On the Sunday before Labor Day, Christian Vocation Sunday, 3 church members share how they live their Christian faith and discipleship in the workplace or in their vocation. This year’s speakers were: Chris Francisco, Activity Director; Patrick O'Connor, Director of Family Ministries; and Lisa Cosby, regulatory analyst with the California Public Utilities Commission.
Chris Francisco, Activity Director at NueroRestorative
I've been working as an activity coordinator at a local skilled nursing facility. I imagined I would enjoy this type of job because I love doing lots of different things. And. I like being with people and having fun. What's not to like? So I took a class at the College of Marin and became a certified activity professional. Our teacher, Betsy Bass Martini was an excellent resource and an encouragement.
Activity coordinators usually plan and manage leisure activities and coordinate community resources. Programming should consider the social, emotional, cognitive and physical needs, abilities, and interests of the participants. Some of the skills needed are a positive attitude, good communication skills, and sensitivity to people's issues and feelings. A good sense of humor really helps.
I've never thought I wanted to work with severely challenged individuals in a secured setting. But that was the work that became available to me. There are 12 patients living 24/7 where I work (conveniently in my hometown of Fairfax) who had a medically complex injuries or illnesses such as traumatic brain injuries or spinal cord injuries. Most of the patients cannot move, speak or eat. Several don't speak the same language as me. Probably they are not able to perceive things the way they once did. Or the way I do. They are almost all men. It's challenging for me to find appropriate activities! Often I wonder how I'm going to fill our time together. Sometimes I just feel like a deer in the headlights. Usually I take people for walks outdoors for fresh air and sunshine -- this is me pushing their wheelchairs. I play dominoes with the person who doesn't speak the same language as me or speak at all actually. I call bingo, order birthday cakes, I schedule musical guests and pet visits. I cut fingernails and massage hands. Give haircuts. I color, sing, and read the horoscopes. I tap on a healing drum and help others to try to do that too. I pray for them. Basically I just show up and participate in the lives of others by just being present amidst the tangles of suffering and healing.
I always walk in the door praying for God's help. And at the end of our time together I walk out relieved. And thanking God for the opportunities I've been given. So I think basically it's what some people call a ministry of presence. I looked up this little quotation by Henry Middleman talking about his own ministry. I paraphrased it a little bit to be closer to mine: "More and more, I like to simply walk around, greet people, sit around a table with them and chat. It feels like a privilege to practice this simple ministry of being present. Maybe it's not as simple as it seems. My own desire to be useful, to do something significant, or to be part of some impressive project is so strong. It's difficult not to have plans. Not to organize around an urgent cause. And not feel that you were working directly for social progress. But I wonder, more and more, if the first step shouldn't be to know people by name. To eat and drink with them. Listening to and telling your stories and let them know you enjoy being with them." Amen.
Patrick O'Connor, Director of Family Ministries
First, let me begin with how I got to today. Today, two days before I begin my second year of seminary here in San Anselmo, some 2,388 miles from the place I spent the first 26 and a half years of life. For those of you who might not know, I grew up outside of Montgomery, AL in a small rural town named Pintlala. It’s what you’d imagine a small town in rural Alabama to would look like- a scattering of churches centered around a red light and a one-stop gas station/auto shop/convenience store/pharmacy/lawn repair/monogram store/the best hot dog stand in lower Alabama. There my faith was nurtured by my family-parents, grandparents, great grandparents, aunts and uncles alike, and church wasn’t church unless your family was there with you.
It was at Pintlala Baptist that I was the youngest of three generations to play in the handbell choir, and it was there that I professed at a young age that I felt a calling to ministry. While this calling feels now a days a little too evangelical for my new Presbyterian outlook, it has still shaped me because of the relationships that it established between me and the church. And while church and I have not always gotten along, it is where I ultimately feel at most home and where my work is to be done because church is where I can always find my family. Now, as I’ve gotten older, my definition of family has ultimately grown and expanded, and I think our Scripture this morning calls us to celebrate the diversity of our church family.
Becoming the Director of Family Ministries honestly feels like a perfect fit for me and my calling. In this role, I feel that it my upmost responsibility to nurture and foster relationships with young ones, as well as ones young-at-heart. This is the work that I am called to do-- to engage students in their faith as they connect to God and to the world around them.
One of the primary ways of doing this is through the practice of telling stories. In fact, that is the main idea behind our Godly Play class-- to tell the sacred stories of our faith. Jerome Berryman, creator of Godly Play, has this to say about stories: “Stories are where all of us, children and adults together, find our identity, our family. Stories are where we challenge the deadly messages of the powers-that-be, whether greed and overwork or poverty and powerlessness, that would rob our lives of relationships and meaning. Stories are where we integrate the experiences of our life into powerful acts of recognition, celebration and meaning as we make our way through time and space. Through story we invite one another to make meaning of our world and ultimately of our lives.”
Now, as I continue to do this work, I must confess that I cannot do it alone. As we saw just last week with the baptisms of Lorna and Cecilia, it takes a family and a church family to bring up a child in the traditions of our faith. Our family ministries has many ways for you to plug into this work- first, you can volunteer to be a second presence in our Godly Play class. This requires no prep work on your end, but time to sit and reflect with our young ones about the stories we share in class. Many thanks to Anne Towler and Bill Nicholson who have already volunteered to help this fall. Another opportunity would be to host the youth one Sunday night for a gathering we are calling Home Group, a time for students to gather around the supper table with a church family to share a meal and fellowship. After dinner, we will be having a conversation around the theme “Belonging”, and thanks to Walt and Libby Davis and Al and Joan Flood for volunteering to be a Home Group host. If you are interested in either of these opportunities to join in the work, feel free to see me during coffee hour later on today.
I’d like to end by giving thanks to each of you for allowing me to join in this church family to do the work I am called to do. Thank you.
Lisa Cosby, regulatory analyst, California Public Utilities Commission
I have been a member of this church for almost 20 years, so many of you know parts of my story. Starting in the late 1980’s, I worked at PG&E in San Francisco for 19 years, as an auditor, electric rate designer, and energy efficiency contract manager. I was happy to be able to work on energy efficiency and help businesses use less electricity for my last five years there, but the work environment was very stressful.
Around that time I went on the first mission trip our church took to Gulfport, Mississippi to work on hurricane Katrina rebuilding. I was initially interested in going on the trip that Carl and Joan Basore led because I am a news hound, and I wanted to see it for myself. In the course of being there, I realized that it was very fulfilling to be there helping. At the end of the week, I could relate to the words of a Bob Dylan song, “I forgot what I came here to get away from” (Not Dark Yet, by Bob Dylan). After the first three mission trips with our church, in 2008 I sold my condo, took a leave of absence from PG&E and went to Mississippi to be a long term volunteer. I felt called to do this work, as I went joyfully and without hesitation.
After a few months, I felt that my initial role there was done and felt the pull to return to California, and I came back and worked for a non-profit that helped children in Nepal.
At this nonprofit in Sausalito, I started as a volunteer in the busy December giving season, and I was offered a job after the first month, because another employee was leaving. I worked on the donor database and with the financial documents. I was in this job for over 7 years, and I feel like God lead me to it, partly because every step of getting this job was wide open. This gave me an opportunity to play some part in relieving the great humanitarian needs in Nepal.
Eventually I needed to change jobs again, due to personality conflicts in the small US office.
For the past 3 years I’ve been working at the California Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco. The steps to getting this job also flowed very easily. My work experience on the database at the non-profit, and my years at PG&E led me to this job. My job now is mostly focused on how we can transition to having more renewable power plants in the state and fewer fossil fuel power plants. I work with a large team of people who do a lot of math, statistics and modeling to forecast our future electric generation mix. It seems like a very good blend of a mission that I embrace, and a team of people that I feel happy to be a part of.
I have kept doing mission trips with our church throughout the years, and our most recent trip was to Puerto Rico last fall.
I have had a lot of ups and downs in my career and have questioned what I should be doing with my time, and for many years I would have had a hard time saying where I felt God’s presence in the workplace. I think in the early years, God’s presence was in giving me a secure job with decent people. In the past few years I have started to see that God’s presence has been in my interactions with many of the people I work with. The work could be very dry if not for the personal interactions. Even a brief conversation lifts my spirits. Sometimes I work all day by myself, but if I have lunch in the break room with some of my co-workers, I feel much better all afternoon.
In all of my jobs, I have found that God is there in the pathways that open up, in the people, and in the opportunities to help others.