The Low-Status High Calling of the Mail Carrier

By David Williamson.

Mail carriers (we used to say “mailmen”) are not considered a very high status occupation, especially if you are a walking carrier and subject to barking – even biting – dogs, mail boxes that are difficult to access, and the occasional complaining or angry recipient. Yet I have been surprised and impressed at the educational level of “postal carriers.” All are high-school grads, and many are college grads. They are well-educated for surprisingly demanding work.

To those of us on the receiving end, very eager to receive today’s mail, their work is treated as somewhere between very important and urgent. I am amazed at my own discomfort over late or delayed mail. My mail is important to me, in spite of the view that the mail carrier’s work is “menial” or “unimportant.”

Looking up “Postal Carrier” on the O*NET web site (an official U.S. Labor Department tool for job descriptions and requirements), I am impressed with the qualifications for this occupation. Nine different job titles are identified, each emphasizing “carrier.” Today’s postal carriers need sufficient technology skills to handle delivery operations, information systems, software operating systems, time and money accounting systems, systems that manage addresses, data collection, etc. this is often a sacrificial, demeaning, tech-skilled work, and a long way from the Pony Express of our cultural memory.

The work also involves critical thinking – assessing alternative solutions, sifting through options for mutual benefit. Oral comprehension skills are involved, listening accurately and carefully (that is, “care-fully”), even as God listens to us. This reminds me of Bonhoeffer’s important words in Life Together that we are called to listen with the ears of God – individually, fully, care-fully. It is out of that kind of listening that we can speak the appropriate, authoritative, important, helpful, necessary word.

A postal carrier delivers what the sender deems as an important message – sometimes under difficult physical circumstances. The postal worker must be able to work quickly, read labels, obtain signed receipts for special handling, collect any associated charges, complete required paper work and arrange for cost saving sequence in delivery.

This work is analogous to the work of an evangelist, one who shares or offers good news. Someone has determined that it was worth the effort and cost of preparing and sending the mail (“good news”) to the designated recipients (even if it’s considered “junk” mail, to a computerized or random list) in hopes that it will be noticed, read and responded to. This is a reminder of what Paul and the other writers of New Testament letters, using very basic and ancient methods of getting an important word to people who need it.

Postal workers require the certainty of honesty and reliability that allow me, as a sender or recipient, to have confidence in the integrity of the system. The carrier looks after and is a custodian of the integrity of the whole system, a subtle but real service for others people’s benefit. He or she takes important and necessary steps to ensure the well-being of the whole system, looking beyond personal interests to the interest and needs of the whole system and the community. It is indeed a high calling.

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