Jobs Are a Holy Thing

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. This month, our blog features reflections on vocation, offered by people who are engaged in ministry and work outside the church. What is God’s calling on our lives outside of the church? What is difficult about being Christian in the working world? How do our churches nurture a sense of Christian vocation? We invite you to join the conversation on Facebook and Twitter!

by Tanner Pickett

I spent several years dissatisfied with the direction of my career. I was almost consumed with the idea of “doing something else” and was pretty resentful that I couldn’t find the meaning in my work. Looking back, I realize that lack of “meaning” had less to do with the actual work than it did with my frame of mind. Perhaps I was precisely where I needed to be, serving the role that I need to serve in that moment.

I recently heard Rob Bell speak about ways to find spirituality in nearly anything. He said, “Faith is doing what you do really well. Ordinary work, interacting in our common life together, that’s the ‘Holy’ thing.” Bell uses this presentation to illustrate the deep connection between our faith and every other part of our lives. The more that I think about this concept, the more that I love it. Have you ever seen someone who is really passionate about their work? They seem to find incredible joy and pride in what they’re doing. It’s a calling. It’s beautiful. Bell is suggesting that this is worship. This is one way that we can live out our faith. The ironic thing about my previous work is that I failed to experience the “holy” because I was spent so much energy being resentful at the lack of meaning in that role.

tanner-workI am happy to say that I am in a role that I feel I was called to and am much happier. I get to promote Montreat Conference Center to people all over country. I have been able to have amazing conversations about faith with people from all walks of life. I get to work with a great team and they are teaching me so much about my own faith and service.

So, how does our faith inform our daily lives? The answer seems simple enough, yet many of us struggle to understand how to do that in a practical way. The Bible is full of examples of God using those in the margins to make an impact on others. I wonder if our “everyday” talents can be used in the same way. Can God use the seemingly unimportant, rote parts of our lives as the instruments to minister to others? I think so. The majority of my career has been in some type of leadership role. So how does my faith influence my role as a leader and manager? Here are a couple of ways:

  1. I think of my faith journey as a form of constant self-development and that is something that I am learning to try to reflect in my work. Isn’t that a recurring theme throughout the Bible? We learn something, we pat ourselves on the back, we screw it up, and we get another chance. With every new thing we try, we have a chance to learn something new – even in failure. I think about this in my role as a leader. Do I create space for growth, messing up, and learning? Do I encourage others into that space?
  2. Faith is a form of appreciation. Thinking about my job as a calling helps me have a much different perspective on how those around me do their jobs. Am I supportive or oppositional?

The lesson that I have learned from all of this: The “meaning” in our jobs is less about where we work and more about the way that we view what we are doing. When we view our job as a “holy thing,” we are suddenly able to find joy in our conversations, coworkers, and our daily work. How will you celebrate the “holy” in your life?

tanner pickettTanner Pickett is the vice president for Sales, Marketing, and Communication at Montreat Conference Center. He also serves on the Strategy Team for NEXT Church and a member of Black Mountain Presbyterian Church. His most important work is being a husband and a dad.

Holding the Tension

by Angela Williams

Even though I am no longer a college student, I had the great privilege of attending College Conference at Montreat earlier this month on behalf of NEXT in order to host two listening sessions. I thoroughly enjoyed this time of personal and professional renewal that I had experienced as a college student; however, I came to College Conference from a different place than I did previously. For the past four months, I have been thrust into the professional church world. I am so grateful to be a part of the NEXT Church network that is truly on the cutting edge of moving the new church awakening forward. Simultaneously, I am experiencing what it is to work for the church and not simply be an enthusiastic, active member for the first time on my journey.

Click to enlarge

Click to enlarge

Recently, NEXT Church director Jessica Tate and I discussed where NEXT fits in Diana Butler Bass’s Arc of Awakening. We came to the conclusion that NEXT is in the thin space at the base of the arc, where we are free to imagine and experiment. NEXT must work with those who find themselves on all points of the arc, whether they are grasping the loss of the old way or already marching forward with new visions in hand.

Personally, I feel as if I have a foot on each side of the arc. I get to imagine the future of the church with NEXT at the same time that I work with incredibly valuable ministries of New York Avenue Presbyterian Church that have been spreading God’s love for over fifty years. In each of these placements, I am working closely alongside other humans and all of their beautiful messiness, some of whom are mourning the church of their childhood, others who cannot wait for the church to catch up with their ideas.

So it was with this mindset that at College Conference, I heard amazing preaching on John 3:16 from NEXT Church strategy team member Carla Pratt Keyes, the story of a football player who left the NFL to follow his calling to become a farmer, creative accounts of witnessing from Nadia Bolz Weber, and tales of transformative mission from leaders across the country. Through the listening sessions, I heard invigorating narratives of presbyteries that energize local congregations to meet the need in their communities. I also listened as some expressed hurt that a denominational program with so much potential fizzled. If I learned anything from these sessions, it is that we are not alone in the struggle to follow the Spirit through times of tension. Any questions I have about my ministries have found a home in others’ hearts, too. That solidarity that we found in an hour of relational conversation energizes me to keep imagining, while holding the tension of the church that was, the church that is, and the church that is to come.


Angela WilliamsAngela Williams is currently walking alongside the good folks at NEXT Church and New York Avenue Presbyterian Church as a Young Adult Volunteer in Washington, D.C., after serving a first YAV year in the Philippines. She finds life in experiencing music, community organizing, cooking any recipe she can find, making friends on the street and theological discussions that go off the beaten path.

We Are Walking

Each month, we post a series of blogs around a common topic. During August, John Wilkinson is curating a month of blog posts exploring where we are as a church through the lens of the new Presbyterian hymnal, Glory to God — what are we thinking about? how are we worshiping? what matters to us? where are we headed? Join the conversation here, on Facebook, or Twitter!

By Pati Primerano

I have sung in the Chancel Choir of Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester, NY, for almost 24 years. We have an amazing array of musical groups at Third Church, including five choirs, about that number of bell choirs, plus ad hoc music groups for specific events. Music has been, and will always be, an important part of my life. I served on the committee to look into the new hymnal, Glory to God, and appreciated an early look at this extensive hymnal, which we recommended for adoption, and has since been purchased, distributed and dedicated. I was impressed by the number and quality of new hymns. Some of them we have already used in worship, when a more appropriate hymn was not available in the previous hymnal.

When thinking about a particular hymn in Glory to God that holds meaning for me, that choice is different now than it would have been a few weeks ago. Having spent a week at Montreat with some of the youth from Third Church in July, I was thoroughly immersed in many hours of singing. This singing happened in a huge hall, surrounded by 1200 youth from all over, plus assorted support adults. Some of the music was written that week, specifically for week 3 of the conference, some were well-loved standards (“Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” for example) and some were from GTG, which is the hymnal used in Montreat.

Anyone who’s been to Montreat will understand that the schedule is jam-packed, and it’s impossible to do everything available. One of my boys decided to sing in the evening worship choir, a volunteer group that rehearsed after lunch. I wasn’t sure if it was open to teens only or included adults, so I had my son find out for me. Since adults are included, I went to the next rehearsal with my son. They handed out copies of a hymn familiar to me already, “We Are Marching in the Light of God,” which has been sung by our Junior Choir, with the congregation joining in. This hymn is not found in the old hymnbook, but is the last hymn in GTG, hymn 853. The leader modified it to “we are walking,” and we alternated that with the verse in Zulu, “Siyahamb’ ekukhanyen’ kwenkhos.” If that looks tricky, trust me, it’s a bit tongue-twisting as well. We memorized it, as we would be singing it as we walked and clapped. This was to be the benediction response at the end of the service, and we walked from the back of the room to the front, sang a last set of verses, and then exited as we sang. We reunited outside, on the steps into the building, and sang at least four more verses, just because. For me, it was one of the most memorable experiences of my time in Montreat. The use of the hymn was perfect, memorable, and accessible to the congregation.


Pati Primerano

Member, Hymnal Committee

Third Presbyterian Church, Rochester NY

I am a retired city school district Spanish teacher, married, and the mom of three boys. My retirement gift to myself is my wonderful dog, who trains with me, learning obedience and agility. I am a member of a Dining Room Ministry team at Third Church, which serves a hot, homemade lunch every Saturday. I am an advisor in the Youth program, as well as an alto in the Chancel choir. We have a home near a popular local park, where we enjoy walking, photography and picnicking. I’m pretty busy in retirement, and honestly not sure how I managed it all while working full time…

Living the Questions… at Camps and Conferences


Each month we ask a different person from the NEXT Church community to assemble a series of posts around a particular theme. This month, Carol Steele is curating a conversation around camp and conference ministry for the NEXT Church.  Have ideas or reflections to share? Offer your thoughts in comments, on our Facebook page, or contact us here.

By Colleen Toole

When you are the child of church musicians, you do not go on “vacations” growing up.  You go to conferences.

I spent my summers, elementary school through high school, attending conferences, usually worship/music focused.  I experienced incredible conferences that transformed me, and I sometimes experienced terrible conferences that left me dry.  I went to Methodist conferences, I went to Presbyterian conferences—often back-to-back!

I loved conferences for the creative worship I experienced, for the friends I made, for the ways I learned and grew, but, frankly, I didn’t think much about their impact on my life until my second year of undergrad when I was stressed and exhausted, both physically and spiritually.  I was having a hard time balancing my spiritual life and my academic life, leaving my soul, as Psalm 42 says, thirsting for the living God.  I needed something like a spiritual bootcamp to get myself back into shape, to focus on God, surrounded by a community of faith.  So, that summer I started working on summer staff at Montreat Conference Center in North Carolina, running sound, lights, and projections for all of their conferences.

What I discovered upon diving into the conference deep end was that the years I had spent going to conferences had made me hungry to experience different expressions of God. I found my own questions voiced, echoed, and complicated.  I realized that, for years, I had regularly met people from different parts of the country—even different parts of the world.  I had worshipped with them, I had learned from their points of view, I had shared different visions and experiences of God with them.  As I did so, my own conception of God began to expand, giving way to more questions, more ideas, more thirst.

Conferences create the space for us to encounter each other, and in doing so, encounter God.  At conferences we get a wider glimpse of the diverse unity of the body of Christ – people truly coming from east and west, from north and south, to sit at the table together.  As we come together in the shared love of God, we have the opportunity to live and work and worship together in a spirit of sacred collaboration, sharing ideas and asking questions freely, even disagreeing, challenging and widening our experiences of worship, of Christian community, and of God.  The chance we have to get out of our own lives, the release the modus operandi that we are so accustomed to, the fellowship of those we would never have met otherwise—those are temporary, yes, limited to the confines of the conference.  But the thirsts that these events inspire are not.  They are the thirsts that lead us to where we might find living water.  My thirst, multiplied by three summers of working full-time in these environments, led me to seminary.  Others might be led to teach, to serve the “least of these”, to go back to their home churches to share the fruits of this transformation, even to bring this thirst into their secular professions.  The important thing is the thirst.

This past summer, I found myself once again at Montreat, this time leading a small group of youth in discussion about the how the themes of the conference intersected with their daily lives.  What I could not get over was the joyful curiosity of these youth—the questions they asked!  Questions about how Scripture became Scripture, about how the Church became the Church. Questions about how we interpret the Bible today, in our own context.   Deeply important questions, questions about how we live out our faith in the world, difficult questions, questions that gave me hope for the future of the church.  Questions that, perhaps, are easier to ask in the safety of a place removed from our usual stomping grounds.  I gave very few answers; there are no easy answers to these questions.  My job became affirming, challenging, complicating the questions by bringing voices into conversation that may never have spoken to each other before.

Our job is not to satisfy the thirst.  Our job is to cultivate it.

CToole Headshot (2)Colleen Toole is pursuing her M.Div. at Princeton Theological Seminary and works as a sound designer, director, and vocal coach for live theater.

photo credit: __MaRiNa__ via photopin cc