses, from entrepreneurial endeavors to manufacturing companies to restaurants
  • Some people have been underemployed and bored at home
  • Some people have been “crazy busy” trying to pivot or learn new skills: teachers taking school online, nurses retraining for intensive care, people packing shelves
  • Some people have been stretched to breaking point with their multiple roles, such as parents homeschooling or minding little kids while trying to work from home

However, I also want to point out a few remarkable things that have happened that will change the world of work going forward, if we continue to be intentional:

  1. Work is going to be much more flexible in the future. When I was a working mum, I had to work at my job as if I wasn’t a Mum, and when my mothering impacted on my work: parental leave, sick child, important assembly to attend… that was frowned upon as showing a lack of commitment to my work. If I spent time working from home, I always felt as if I had to be twice as productive to prove I wasn’t “wasting time” at home. Now, we have learnt the tools and means to be able to work effectively from home; and that should provide more opportunities for flexibility moving forward. For Christian parents in particular, who value quality time shaping their children, this should mean more options for combining parenting and paid work.
  2. We have broken down some of the compartmentalization of our lives. Early during the pandemic, Reverend Dr. Jill Firth posted on Facebook: “Joining my church on zoom today, I enjoyed a connection from my home to others in their homes at key moments of the service. We can be a little disembodied at church, but more grounded in our everyday reality at home. I’m wondering if this will also help to break down the Sunday–Monday divide. Sins committed at home are confessed at home. A commitment to love and serve made at home then has to be carried out in the same home, not partitioned off into Sunday-land during the journey home from church. Feeding on Christ in the Eucharist at home reminds us that he dwells here at home, in our hearts, by faith.” While her musings were focused on the compartmentalization that of church and home, this experience also allows us to break down the partition between faith and work. Right now, for the first time since the Industrial Revolution, many of us are no longer leaving home to go to a job and then returning; but church, family and work are all happening in the same place.
  3. We have broken down the distinctions between paid and unpaid work. With paid work and other work all happening at the same time in the same place, we have learnt to be jugglers of many work balls. A friend told me how she finished up a zoom meeting to quickly help her daughter do a long division, then rush to assist her husband upload a video to his work’s sharepoint, then popped outside to hang up a load of washing. Fitting all the different tasks into her day has meant she sometimes starts at five in the morning, and goes through until six at night; but what is interesting is the way that paid and unpaid work are all mixed together. Our oft-undervalued caring work, house work, partner work, is all mixed up with our paid work; but we recognize that all of it is important to get done. Of course, all work is equally valued in the eyes of our Lord, if it is done with a heart of service toward him (Colossians 3:17, 23–24).
  4. Our concept of “kingdom work” is shifting. In the eyes of many churches, “kingdom work” is the work carried out through church programs, and communicated on a Sunday. However, during this time, all of us have become more alert to the opportunities available in our everyday lives. There has been a greater emphasis on the church scattered at a time when we haven’t been able to gather. As we have been located more deeply in our neighborhoods, we have naturally been making connections. How can we turn that friendly conversation into an opportunity to bless? Also, our homes and ‘private’ lives have been more on display during Zoom meetings with work colleagues or club meetings. How can we display or communicate the source of our purpose, meaning, peace and joy during such times?
  5.  We are beginning to value work like God does. Sometimes overtly, sometimes subconsciously, we have practiced a hierarchy of vocations within Christian communities: the minister and those doing overseas mission work on the top, then those who work for the church, then those who work for Christian organisations, then doctors and those in helping professions, then business leaders, then stay at home mothers, and down the bottom all the ordinary “secular” workers. However, during this time, we have learnt to value the work of cleaners, grocery store shelf-stackers, truck drivers, school teachers, postal workers, and so on. The ordinary workers who have kept the world turning: ensuring there is food on our table, children are taught, and needed goods are delivered to our homes. They are doing the providential work of God, continuing to sustain creation, for the common good. Perhaps all of us will see the work we do with fresh eyes after this.

I have been an advocate for a greater faith–work connection for more than 30 years, and this is the point at which I feel most hopeful of a paradigm shift, if we just open our eyes of faith, to see what is happening around us.

Some have described this as a liminal time: that space between things. A dear friend and poet, Miriam Dale, wrote a poem for me before either of us knew a pandemic was about to break in on us. Her words seem prophetic. I want to conclude with a portion of her poem:

Liminality

That sense of being untethered in the
In-between, waiting on some new thing,
Life or job or lover,
Open roads and marked down maps-
Any certainty discovered.
Liminality,
When all the threads of known are now blowing
Free, in the breeze, the air full of uncertainty,
The different limbs of our lives risking
Lift-off, afraid that they might float away and
Never come back down…

It’s in this breathless state that we drift, for a time.
Each new day, leaning into people and practices that
Ground us, core muscles shaking, tense like Pilates,
Hold identity tight in the waiting.
Steadiness looks like the little things, or sometimes nothing, and it
Could be (sometimes is) completely overwhelming if not for the
Constancy, companionship, camaraderie of
Our fellow-adventurer, best-friend, soul-lover, patient-waiter, One who
Stays the same, is better than best, and yet still understands fear.
The room might still spin and change might still come, but
He never leaves our side, holding tight
His grip always stronger than our own.

Liminality

Then one day, we awake,
And it’s over.
Our feet, which had been
Kicking through murky water without touching
Bottom, are on solid sand once more, and have been for
Some time.
Uncertainty has given way to something like
Stability, and we move, at last, like we are
Home.

Liminality

It has no deadlines,
But it does not last
And I know we are held in the
Meantime.

Kara Martin is the author of Workship: How to Use Your Work to Worship God, and Workship 2: How to Flourish at Work. She is also a lecturer with Mary Andrews College. Kara has worked in media and communications, human resources, business analysis and policy development roles, in a variety of organisations, and as a consultant. Kara has a particular passion for integrating our Christian faith and work, and helping churches connect with the workers in their congregations. She is currently conducting research on how to effectively equip workplace Christians to integrate their faith and work.

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