Celebrating Ten Years of Father Bernie Poppe’s Ministry in Maplewood

The Rev. Bernard W. Poppe, center, was congratulated at coffee hour by two special guests -- the Rev. Canon Gregory A. Jacobs, Canon to the Ordinary of the Diocese of Newark, and the Hon. Victor DeLuca, mayor of Maplewood, NJ. Bernie is holding a proclamation from the Mayor and Township Committee.

On September 29, 2002, the Rev. Bernard W. Poppe led his first service as Rector of St. George’s Episcopal Church in Maplewood, NJ.  I had the privilege of serving on the search committee that called him, and I still remember how he started his first sermon.  The parish had been through a rough period — another priest had accepted our call, then resigned before ever taking the pulpit, setting up a second, 18-month search process.

Fortunately our church has a history of strong lay leadership, which sustained us during three years with two excellent interim rectors.  So on that Sunday morning we all watched with great anticipation as Bernie stepped into the pulpit to preach for the first time as the seventh Rector in what then was the 97th year of St. George’s.

“Finally!” he said.

His opening gambit was greeted with laughter and applause, and the laughter and applause continued today, a decade later.  Congratulations to Bernie and to the people of St. George’s, for building a vibrant ministry together.

No Going Back: Reflections on Gay Pride 2012

St. Georgians, from left: Ron Garner, Aleeda Crawley, your humble scribe, the Web Goddess, the Rev. Chris Carroll, David Gorman, Bill Jaglowski, Bruce Lyons, Kevin Clark, Tony Bousanti. Chris West took the picture.

The Web Goddess and I were part of a contingent from St. George’s Episcopal Church in the Gay Pride March in Manhattan Sunday.  It was our second march — some of the same people participated in 2007.

I was struck, in a very positive way, by the pervasiveness of corporate sponsorship.  Coca-Cola was the “Presenting Sponsor,” and all of the T-shirts for the parade marshals and other volunteers said “Diet Coke” on the front.  (Mischievous thought: is Diet Coke more gay than “regular Coke”?) Other sponsors included Macy’s, Delta Airlines, AT&T, Citigroup, Target and New York Life.  There were less staid sponsors and participants as well, of course, but the buy-in from the titans of commerce testifies to the inevitability of equal rights.

Lots of NYC police marching in uniform — not just the Gay Officers Action League, but a dozens-strong police marching band as well.  The cop on duty at our intersection was bantering with the crowd.

The March has gotten huge, creating a prosperity problem for participants in the staging areas. We had been told to expect to step off around 12:15, but it was about 3:30 when we finally left 38th Street and set foot on Fifth Avenue.  We could have had brunch.

Several of the St. Georgians wore the T-shirt the Web Goddess designed five years ago — a Rainbow Jesus Fish with the legend “I’m a Christian, and I support Equality”.  As we waited to march, three passers-by asked permission to take a picture of me and the shirt.

There were just 11 of us from St. George’s, but we packed a lot of diversity into a small group: gay and straight, black and white, male and female, clergy and laity, Democrats and Republican.

The huge LGBT for Obama contingent was passing out signs and big round stickers, which I tore off as quickly as my gleeful friends could slap them on me. (The comeback that didn’t occur to me in time: “No thanks, I go the other way.”)  The Log Cabin Republicans were represented by about four guys with brave smiles.

It pains me that my party is on the wrong side of this issue, but the resistance is only going to weaken over time.  This is the civil rights struggle of our era, and the road leads in only one direction.

Gay Pride Month at St. George’s Starts With Forum for Former Leader of GLAAD

Welcome, Patch readers!

Joan Garry at St. George's

Many people were outraged when Dharun Ravi, who was convicted of bias intimidation for spying on a roommate who later committed suicide, was sentenced to only 30 days in jail.  Some went so far as accusing Ravi of “murdering” Tyler Clementi, who was gay.  But a gay rights activist speaking at my church in Maplewood Sunday had a different take.

“Ravi’s not a murderer, he’s a bully – one of many bullies that Tyler Clementi faced in his life,” said Joan Garry, former executive director of GLAAD (Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Discrimination).  “Those bullies were not just the ones standing by his locker – many of them were standing in pulpits.”

Gay Pride 2007 - that's me on the left

The reference to pulpits reinforced the title of her speech, “LGBT People, Bullying, and the Deeply Held Religious Belief Card.” Garry spoke to a noontime audience at St. George’s Episcopal Church, kicking off our celebration of Gay Pride Month.  Next Sunday the sermon will be preached by Louie Crew, former Rutgers professor and founder of the Episcopal gay rights group IntegrityUSA.  On Sunday, June 24, the Web Goddess and I will join other members and friends walking behind a St. George’s banner at the annual Gay Pride March in New York City.

“Here’s another important thing I learned about bullying,” Garry continued.  “Standing behind every harassed child is a whole lot of clueless adults…. There are certain people who don’t want to be anything other than clueless.  Those are the people we will never get.  But converting the clueless is the path to victory.  And how do we do that?”

Designed by the Web Goddess; click image to order without markup at Cafe Press

Not through the time-honored defense mechanism of blending into the background.  “Gay and lesbian people walk this really fine line, right?  We want folks to know the realities, we want to tell stories, but we want to fit in. We want to be treated like anyone else…. but in order to get the rights we deserve, we have to talk, we need to tell our stories, and we need to stick out.”

Garry said when she asked New York Democratic Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand how to get through to people who are not interested in the issue, Gillibrand responded, “It’s so easy… because people don’t want government interfering in their lives.  And for Republicans? They want government to be smaller, not bigger.”

Some gay people might wish they were straight, but “not me,” Garry said.  “It is because of my difference that I have found my voice, that I moved from corporate America to make a difference in a non-profit space, [and that I have] a commitment to social justice that seems super-urgent.”

“Even when we lose, we win,” she said. “An opportunity to publicly argue about what is right, what is just, what is fair — even if we lose in the short term,  it’s an opportunity to be visible, to open up many eyes, and equally as many hearts.”

She closed by saying “the movement for LGBT equality is the civil rights issue of our time.  It presents us with an opportunity to speak out and stand up and do something. I’m pretty sure that’s why they call it a movement.”

Pepper Spray Incident Shows Why OWS Has Less “Staying Power” Than Vietnam War Protests

I have very little use for “Occupy Wall Street” and its far-flung imitators, but even so I found the image somewhat disturbing.  A UC-Davis police officer seems to be strolling along, casually emptying a can of pepper spray toward the heads of protestors seated on the ground.

Then I mentally shrugged.   Unfortunate optics, but no real harm done.  It may have been excessive, but no matter how the police break up a demonstration, they will be criticized for the inevitable injuries and indignities.  A YouTube video helps by putting the pepper spray in the context of a broader and more calibrated use of force.

Obviously, the left has a different storyline to offer.  If you Google “pepper spray” + “Kent State” you’ll get nearly half a million results.

To be fair, nobody seems to be claiming that the UC Davis incident is “another Kent State.” (Googling “pepper spray” + “another Kent State” yields 3,970 results, but the top result says “another Kent State is unlikely”, and other results express fears of “another Kent State.”)

The 1970 Kent State shootings may have been the tipping point of the battle for public support of the Vietnam War.  The episode inspired CSN&Y’s haunting refrain of “four dead in O-hi-o,” and was captured in an iconic photo of a 14-year-old runaway screaming over the body of a dead protester.

But the differences between the two incidents only start with the fact that nobody died at UC Davis.  Taranto, who evokes “Hoovervilles” by consistently referring to the OWS protestors as “Obamavillians,”  breaks it down:

Let’s say, heaven forbid, that the Obamavillians get their “Kent State moment”–a violent climax serving as the final tipping point that convinces the majority of Americans to oppose . . . well, you see the problem. To oppose what exactly? Private property? Public order? Personal hygiene?

Exactly right. To belabor his point: During the Vietnam War, there was a straightforward, easily defined, highly achievable course of action that would meet the demands of the protestors. All the government had to do was abandon our South Vietnamese allies and get out of Southeast Asia.  Rightly or wrongly (and I tend to think it was the least-bad option), the government eventually did precisely that.

But what can be done to satisfy OWS?  Raise taxes on “the 1 percent”? Fine, but even if you assume confiscatory tax rates and no change of behavior by taxpayers, taxing “the rich” won’t do much toward closing the budget deficit — and it certainly won’t create jobs.  And no level of taxation will ever be high enough to satisfy the tax-the-rich impulse.

I haven’t blogged much about the ongoing protests;  my entire OWS oeuvre apparently consists of a passing swipe at “the aimless juvenile antics of the Occupy Wall Street crowd” in a post on an unrelated topic.  The movement hasn’t interested me — I’ve always thought its enemy was capitalism itself.  I’m a big fan of capitalism, and OWS poses no real threat to it.

My priest, a thoughtful liberal who has tugged me back before from some of my more conservative leanings, gave me a new way to think about OWS in his Sunday sermon.  After carefully stating that he was taking no position on the specific messages and tactics of the movement, he said that Occupy Wall Street can be seen as “an expression of pain.”   His point, which I hope I am capturing adequately, is that the pain is real and needs to be acknowledged.

Fair enough.  The classic right-wing response to demonstrators is to snarl “get a job” — a phrase that bristles with cruel irony during a period when it sometimes feels like 9% unemployment is settling in as the new normal.  I have my own riches-to-rags story, although both “riches” and “rags” are exaggerations. I work at a church, making about what I made in 1985 — and I thank God every day that I have a job at all, let alone one that provides the privilege of laboring for a worthy organization.

I do think the OWS crowd would do well to channel its anger in more productive ways.  Say what you will about the Tea Party, but it certainly has built something out of its initial expressions of pain:  one out of every four Republican members of the House now self-identifies as a member of the Tea Party Caucus. Somehow I don’t expect there will ever be an OWS coalition in Congress.

(Unattributed photo snatched from Eschaton.)

She’s My Summer Love in the Spring, Fall and Winter

Eleven years ago today, on a perfect sunny autumn afternoon, the Web Goddess and I were married at St. George’s Church.

The first time I sang to her was a couple of years before that.

My singing voice is best suited to humming, but sometimes snatches of lyrics bubble up in my mind and demand to be sung. We were sitting at the dining room table in her apartment one evening, playing Scrabble with the radio on.  Without any planning or conscious thought, I found myself singing along with Anne Murray:

Even though we ain’t got money,
I’m so in love with you, honey,
Everything will bring a chain of love.
And in the morning, when I rise,
You bring a tear of joy to my eyes
And tell me everything is gonna be alright.

She liked it enough that I started looking for other worthy musical tributes.  On our wedding weekend, we were sitting around that same dining room table, now in our Maplewood home, casually eating pizza with a few guests from out of town.  The Web Goddess mentioned that I sometimes sing goofy love songs to her, and of course one of her friends said instantly, “sing one for us.”

Shania Twain sings it better but doesn’t feel it any stronger:

You’re the reason I believe in love
And you’re the answer to my prayers from up above.
All we need is just the two of us
My dreams came true… because of you

My favorite line may be the one in the headline.  Much of the rest of the Dead’s Sugar Magnolia is wholly unsuitable for this purpose, but that line works. Our first date was in the summer, and the relationship kindled that evening has sustained me through every change of season.

Happy anniversary, Sweetie.  I love you.

(Photo by the Web Goddess — holding the camera in her left hand)

 

On Gay Marriage, NY vs. NJ, and the Maplewood Bubble

Larry and I have exercised our right to be married for many years. (Our wives are named Cathy and Nina.) Our gay and lesbian friends deserve the same right.

My friend Mary Mann at Maplewood Patch has resurrected a photo the Web Goddess took of me and another St. George’s parishioner demonstrating for equality at the Statehouse in late 2009.  She used the photo with a story in advance of this afternoon’s first Maplewood Pride picnic, which suddenly became in part a celebration of New York’s historic decision yesterday to allow same-sex marriages.

The Web Goddess and I put on our marriage equality T-shirts and took our beach chairs to the park to enjoy the beautiful day, the music, and the company of gay and straight friends.

At an early break in the music,  the mayor took  the microphone to recognize the event on behalf of the Township Committee.  One of the organizers led the crowd in a cheer for the New York legislature, and shouted, “New Jersey is next!”

Designed by the Web Goddess. Click on the shirt to order it at no markup from Cafe Press.

A wonderful sentiment, but unfortunately untrue.  New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, whom I admire and otherwise support on almost every issue, vowed before his election to veto any bill legalizing same-sex marriage.  On that basis alone, I voted for the Democratic incumbent.  Since the New Jersey legislature was unable to pass a marriage equality law in the waning days of the Corzine administration, there is no realistic chance of same-sex marriage in New Jersey as long as Christie is governor.  This will be a gut-check issue for me if Christie runs for re-election.  Some days it’s not easy being a socially liberal Republican.

As Ronald Reagan may once have said,The person who agrees with you 80 percent of the time is a friend and an ally — not a 20 percent traitor.”  Christie’s brand of fiscal conservatism addresses an urgent need in a state which, when he became governor, was facing an $11 billion deficit on a $30 billion budget.  As Christie put it, “New Jersey is a failed experiment.”

Pew Research Center, March 2011

Martin Luther King said “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”  Pew Research has found that support for gay marriage is growing inexorably, and there’s no reason to believe anything will reverse the trend.  As a happily married straight man, it’s easy for me to be patient.  Many of my gay friends are understandably less serene.

The fact that I can accurately refer to “many of my gay friends” reflects what one of those friends, a former church warden, once described as “the bubble we live in.”  Compared to the state and to society as a whole, gay people are over-represented in Maplewood (in the judgment-free, statistical sense of that term).  Within Maplewood, gay people are over-represented at St. George’s Episcopal Church, where the Web Goddess and I have both served as elected members of the Vestry.

The large majority of members of the parish are straight, but gay and lesbian couples are always in evidence. Many of the leadership positions of the parish are filled by gay people, including the senior of the two Wardens and four of the nine other Vestry members.  The Rev. Bernie Poppe is gay, although he consistently focuses on being the Rector of a diverse parish, rather than “a gay priest.”

Such an environment makes it easy to be comfortable with the existence of people whose orientation differs from my own. I see gay people kneeling in prayer, raising their children, bringing food to the church picnic.  They obey the laws, they pay taxes, they complain about paying taxes (I’m looking at you, Tom).  Children who grow up in that environment will almost certainly be gay-friendly citizens as long as they live.

Same-sex marriage is a basic civil rights issue, and the only acceptable outcome is full marriage equality.  With every passing year America will bend further in that direction.  Faster, please.

Processing bin Laden’s Death in a Spiritual Context

Osama White House celebrationThe Rev. Bernard Poppe, my priest and friend, is more liberal than I am.  (Ditto for 98% of his flock at St. George’s Episcopal, in the deep blue town of Maplewood, NJ.)  So when Bernie started his sermon on Sunday by indicating he had mixed feelings about the death of Osama bin Laden, I was prepared to sit politely in silent disagreement.

But I found I had no quarrel with anything he said.

He said he was pleased at the news bin Laden had been killed — but then appalled by the tenor of the celebration in front of the White House and elsewhere.  He questioned his own motives: “I’m not supposed to rejoice  at anybody’s death.” He was unpersuaded by the notion that bin Laden had been “brought to justice,” because justice implies due process and an opportunity to mount a defense.  The celebrations made it seem more like vengeance than justice.  I hope I am accurately reflecting what he said — Father Poppe sometimes posts his sermons online, but this one was delivered without notes.

Father Poppe

I also reject the “brought to justice” formulation, although my reasons probably differ from Bernie’s.  The idea that the fight against Islamic jihadism is a war, not a law-enforcement issue, is a well-established conservative meme — I’ve written about it here, here and especially here.  Bin Laden declared war on America in 1996, but our government did not acknowledge that we were at war until that awful day in 2001.  Much of the Left still has not acknowledged it, although President Obama, to his immense credit, has.

My faith teaches me that Osama bin Laden was a child of God and a sinner — and that he shared those traits with me.  Few people in recent history have more fully earned a double-tap to the forehead, and yet hatred and the lust for vengeance are ugly emotions that lead to bad places.  It’s appropriate for a minister to remind us of these things.

But if we are not to celebrate death, and if we reject the law-enforcement model, I still believe there is reason to rejoice in the success of the Navy SEALs.  We cheer not for vengeance or justice, but for victory.  We did not start this war, and it is not over, but our side has won an enormously important battle.  I think we can celebrate in good conscience.

Preparations for Easter at St. George’s

Much thanks to Maplewood Patch editor Mary Mann for taking the visual images from St. George’s Palm Sunday observance and turning it into a spritely and thorough announcement of the upcoming Easter services.

Cranky political commentary will resume here soon.  In the meantime, may Holy Week and Easter be a time of reflection and renewal for you and yours.

(Video by Kirk Petersen, photos by the Web Goddess.)

They Looked at a Hillside and Envisioned a Church

Tom Savoth and Cheryl Notari, Wardens of St. George's

Outgoing Senior Warden Tom Savoth shares a quiet moment today before the service with his fellow Warden at St. George's Episcopal Church, Cheryl Notari. Note the aura of gravitas descending on Cheryl as she prepares to become the Senior Warden.

Nearly nine decades ago some citizens of Maplewood, New Jersey came together in a spirit of faith and community to begin planning a major new Episcopal church on a wooded hillside off of Ridgewood Road.  The parish traces its roots back to just after the Civil War, but the cornerstone for the current building was laid in 1925.

Generations of Maplewoodians have enjoyed fellowship and sanctuary in the years that followed.  The Web Goddess and I were married there in 2000, shortly after we became members, and we held our reception in the then-decrepit Parish Hall.  Ten years later we stood up in the middle of a Sunday service to renew our vows in front of God and a community that has sustained us through some very difficult times.

During that decade, the Web Goddess earned her moniker by teaching herself HTML, then building and launching the St. George’s website.  She has lovingly maintained the site ever since, through two major redesigns, while honing her skills as a photographer.  Virtually single-handedly she has built stgeorges-maplewood.org into what almost certainly is the largest website in the 108-parish Episcopal Diocese of Newark.  The website marks its 10th anniversary this month, and if there is a larger, more robust, more professional church website built strictly on a volunteer basis anywhere in the country, I want to see it.

Her online evangelism quickly led to an elected position as a member of the parish Vestry.  When she stepped down because of term limits six years later, I stepped up.  I’m now entering my fourth year as head of the Property Committee, a role that keeps me busy caring for an aging physical plant.  Along the way we’ve both become full-time, professional Episcopalians — she as Director of Communications and Technology for the Diocese of Newark, and me as Parish Administrator of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison.

Valyrie Laedlein, elected today as Junior Warden

My role as Property Poobah at St. George’s is what led to these musings, as today was our Annual Parish Meeting, a time of transition for several very dear friends.  Tom Savoth stepped down as Senior Warden after seven years of Vestry service, including four years as Warden.  Joining Cheryl Notari as Warden is the newly elected Valyrie Laedlein, and they’ll work closely with the Rev. Bernie Poppe, who is only the seventh Rector in the church’s 106 years as a full-fledged parish of the Diocese of Newark.  The Rector and Wardens oversee a small, mostly part-time staff and a legion of volunteers, some of whom have been attending services there for five decades or more. St. George’s is fortunate to have leaders of the quality of Bernie, Cheryl, Valyrie and Tom, and the Web Goddess and I are blessed to be able to call them friends.

The Rev. Bernie Poppe, Rector of St. George's

Our beautiful building is feeling its age, and I had the dubious honor today of telling the parish that I’ve spent $13,000 of their pledge money in the past five weeks making emergency repairs to the heating system.  We’re not done — fortunately the temperature outside is in the 50s today, because while the church itself was overheated, there was no heat in the Parish Hall.

The meeting marked the start of a parish-wide conversation about the heating system that will continue for many months, and much work will be done by many people.  There’s time enough for that, and time for this blog to resume its normal fare of cranky political commentary.  But once in a while I use this forum for a more personal message.  Just for today I want to pause long enough to give thanks for a group of good Christian people in the 1920s, who looked at a wooded hillside and envisioned a church.

Photos by Kirk Petersen (with a cellphone!) and the Web Goddess.

Honest Labor: From Mach 2 to Muenster to Madison

(Welcome, Maplewood Patch readers, and thanks to Mary Mann for the kind words.)

A summer evening in 1995: My boss’s boss, a Merrill Lynch executive who has never called me at home, calls me at home.  His opening line still ranks in my mind as one of the most interesting possible ways to start a business conversation:  “Kirk, do you have a passport?”

It turns out I do.  “OK, pack a bag, you’re getting on the Concorde to London in the morning.  We’re buying a British firm, and you’re going to write the script for the press conference.”

A September morning in 2009: The manager of the local supermarket flips through my application, which discloses work experience and a salary history he’s not used to seeing.  Plus there’s the whole Princeton thing.

He says, “all I have to offer is a job in the deli. Are you sure about this?”

It’s an excellent question, and the answer isn’t obvious, even to me.  But I manage to convince both of us.

The Concorde was surprisingly cramped inside. The main thing that distinguished the experience from a puddle-jumping commuter plane was the digital display at the front of the cabin, which indicated we topped out at Mach 2 (over 1,300 mph) and 60,000 feet.

I had been told to pack for three days, but I ended up staying for 10.  Those were flush times on Wall Street, and Merrill’s executives and support Gumbys alike were all housed at The Dorchester, widely considered one of the world’s finest hotels.  (I suppose it is — they certainly kept up with my laundry needs.)

The target company was called Smith New Court.  Late one night, at a crucial juncture of the negotiations, it became necessary to briefly evict the Smith New Court personnel from the giant Dorchester suite where the talks were being held, so the Merrill team could confer by speaker phone with other executives in New York.  The Smithies needed a place to cool their heels, and the hotel’s business center was closed.

I was in my single room down the hall, casually dressed and thinking about bed, when there came a knock at my door.  Suddenly a wave of bespoke-suited Brits came flooding into the room, including the top two executives of Smith New Court, herded by a junior member of the Merrill team.

Padding around in my bare feet, I served sodas and spring water from the minibar and tried to make everyone at home.  Nervous laughter and small talk ensued for half an hour or so.  Then the negotiations resumed, and a billion-dollar deal was struck.

There were more trips to London that summer, and over the next dozen years, various employers and clients sent me to Tokyo, Cologne, Shanghai and Cleveland.  (I was able to squeeze in an Indians game — Jacobs Field is as nice as they say it is.)

I was the speechwriter for a CEO, I edited internal websites for two huge companies, I prepped executives for Congressional testimony, I helped clients spin bankruptcies, regulatory issues and involuntary CEO transitions.  I developed a taste for custom shirts, car service and single-malt whiskey.

For a job that pays $10 an hour, the deli counter gig wasn’t bad.  Probably the worst part was having to stand on my aging feet throughout a six-hour shift, except for a 15-minute break.  That, and cleaning the goo off the cheese slicer at closing time.

I generally enjoyed waiting on customers, most of whom responded well to a cheerful smile.  I learned that even though customers usually want their roast beef “sliced thin,” you have to set the slicer thicker than for turkey.  I discovered that low-sodium ham isn’t bad, but low-fat cheese tastes like glue.  Management wanted us to up-sell, so I said “would you like some salad with that?” and flattered myself that I was honing my marketing skills.  At one time or another, at least three fellow employees asked some variation of “how old are you, anyway?”

I had started my own consulting business in 2007, and I did pretty well for a while.  Then I did OK for a while.  Then the economy imploded, and after having virtually no income for a year, it had become clear that my entrepreneurial experiment was, at the very least, ill-timed.

I applied for dozens of full-time communications jobs while I was trying to drum up clients, and it was hard to decide which was more depressing — forcing myself to network with people who weren’t going to do business with me, or crafting thoughtful cover letters to hiring managers who weren’t going to interview me.  The guilty knowledge that I “should be doing more” repeatedly collided with the paralyzing reality that nothing in particular had to be done today.

At 51 (which is not old, dammit!), I’ve learned some hard things about the job market.  It turns out that if the job description calls for “8-10 years of experience” in a role, that’s not really a minimum — it’s more like a maximum.

It turns out that “overqualified” is code for “too old.”  (I’ve promised myself that the next time a potential employer tells me I’m overqualified, I’m going to offer to work below my full capacity.)

I kind of dared myself into applying for the supermarket job.  While commiserating with another idle consultant about the work we did back in the day, I heard myself saying, “at this point, I can’t imagine turning down any job at any salary.”

The instant I said it, I started wondering whether I really meant it.  When I saw the words “Now hiring!” on my supermarket receipt, it was time to put up or shut up.

The supermarket manager, naturally, said I was overqualified.  If the line had come to me in time, I would have said “I’ve never worked retail before — maybe I’m underqualified.”  The manager looked to be about my age, maybe he felt some kinship.  For whatever reason, he gave me a shot.

As it turned out, I was only there three months.  My new gig is a step up in both status and pay.  On January 4 I became the parish administrator of Grace Episcopal Church in Madison, NJ.  I’m now responsible for producing four weekly service bulletins and running the busy office at one of the largest Episcopal churches in North Jersey.

I got the position the old-fashioned way — through family connections.  Up until a few months ago, it had been the Web Goddess’s job for five years.

My beloved left Grace Church after she parlayed her years of self-taught website work and her knowledge of all things Episcopal into a newly created job, as Director of Communications and Technology for the Episcopal Diocese of Newark, which includes 108 parishes in northern New Jersey.  She has quickly started raising the profile of the diocese by redesigning a weekly newsletter and leveraging social media, while supporting the bishop’s communications activities.  It’s her first professional venture into the arena where I’ve played for 30 years, and she’s a natural talent.

So, let’s review: My wife landed a job in my field when I couldn’t.  Now I have the admin job she held before her promotion.  How’s the ol’ ego holding up, Kirk?

Well, negotiations with my ego are continuing.  Ironically, each recent improvement in my income has brought fresh challenges for my self esteem.

For most of 2009 I was entirely supported by my wife’s income and savings.  By any objective measure, a part-time supermarket job was a step up from unemployment, and I made a conscious choice to take pride in my work.  But it took a while to get used to being spotted by friends in my white coat and funny hat.  The Web Goddess aptly called it a “survival job,” and I used that term as protective cover.

The full-time church job feels more like a career transition.  It also feels like an abandonment of the conceit that I’m a primary bread-winner who belongs in a globe-trotting world.  I’m not sure I would have been open to taking the job if I had not just spent three months slicing cheese and cleaning up.

It helps — a lot — that I like the people I’m working with, and I care about the organization.  For more than a decade the Web Goddess and I have found fulfillment and a powerful sense of community at our home parish of St. George’s Episcopal, and Grace is a similar environment in many ways.  I see and feel the spiritual nourishment that Grace provides to its parishioners, and I feel privileged to have an opportunity to help.

I don’t expect I’ll be there until retirement, but the priest who is now my boss asked, quite reasonably, for a one-year commitment, so I’m not looking for jobs in 2010.  (Part-time projects in my off hours are another matter… let me know if I can help your business or organization meet your communications needs.)

Long ago I learned that job satisfaction does not primarily depend on how much money you make, or the type of work you do, or the prestige of the organization you serve.  In 12 years at Merrill Lynch I played several different roles while my income steadily grew, and I went through cycles of being both energized and miserable.

No, the most important factor in job satisfaction is whether you get along with your immediate boss.  It’s still early days at Grace, but I’m liking my chances, working for a woman of the cloth.  (In the words of the prominent Episcopal theologian Robin Williams, “Male and female God created them; male and female we ordain them.”)

In addition to a paycheck, my new job provides support for my spiritual infrastructure.  It helps me focus on living one day at a time, and on being grateful for all the blessings in my life.

And I am richly blessed.  I’m safe, and healthy, and in love with my wife.  I’m a United States citizen, having won that lottery the day I was born. I have a fixed-rate mortgage, and positive equity in a comfortable house in a nice town.  Around the world, billions of people would trade places with me in a heartbeat.

The job gives me a reason to get out the door in the morning, and I look forward to arriving at the office.  I’m doing real work that needs to be done, and I stretch myself to meet deadlines. People are counting on me, and I get recognized when I do good work.

If things get hectic, across the hall from the office is a … sanctuary … where I can seek through prayer and meditation to improve my conscious contact with God.  Staff meetings end with the words “Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

I may never again make the kind of money I made a few short years ago, but I won’t have that kind of pressure, either.  Not that it’s a slow-paced job — there are more than 1,000 parishioners, four Sunday bulletins in two different liturgies, a Eucharist or prayer service every day of the year, multiple tenants in a large physical plant, an office that buzzes with activity.  The Web Goddess set a high standard of efficiency and excellence, and all the details seem overwhelming sometimes.

But it’s not the corporate world.  After letting a detail slip one day, I told the Rector I was used to an environment where I’d be crucified for a minor transgression like that.  She replied, “we think one crucifixion was enough — we focus more on redemption.”

Amen.

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