About Me

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I work as a teacher, poet and spiritual director at a number of institutions in the DC area. My teaching focuses in various ways on writing, poetry, Spirituality and Christian vocation and ministry - especially from the point of view of the laity. I also offer classes and retreats encouraging people to explore their inner lives, engage their creativity and reflect on their beliefs about God, vocation, and how we can discern and pursue new ways to transform our broken world. I enjoy speaking of faith in the secular academy as well as reminding those preparing for ministry in the Church that our primary purpose is to love and serve the world beyond the church's doors. I love helping people to grow in faith and to find their own voices, and I also love encouraging them to use their minds. I see no contradiction between these impulses, believing as I do that faith, reason and creativity work together.

Saturday, August 4, 2007

The "Faith at Work Movement"

I've been reading a fascinating new book by David Miller, of the Yale Center for Faith and Culture (which I also hadn't heard of before). The book is called God at Work:The History and Promise of the Faith at Work Movement and it argues that the "Faith at Work" movement is a social movement in American Christianity that has been with us for a long time. Reading this book is heartening to me because for so many years I have been paying attention -- and trying to draw people's attention --to what I see as a central theme of Christianity -- the call to live out our faith in our everyday lives. I've been teaching classes at Virginia Seminary for years about the ministry of "all God's people" (also phrased as "the ministry of the baptized" and "the ministry of the laity" -- that is Christian "ministry" - teaching that Christian discipleship or "ministry" is not just a profession limited to the ordained. It is the work of all of us: what the church is "for" (see my July 13 post on "The Purpose of the Church," with my favorite quote from Evelyn Underhill)

Miller's is a scholarly book, well documented, rooted in a lot of social science and historical research and I have found it fascinating. He traces three "waves" in the faith at work social movement: the "Social Gospel Era" (1890s-1945), the "Ministry of the Laity Era" (c1946-1985), of which I am a product -- an era where churches were paying a little more attention institutionally to ministry in daily life, and the mission of the church in the world, and not to institutional survival only; and the "Faith at Work Movement" which extends from the the late 80's into our own time and is sadly, less connected to the churches because the churches have not seemed all that interested, and so people seeking spiritual support for their ministry in the world have sough it elsewhere. He reflects (at least this is what I'm getting from this) that though the connecting of Christian faith, daily life, and the search for peace and justice in the social order has always been a major part of mainline Christianity in this country, seminaries and denominations still haven't claimed it as a focus: they remain more focused on institutional survival and traditional theological formation of people for the ordained ministry. Instead, the "faith at work" movement is emerging both as an array of grassroots movements of laypeople in the workplace, and institutionally within the business world, with companies and business schools looking for ways to provide spiritual nurture in the workplace and to meet the religious needs of employees. It seems to me he points to a tremendous missed opportunity for congregations and churches.

David Miller does two terrific things here, in my view. First, he identifies as a social movement a theological conversation that many very faithful people in the pews do not realize is going on. I cannot tell you how often I've met people who say "I feel that God is calling me in some new way, and I really don't think it's ordained ministry. But that seems to be the only kind of ministry the church thinks is important. Are there other people like me?" Miller does us a big service by demonstrating that this is a real conversation that has taken different forms over the generations but is a central part of our Christian tradition and has had a number of compelling expression in American Protestant traditions for generations -- even when the denominations haven't embraced this movement, the people in the pews are doing so, either with or without the church's help.

I'd like to invite more people into this conversation and am hoping to do some more formal writing about it myself. It's what I teach every fall in my class at Virginia Theological Seminary called "Christian Vocation: Discerning the Work of the Church," as well as every few years in the Evening School at Virginia Seminary and it's a conversation I am having with people all the time, as individuals try to sort out their own call to Christian discipleship and what difference that is supposed to make to the world. I am grateful to David Miller for writing this book and for naming this as an ongoing and serious conversation both within and beyond the churches.

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the "new" discernment processes in both VA and DC are using something of this research. They are both aiming to be less focused on being an up/down vote for ordination and more centered around discernment of all forms of the ministry of the baptized. Thanks for pointing out this book.