WE COUNT FOR SOMETHING

Saturday, February 17, 2007

I WORK FOR THE CHURCH

Part 1

These are words that recur a lot these days. They can be heard anywhere from a bar to a friend’s impromptu dinner party. Most often they bring forth a stream of questions from the unsuspecting listener. “Oh, that sounds exciting! What do you do? Is it nice? I’ll bet it’s quiet. How many people are in your office? Does the priest come by often? Is he your boss? How is he? I think priests look so cool in their robes and stuff. Does he wear his uniform, you know, the black clothes and the little collar thingy? Do you get to count the money? Do you have to work on Sunday too? I’ll bet it’s a fun place to work. How’s the pay? Do they have benefits like other places do?

These are just some of the reactions that I have encountered along the way during the fifty-plus years of my association with the Catholic Church.

The Church is an employer. The religious people of the Church are the Executives, the Managers, the Supervisors and the Professionals of the Organization as employer. As such, the Church is required to comply with the labor laws of the locale in which it operates. The Church in California must operate as a California Employer in harmony with the Federal Labor Laws of the United States of America, not a French Employer, nor a Canadian one, nor a Mexican one and not even a Massachusetts one or an Arizona one. Believe it or not, this reality can cause conflict in the collective conscience of the Church. The Church is not accustomed to be subordinate to secular authority. The Church is not totally comfortable in its role as employer because in most secular societies today, employers are regulated first, foremost and last, by the government.

It is therefore possible that a person with twenty years of experience as an accountant (let’s say, controller) in a non-profit, but non-Catholic Church enterprise who comes to work for the Catholic Church will discover several surprising behaviors in the new work environment.

First, there is the fact that “productivity” and the discipline required to achieve it is not a supremely precious value in the Church. After all, God has all eternity to get what He wants, right? Be ready for the surprise of your life when you realize that you are the very first “real” controller who has ever been hired in the parish where you are now working.
The one person who was in charge of the financial aspect of the parish for the past twenty years is as happy as a ten year old in the dentist chair when you ask for even the slightest piece of documented information. Just because you are a Harvard graduate with a CPA doesn’t give you the right to intrude in “her” files. Trust me, you don’t want to see her files. Start your own. Find a reliable and affordable software package, buy it, or get the Pastor to buy it, or learn how to use the one from the diocese that the 20 year wonder couldn’t decipher, and start from scratch. You’ll keep your blood pressure down if you do it that way.

It won’t take long before you will want to see the payroll records of the individual across the hall who, it is said, reports to you. She seems to miss an inordinately large amount of work. You’ll perhaps find that those aren’t kept in the parish. They are religiously sent to the diocesan office for review and processing. If you do get them in a couple of months and you do find out the nasty truth about the rate of absence of your “favorite” employee, I triple dare you to terminate this gem, or try to get the slouch terminated. You see, pastors are extremely reluctant to discharge a parishioner. Not just because they are humane to a fault (which they are) but also because they fear the vicious contumely that will arise in the community. This wave of vitriol usually finds its way back to the Bishop, back down through the Pastor and on to your stone cold outlook on life. So, either you look for work-arounds, suffer with incompetence or leave.

The employees of the Church are not the only ones who are in conscientious conflict. The Managers (Pastors) and Executives (Bishops) are too. The vocation of these people is a call to spread God’s Word and Love throughout the world. They are called to do it in an organization that is built on obedience, not compliance. One is a virtue the other is cold alignment. In a religious community, obedience trumps alignment all the time. In a religious community such as the Catholic Church, alignment with the government is not, therefore, as important as serving the needs of the Church.

So the Pastor for whom you may think you are working, considers you as a gift from the Bishop who gave him the permission to hire a true Manager/Professional even though the funds of the parish would take a hit. The Pastor and the Bishop may or may not be grateful that you took a $25,000 cut in salary which represents your boat and your nets left on the seashore to follow The Man. The Pastor perhaps had this plan on his mind for ten years but now that he is
blessed with the first part of the answer to his dreams he finds that he doesn’t have the s to permit you to bring the second half of his dreams to reality. So, just who is your employer? The Pastor or the Bishop? Even though your paycheck comes from the Bishop and your day to day relationship is with the Pastor, you’ll probably never know who your boss really is.

Thinking person that you are, you’re asking yourself, “If I don’t know who my employer really is, how do I gain ground toward the $25k that I left on the table?” That is an unanswerable question. You can’t work any harder than you’re going to have to work to construct accounting systems compliant with Sarbanes-Oxley and the rest of the regulatory legislation; you’ll have an uphill battle wondering what it’s going to take, short of cancer, to be disengaged from the 20 year veteran across from you on the other desk to say nothing of the individual who thinks that “It’s not all about work, you know?” and continues to work only 60% of the full time job agreement that she took on 10 years ago.

In conclusion to part one, I counsel you, Controller of mine, that you are blessed from above that you work in a closed office, far from the ravenous appetites of the Communion of Saints. Employment in that environment follows in part 2. Considering that blessing, you could decide that as Peter, James, John, Phillip, Andrew and the rest, you will follow Jesus and forget about ever going back to reclaim your boat and your nets. Anyway, pastors have 6 year terms, so
before you know it you can perhaps take your chances and try for the golden ring and apply for the controller’s job in the Diocesan Office. If that fails, and you believe in Providence and know that God will take care of you, you can stay and bask in the glory of your creatively self-accommodating work-arounds and be satisfied with the friends and relatives that you have outside of “work”.

If you decide that God is calling you somewhere else, either back to community development or Catholic Charities or maybe even to Honda America, leave quietly and in peace. Remember, the Church and God have all eternity to look forward to and we, their sons and daughters have the choice of many roads that can be taken to reach the Pearly Gates.

See you in part 2

The Pretty Lady at Arco

When's the last time you were the object of a random act of kindness? Did you get a chance to thank the person? If you did, you're lucky. There's nothing worse than getting petted by the wings of an angel and not being able to express your gratitude for the great feeling that it gives.Last night, 2/2/2007 at about 9:05 PM I stopped at the ARCO station on Day Street before jumping on to the 60 WEST heading for LAX. I have a debit card with +$600 and a credit card with Fort Knox on it.
Wife goes to the snack shop for a couple of hot dogs and drinks and she's carrying my only cash, one well used, totally wrinkled picture of Andrew Jackson. On the island outside I swipe one, "Denied". Swipe two, "Denied". I run into the store and luckily I'm the only one in line. I figure something's wrong on the island. I give one to the cashier, "swipte, swipe, denied". There's a line forming, but I'm really getting curly hair on the back of my neck now. I reach for card number two, slide it into the cashier's hand and watch while he "swipes, swipes, DENIED!" Now the line is four deep and wife is at my left elbow with the eats and the Jackson. I'm sweating, and I'm growling inside, not knowing what kind of astrologically, star-crossed conspiracy has descended upon me. Is ARCO ganging up on me?At my right elbow, I feel a warmth. A gentle, swishing kind of presence. As the dogs and the drinks and the $20 all land on the counter at the same time, a very firm, commanding but extremely smooth voice says, "cover it with this." I turn to see golden hair, well brushed and aromatic. Sweet smooth cheeks with a slight flush, bright blue eyes with a deep gentleness and a smile that could light the Taj Mahal. In her hand, a simple Master Card, outstretched to the cashier. I settle my eyes into hers, give her a wan smile and gently but firmly say, "you are so kind, but we will be fine with the Jackson. Please, Ma'am, it's OK. " The warm presence hesitates, doesn't retract the card right away, insisting that she meant what she said. I smile lightly, wink at her and say softly, "we're OK, Ma'am." She retracts her arm, and returns to her place at the end of the line.
I tell the cashier that the cash is for the eats and gas on number 7. He says OK, and punches it into the computer. My only money disappears. I turn to leave and I slide my gaze over to the Golden Haired Angel. I have a golf ball in my throat and a fog in my eyes, so with a weak smile and a lip-sync "thank you" accompanied by a wink, I leave and go to the pump to get what gas I got for my change from the 20. I quickly squirt the gas into the tank and leave for LAX. I thank God for my 50 MPG Hybrid. Wife and I are silent from emotion for the first forty-five minutes of the trip. We then pray the rosary, making the Golden Haired Angel the object of our offerings.I don't know who you are, Lady. But God knows. I don't know if you even believe in God. What I do know is that two old people with credit cards that were the victims of an equipment malfunction told God to hold you close to Him, forever.
By the way, we didn't have enough money for parking, and the plane was late, so I drove around in circles for one hour before picking up our passenger and leaving LAX. We returned home on the strength of hybrid engineering, 62 Mile Per Hour cruise controlled speed, gas tank fumes and on the spirit of your spontaneous, generous act.If the world had more people like you, there would be a lot less crying at funerals because we would all be sure that another angel had taken God's hand and walked home with Him.