In the steps of St. Joseph the Worker…witnessing our faith in the workplace

by Paul Braun | New Earth

Ed Schwind, CEO of QED Embedded of Fargo, works on an electrical component for a client. (Paul Braun / New Earth)

We spend a great deal of our lives, eight hours a day or more, at our workplace, whether in an office setting, a jobsite, on the farm, or behind the wheel. That’s a lot of time spent interacting with others. What if we as Catholics made a conscious effort in that time to try to be a witness for others to our faith?

At the Convocation of Parish Leaders held in Fargo Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 2018, the message was clear that evangelization doesn’t end at the door of the church. We must be missionary disciples in our homes and in our daily lives, living our faith to all we come across. Does that also include at work?

“Absolutely,” said Father Patrick Parks, Parochial Vicar at St. James Basilica in Jamestown. Before entering seminary, Father Parks worked in the corporate world. He says there are many opportunities to be a witness to your faith in the workplace regardless of your postion.

“If your company allows, consider putting a crucifix or a picture of Jesus on your desk,” said Father Parks. “Maybe that will invite others to speak with you about God. If not, pray on your way into work, ‘Lord use me as an instrument of your grace,’ or say a prayer while at your desk or workplace. You can carry yourself in a positive way by doing your job the best you can, smiling at people and treating everybody with love.”

Ed Schwind is Catholic and a business owner in Fargo. His company, QED Embedded, is an electronics design and consulting firm with several major clients. Although he doesn’t go out of his way to evangelize on the job, Schwind says being a good person on the job can be witness enough.

“I don’t speak to my employees specifically about my faith,” said Schwind. “I think all of my employees know that I’m a man of faith. I talk about my kids in Catholic school and what I heard in church on Sunday, but it’s really never preaching. If I do any preaching I try to do it more in my actions than anything else. I’m not afraid to talk about my faith, but I don’t put it in peoples’ faces. Like at home I try to witness my faith to my children by putting a good example out there for what a man of faith looks like and how I treat my wife. It’s the same thing at work with my employees. I try to treat them the way they should be treated as a human being.”

Father Parks agrees. “This is especially true for supervisors,” he said. “Letting your people know you care about them and what’s happening in their lives as a servant-leader really makes a big difference. As a servant-leader, God is with you. God is working with you to allow people to see him in you in the way you manage. That could really open the door to a conversion or a reconversion to the faith.”

The “servant-leader” is a relatively new concept in the business world for those who manage employees, as well as for those who are supervised. Robert K. Greenleaf, the founder of the modern servant-leadership movement and the Greenleaf Center for Servant Leadership, defines servant leadership as a philosophy in which the main goal of the leader is to serve. A servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of the employees first and helps others develop and perform as highly as possible.

The concept of servant leadership is also based in scripture. It’s been around since Christ humbled himself and washed the feet of his disciples at the Last Supper. Sister Thomas Welder, the former president of the University of Mary in Bismarck, describes servant leadership’s spiritual concept as “a pattern of living marked by competence in one’s chosen profession, courage in making ethical decisions based on Benedictine values, and compassion in serving the needs of others. In a context of relationship to God, to one another, and to self, we believe that leadership is making a difference for good.”

Father Parks says supervisors and business owners have a unique opportunity to evangelize by practicing servant leadership.

“So many people get wrapped up in themselves and concerned about their own life,” he said. “It creates an atmosphere of being superficial and not caring about anyone else, but by your actions you can show that you care about your employees, and that could open the door. I had a reconversion to the faith back in the 90s when I was in management at a corporation in Minnesota. I was open about it, and it was like the Holy Spirit takes over and fans the flame a little bit. People would be asking me about God and then they would open up about their own lives. It was just amazing to see how people responded, to have someone who was willing to hold their hand and pray with them. As they were speaking, I called on the Holy Spirit in my heart to be a part of the conversation. It was amazing to see the door open in a place where really nobody would speak about God.”

“I really do take it seriously that my employees are my responsibility,” said Ed Schwind. “I’m responsible for their welfare, so I do everything I can to keep that promise to them. I think that when you’re responsible to keep the business going, it’s easy to get too focused on the numbers, the dollars and cents. When that happens, you could start treating people like a revenue stream or a fixed amount of labor. I try not to lose sight of the fact that the people who work for me or with me are people that are created in the image and likeness of God the same as I am, and I always try to keep their human dignity in mind.”

As we go about our business day, we can hope that our actions serve as a reflection of our faith. Treating those we are responsible for with dignity and respect, or doing our jobs the best we can with a cheerful attitude gives something for others to observe and emultate. Making a “work-altar” at you jobsite is also a wonderful way to remind yourself of who has given you the gift of employment, while being an outward symbol of your faith and an instrument of invitation to declare your faith to others. Make each workday count by calling upon the intercession of St. Joseph the Worker, offering up a simple prayer before starting the day:

Father, thank you for all the ways you’ve blessed me, specifically with this job that pays my bills and puts food on my table. Thank you that all work has significance because work is good. Help me bring you glory today, through my actions, my words, through the good work I do to bring order to my little corner of the world. Help me view my work as a blessing and not a curse. Give me grace and strength for the hardest aspects of my job. In Jesus’ Name I pray, Amen.