Note: This article spotlights work at Denver Seminary, where three faculty members are individual faculty partners of the Oikonomia Network.
The good work of the Oikonomia Network with seminaries and other educational institutions focuses largely on faculty, academic administrators, and ultimately students. Our schools’ missions rightly keep directing our attention and labors in the direction of formationally educating the students we serve.
At the same time, those of us who work as faculty members and academic administrators cannot help but be mindful of the good and important – indeed, essential – work done every day by staff and by administrators in areas not explicitly related to the educational enterprise itself. All too often, when a spotlight is shone on our institutions, its field of illumination does not include staff and the full range of administrative leaders.
To the degree that this is the case, perhaps the following brief report might be both an encouragement and a prompt.
Here at Denver, our vice president of finance and campus operations, Debra Kellar, came across information about a one-day retreat curriculum created by RightNow Media titled Work as Worship. RightNow describes the retreat as “a 1-day retreat to inspire and encourage the Christian business owners, CEOs and leaders in your church.” Several of the speakers, such as Chris Brooks and Tom Nelson, are familiar to those of us within ON. The RightNow website clearly states their belief in and commitment to serving the church, and the Work as Worship retreat reflects this commitment to churches. Local churches sign up in advance to function as virtual retreat sites, and the major presentations for the event are broadcast to these churches.
At first, Kellar was interested in the retreat largely for herself. However, after a bit of investigation she determined that no local churches in our part of the Denver area had signed on to serve as broadcast sites. Learning this, her field of vision expanded beyond her personal interest alone.
The manual for the retreat says: “Many people spend a great deal of time at work, and yet they don’t see how their work intersects with their faith.” Kellar knew the employees of the seminary well enough to know that some of them were likely among the “many people” described in this sentence. She also had an intuitive sense that this kind of event would be organically congruent with our educational program, including our training and mentoring curriculum (featured in a previous ON Newsletter “Spotlight”), with its substantive attention to calling and vocation.
“We are doing quite a bit with students in this arena,” she said, “Why can’t we bring this to our employees?” So she brought to her colleagues on the seminary’s senior leadership team the idea of hosting a broadcast site on campus. They liked the idea and put their support behind her proposal.
While appreciating that the retreat was intended for churches and that RightNow Media was seeking local churches to host the broadcasts, Kellar inquired about the seminary serving as a site. She was clear in indicating that she did not want the seminary to “compete” with local churches for this event. And the answer was “yes.”
With the assistance of Tracy Meola, of the Campus Operations office, and the support and encouragement of Wendi Gowing, our director of human resources, the seminary hosted the Work as Worship retreat. Seminary employees who wanted to participate in the retreat were responsible for paying the individual registration fee. However, they did not have to count the time spent attending the retreat as time off; thus, employee attendees were paid their usual pay for the day spent on the retreat. Kellar indicated that this was just one way for the seminary to affirm and encourage all its employees to “see their work as part of God’s work.” Worship is one of the values set forth in the seminary’s Strategic Framework, and Keller also saw hosting this retreat as a way to affirm and advance this value of worship.
In addition to recognizing the potential benefits to seminary employees, Keller viewed this event as a resource and an opportunity that could be offered by the seminary to the local community, including local churches, individual Christians and a variety of non-profit organizations. The seminary extended the invitation. When all was said and done, three-quarters of the 39 people who participated in the retreat at the seminary were Christians from the local community. And, many of these people had no prior contact with the seminary and had never before been on campus.
In speaking with several employees who participated in the retreat, all of them affirmed the value of the day, voiced appreciation for the seminary staff and administrators who made the event possible, and expressed their pleasure in interacting with interested people from the local community. They came away with either a new or deepened appreciation for a theologically-grounded view of work, a view of work – including their own work – as part of whole-life discipleship in Christ.
Following from this event, Keller and others are considering ways in which insights gained through this event might inform seminary efforts already underway to “help all employees feel valued and more a part of what we are doing.” For example, the seminary has recently implemented an “onboarding mentoring” program. New employees are paired with a longer serving employee who volunteers as an onboarding mentor, helping to orient the new employee to the seminary and establish relationship with them. And as a result of the retreat event, consideration is being given to how the affirmation that everyone’s work at Denver Seminary is an integral part of God’s work can be incorporated into this and other human resources initiatives.