JACKSON — Commitments, religious, moral and ethical standards — bringing these things into work can be easy for some. For others however, living lives that are fulfilling can be difficult.
That is why Millsaps College’s new Faith and Work Initiative is working to bring faith and work together. Darby Ray, a professor of religious studies at Millsaps, is the director of the new initiative.
The initiative aims at engaging not only Millsaps students, but engaging all people in careful reflection on questions about work, meaning, service and faith.
“We’re interested in engaging the issue of what it is that creates worthwhile living and working,” Ray explained. “So often I think in our cultures there is an unfortunate divide between the values that rein, like the workday, and the values that rein at other times. The Faith and Work Initiative is bringing those two conflicting sets of commitments together in hopes that they can critique or edify one another.”
Ray said the ultimate goal for each person is to find a job that is “morally rich or spiritually defendable” — one that is not only geared toward religious people and questions but toward faith in general.
“I think that faith or the world of religion suggests that a life of mere self interest is a diminished life and that a life of compassion, of mercy, of generosity, is a life that would be more personally fulfilling,” Ray said.
Deacon Frank Agosta at St. Paul Catholic Church in Brandon said it is easy to bring faith and work together in the workplace. Prayer, he said, is a great way to do just that.
“Even if you take a few minutes for meditation and prayer during your lunch hour,” Agosta suggested.
Agosta said bringing faith and worth together in a work setting, or in any setting for that matter, “is the only way you can survive.”
Rabbi Jim Egolf at Beth Israel Congregation in Jackson said many people end up volunteering in nonprofit organizations to make their lives more fulfilling.
“Part of that is an indictment of the workplace and part of that is also the blessing of the religious community,” Egolf said. “Unfortunately there are people who are unsupported by the workplace and unable to be off for their religious holidays.”
Egolf said businesses are often judged by their bottom line, but rarely by the emotional side of where the people in that business are.
“Part of what people are turning to faith for is to have a sense of emotional value, worth and safety that they don’t necessarily find in the workplace all the time,” Egolf said. “If you’re selling widgets every day and someone doesn’t hit their quota to be good in the eyes of the boss, the congregation still offers a place that is safe. At some point the mixture of how business defines itself and how people define themselves reaches the end and people don’t necessarily define themselves in terms of a business or the work they do in their lives.”
It is unfortunate, Egolf said, that society judges people by what they do in terms of work. One result of that according to Egolf is depression among the elderly.
“One of the reasons people come to faith is because they want to have a sense of value in their lives,” Egolf said. “That community tells them they are a valued part of something no matter what happens. I think it’s critical for people’s spirit that they are able to add meaning to their lives that is not necessarily defined within the workplace.”
One friend of Egolf’s left his job with a lucrative law firm in order to become a rabbi.
“There is something within people that wants to have greater meaning and purpose involved in it as well and not just doing for the sake of doing because someone will pay you for it,” Egolf said.
Egolf said praying every Sunday and reading the Bible every Sunday does not promise people any success.
“You get a reward, but you do it because that’s what should be done,” he said.
Bob Ridgway, president of Ridgway Management Inc., said balancing faith and work takes some effort, but it is worth it.
“When you have a good balance of faith in your work you sleep better at night,” Ridgway said. “When you try everyday to take care of other people the best you can and you work hard there is nothing that says you’re going to succeed. The reward we get is free.”
Ridgway said if one cannot find spiritual fulfillment at work, one should change jobs.
“I believe that,” he said. “If you can’t find it where you are then you’re in the wrong place.” And, he added, “If you’re not fulfilled when you hang around with your family that’s no good either.”
In addition to being president of Ridgway Management, Ridgway is also the lay leader at Galloway United Methodist Church in Jackson.
“Invariably there will be some spots in some days that aren’t supporting the rest of it and that is when your faith carries you through,” Ridgway said.
Contact MBJ staff writer Elizabeth Kirkland at firstname.lastname@example.org.