The Ministry of An Accomplished Baker

I never expected that I’d end up as a baker or even a chef. I thought I’d be a priest or perhaps a monk in a monastery somewhere. But I always found myself around food and, on fast days, would often come up with really creative ideas for dishes (I was the cook, at the time, in a seminary and had some prior cooking experience at a vegetarian restaurant right after college, but I figured that was just a space filler till I became a pastor). Every assignment I had after that still found me playing with food—cheese, bread, barbecue sauce, soft drinks – I was fascinated by food. And then I got married and my wife was a great cook too so we opened a small restaurant and bakery as a mission outreach in the town where we lived. We called it our ministry even though we didn’t preach or subject our customers to overt religious evangelism. It was all very subtle; we felt that we were feeding their souls while feeding their bodies and, somehow, it all came together and the customers, from all backgrounds and faiths, got what we were trying to do and pretty soon we had big following. It was about then that we became Orthodox Christians but it was also about then that I realized my calling was not to be an ordained priest but rather, to serve others in a priestly way without their knowing it. Food became my form of subtle sacrament, and bread became my metaphor. I wrote a book about it and then another and, before long, we had sold the restaurant and bakery and I became a teacher of bread in culinary schools and also around the world. I have never stopped believing that God had ordained this ministry for me and my wife and that, in our own way, we were serving God’s will through a path that He had provided for us.

I read a book during the midst of this about finding your mission in life, written by an Episcopal priest, in which he outlined three aspects of any life mission: first, that every person shares a common mission with all humans to know God, our Creator, and to stand in His light and presence (I now understand this in he Orthodox context as the striving for theosis); second, that every person shares a common human mission to leave the world better than we found it by allowing God’s light to flow through us and manifest in various ways, essentially, and to serve others; and three, we each have a personal mission to find the work that brings both us and our Creator the greatest possible joy. I understand this now as synergia – our efforts meeting God’s love to create something uniquely our own, and that we can only call grace.

This explanation of finding one’s mission in life resonated deeply for me because it helped me to see that everyone, simply by being a human being created in the image and likeness of God, is ordained – but each in his or her own way, according to God’s will. Some may be formally ordained as priests, deacons, and clergy but everyone has a priestly dimension and the means to express it. Some spiritual writers have called this realization, “Surrendering yourself to Divine providence.” When I was able to surrender myself to the path I already found myself so happily on, I realized that it was the way that God had given me to participate in His creation and to know Him, and to express His energy as an individual. I discovered that I could give glory to God and find my own sense of mission and purpose and (and this is vitally important and too often overlooked by many “seekers” of God), to have a joyful, fulfilling life. Sometimes it’s about just seeing what’s right there in front of you.

 

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Astrophysicist and Researcher

From a very tender age, I wanted to become a researcher. Now, after many years working as a professional researcher as an astrophysicist, I truly believe that God called me to be where I am today, and that I just did the footwork under his gentle and kind guidance – not to become a scientist specifically, but simply to walk the path that he has chosen for me, wherever it might lead.

For many years I did my job by investing as much time into accomplishing my professional responsibilities. I am sad to say that I did not give much time to prayer and spiritual work.  I took the Lord for granted and did not think much about the labor I need to accomplish as a part of my spiritual journey.

When I developed a certain bodily illness, I began to realize that I am not the one in control of my life, and that my soul was in need of healing even more than my body. So, things have changed, and by the grace of God, he has ‘lifted me from my despair, that I may be vigilnt and glorify his might.’[1]

Now, my priority is God, and the work is just one of many pieces in my life on my spiritual journey. At work I try to maintain an awareness of God at all times. I do “derail” often, but with the help of my spiritual father and teachers, my brothers and sisters in the Church, and especially in preparation for and during confession, I realize how far I have gone, and try to return to the right path.

My profession involves the study of the Universe; it is a great gift from God to be able to see glimpses of the beauty of His Creation, and I try to describe this to others. I think that is the nature and the role of my profession. In addition to my formal professional job, I have the opportunity to teach at a private school run by my Church, where I try to teach the beauties of God’s Universe to children. I also give public talks whenever possible.

The greatest joy is discovering new things about the Universe—when, by the grace of God, the curtain is lifted and I can see and discover a few things not previously known (to us humans). But this involves a lot of work, and certainly a spiritual struggle. Trying not to live two lives – one professional and one spiritual – is not easy, at least for me. In my research there are often times that I “forget” that I am working with human beings (brothers and sisters). “Another deadline” and “publish quickly (and be first)” are not always the best ways to induce a spiritual peace and closeness to the teachings of the Lord.

It is a constant struggle, with the hope and prayer that one learns from one’s mistakes and tries to change. My faith is the thing that helps me see where I am, and where I should be, by the grace of God.


[1] From the prayer of St. Basil the Great To the Most Holy Trinity. Source: http://www.myriobiblos.gr/texts/english/prayerbook/main.htm

 

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Dentistry: Science, Art, and Ministry

After 45 years in my chosen profession, I thank God daily for guiding me to select the art and science of dentistry as my lifelong career.  I enjoyed every single day.  For those of you who are or might consider medicine as a ministry–yes, a ministry–I encourage you to give dentistry a look.  This piece does not warrant the space to enumerate my reasons fully, but let me offer a few of my thoughts on the subject.

Dentistry is not about teeth; it is about human beings who happen to have teeth.  This, therefore, necessitates a personal interaction between two people—the one coming for care and the other prepared to serve.

In order for the professional to serve effectively, they must over time master the attributes of patience, compassion, non-judgmental listening, kindness, generosity, humility, and understanding of their fellow man.  We recognize these traits as teachings of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  In my morning prayer, I would ask that the Holy Spirit descend upon me and give me the skill, knowledge, and judgment to serve my fellow man with perfection of care.

I found it helpful during my busy day to have visual and audible reminders to ground me in this purpose.  In my office, icons were prominently displayed and I often filled the air with hymns and, during Great Lent, the lamentations of Good Friday.

The acquired attributes mentioned above I also took to committee work and parish council meetings in my Church to more effectively work for the glory of God.  Bring God into your career and this will produce much fruit — both in your own life and in the lives of those with whom you work and serve.

Author identities for life stories remain anonymous.

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OCN on Unemployment and the Economy

The Orthodox Christian Network is releasing a series of podcasts this month as part of its “Come Receive the Light” series.  His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America will contribute one of a series of podcasts on unemployment and the economy.

You won’t want to miss this series!  The program will touch on issues of coping with stress, dealing with personal economics, and more.  To tune in, follow the link below!

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Pursuing a Calling in Corporate America?

One of the questions that is most difficult for me to answer is “what have been the keys to your career?” The question doesn’t bother me but it doesn’t always resonate with me. So, why is that?

I currently hold a senior position in a medium-sized firm with all the responsibilities, challenges and benefits that come with that role. Additionally, I am fortunate to have worked for the same firm throughout my professional life. The stability has been comforting and the values of the company and its ownership are totally aligned with my own beliefs in terms of “doing the right thing” and “treating others the way you would want to be treated.” But the reason the question is hard to answer is not just because my path is unusual—most adults will change jobs 5-7 times over the course of their professional life—but because my perspective is different. I really don’t think about pursuing a career. My focus is on responding to a calling.

My view of work and all of life is through the lens of faithful stewardship. The bottom line for me is simply this: our life is ultimately all about stewardship. Stewardship—managing God’s resources for His glory—is the expression of a relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and His One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Here’s an easy way to say it: our life is God’s gift to us and what we do with our life is our gift back to Him. If you look at life through the lens of stewardship then you are much more likely to be listening for God’s call on your life. You begin to ask some key questions like “how has God gifted me?” or “what passion has God put on my heart?” Ultimately, when you ask the question, “what has God called me to do?” you begin to approach your professional life in a different way. I am the only me and you are the only you. And God has called each one of us to make a unique contribution to His Kingdom as stewards of the many gifts he has given us.

So, my encouragement is simply this: we identify our gifts and talents, discover our passions and interests, and ultimately listen for God’s call of how to apply those gifts and pursue those passions for His glory. If we do, the road ahead will not be perfectly smooth but it will be headed in the right direction which is towards Him and in the service of others. Not a bad ride at all.

Author identities for life stories remain anonymous.

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Other Helpful Websites

www.jobhuntersbible.com

http://stats.bls.gov/oco

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Secular Theories of Career Development: Myers-Briggs

While not designed to be a theory of career development, Myers-Briggs type theory has become popular with career counselors. It is based on the work of Carl Jung. While the number of types in this theory is not great, the interrelationships between them make for a complex and interesting theory.

People who fall into both the “Sensing” and “Thinking” categories are typically practical and pragmatic. Likely to choose occupations that demand analysis of facts, they often find satisfaction in careers within law, business management, accounting/auditing, and production/purchasing.

Those categorized as both “Sensing” and “Feeling” are more likely to be interested in observations about people than about objects. Examples of professions that relate to tendency are the medical professions, social work, teaching children, and providing customer services.

What about the combination of “Intuition” and “Feeling”? These individuals are likely to take a creative approach to meeting human needs and be less concerned about objects. Examples of careers would include clergy, teaching adolescents or college students, advertising, and social service occupations.

People who fall into both the “Intuition” and “Thinking” categories tend to enjoy solving problems, particularly those of a theoretical nature. Scientific research, computing, business (especially financial) decision-making, and development of new projects are careers they tend to seek.

Finally, the Myers-Briggs distinction between introversion and extroversion has implications for career development. Introverts, who prefer activity that allows time for concentration, tend to make perceptions and judgments based on their interests or inner worlds. They tend to prefer occupations such as science and accounting, in which they spend time solving problems on their own. Extroverts, on the other hand, tend to like activity that provides contact with people and tend to use perceptions and judgments in the outer world. More extroverted people may prefer sales and business management occupations, as well as social service work.

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Secular Theories of Career Development: Holland

Many secular theories of career development are derived from theories of personality. One of these theories was articulated by the psychologist John Holland, in whose view career choice and adjustment are an extension of a person’s personality. His theory of types applies both to personality types and work environments. Here are Holland’s types:

  • Realistic: A Realistic work environment makes physical demands on a person, who typically uses tools or machines. Ability to work with things is more important than ability to interact with people.
  • Investigative: This work environment is one in which people search for solutions to problems through mathematical and scientific interests and competencies. Workers use complex and abstract thinking to solve problems creatively; cautious and critical thinking is valued. Some examples of Investigative jobs are computer programmer, physician, mathematician, biologist, science teacher, and research & development manager.
  • Artistic: This environment is free and open, encouraging creativity and personal expression. Tools are used to express oneself rather than to complete a task. Such settings allow people to dress as they wish and structure their own time.
  • Social: The Social work environment is one that encourages people to be flexible and understanding of each other, in which people can work with others through helping with personal and career problems, teaching others, affecting others spiritually, and being socially responsible. Occupations include teacher, counselor, and therapist.
  • Enterprising: In this work environment, people manage and persuade others to attain goals. Some examples of Enterprising types of work are sales, management, politics, real estate, the stock market, insurance, and lobbying.
  • Conventional: This environment is best characterized by organization and planning. The competencies of clerical skill, dependability, and ability to follow directions are highly valued.

No real work environment is purely of one type; most involve a combination of types. It is also very rare for a person to fit into only one Holland psychological type. Considering the relationship between one’s work environment and one’s personality type is an important theme in this theory of career development.

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Deacon and Banker?

As a seminary graduate and an ordained deacon, my expectation – and most everyone else’s – was that my “career” would be in the Church, in all likelihood as a parish priest. Nothing wrong with this; it’s why I went to seminary in the first place. But over 25 years later, I’m still a deacon (the question “When are you going to get ordained?” still makes my eyes roll in defiance of all self-control), and almost by accident, I seem to have thrived in a secular career. “Where did I go wrong?” That’s been the big question in my life. For probably the first 15 years of my career, that question tormented me.

But the wise counsel of my wife, and of good friends (mostly made in the course of my secular career), and whatever wisdom comes with gray hair, have together prevailed, over the past decade or so, and have given me some peace around the course my life has taken.

The source of this peace is the significant observation that my “two lives” can and have informed and illuminated each other in beneficial ways. I learned to preach by having to give training talks early in my secular career; the ability to stand up in front of a crowd and teach them something in a way that is informative and inspiring, I have to thank my first fundraising job for that. I learned to give bad news by having had to lay people off, telling close colleagues and friends that their positions had been eliminated; I have to thank my career in the volatile high tech industry for that – though this is one skill I wish I’d never had to learn. And whatever pastoral counseling I’ve been able to provide, while it has hopefully been shaped by the counsel I’ve received over the years from spiritual fathers and the writings of the saints, it has certainly also been tempered by the emphasis my current employer places on “the gift of coaching” – the understanding that in many circumstances, the kindest thing you can do for someone is to point out where and how they may have the opportunity to do something even better the next time.

After all these years, the most valuable advice I can offer is that whatever your career, ecclesiastical or secular, it is imperative that you remain one and the same person in all contexts. What happened after the first 15 years of my career is that I stopped trying to maintain the wall between my two lives, and started to share what I learned in each one with those I cared for, and was responsible for, in the other. My people at church know what I do during the week, and they hear the stories in my sermons. And my people at work know what I do on the weekends, and why I always take Holy Friday and Bright Monday off. They’ve seen my pictures from Mt. Athos, the video of my elevation, and – I pray – they have seen, increasingly over the years, that “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

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Sample Job Description: Youth Director

Here is a sample job description for a Youth Director from a parish in the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America.

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