Saturday, December 20, 2008
Everyday Life: Employees
On Thursday we had a celebration to honor our monastery employees. As part of the celebration Sr. Clarissa, the prioress, told the story that there was great consternation when we began to hire “lay women” as employees. We had always had one or two “hired men” to do heavy, physical work, but the sisters were upset when we first hired employees to do the work we used to do ourselves. She said that there had been great alarm when someone was first hired to answer the phones and be an administrative assistant to the prioress. Now we have almost two dozen employees who work at essential tasks throughout the monastery.
I’m not sure what Benedict would make of lay employees at a monastery. On the one hand I think he would want to make sure that all the monks were doing their share of the work. On the other hand I think he was practical enough to understand that when the community members are fewer and fewer and older and older sometimes you have to adapt and hire employees.
I also tend to worry a little bit, or maybe a lot, that employees will see that we frequently don’t live up to our professed values. When they work with us over a period of time employees see the pettiness, bickering, grumbling and various dysfunctional behaviors that characterize any group of people living together, even a bunch of nuns. But over time what I have seen that is even more amazing is how our employees come understand and live out our values. Our employees have become a witness to Benedictine values in our community and an integral part of spreading our mission.
The core values in our mission statement are: “healing hospitality, grateful simplicity and creative peacemaking.” More than once I have heard employees discussing what to do in a particular situation and they guide their discussion by whether a particular action will be hospitable or manifest simplicity or peacemaking. I have even been part of exciting, creative discussions in which some of our employees are working on projects to help alleviate poverty and promote new cross-disciplinary understandings of peacemaking. In both situations they are working very hard to make the Sisters and the monastery key players in the projects.
It is clear that our Benedictine values, our way of life and witness have been internalized by an amazing group of people. The theme of our employee recognition was “You are a gift to us.” As I reflect on the witness of our employees it seems clear that they are a gift to the whole world. We are grateful.
Oh… and the first woman hired to answer the phones? Now, twenty two years later she is still here and is our Chief Financial Officer and the first lay woman to be part of the Financial Council for the Federation of St. Gertrude, one of the governing bodies for Benedictine women’s monasteries in the United States. I don’t know what Benedict would make of this but I know that St. Scholastica would be proud!