“Your office looks like the office in The Office.” That’s what one of our sixth or seventh graders at Saint Charles Parish recently proclaimed when he toured the parish office here for the first time with some classmates. As I looked around, I saw that he was right; there are many similarities from the reception desk to the copy machine, workstations, supply cabinets, break area, and conference room. Even our staff members, milling around at that moment, looked like some of the characters from the popular farcical sitcom.
Last year, we had to tear down our former parish office that was built as a convent over seventy years ago because it was falling in. We replaced it with a more modern but inexpensive building about half of the size and a fraction of the upkeep. Only partially concerned that sixth or seventh graders watch re-runs of The Office, I began hearing echoes of voices from corporate professionals—voices I have heard for the past thirty years—about how the church should be run more like a business than a charity, that we should hire for competence not compassion, or that our not-for-profit bare-bones style of operating should not deter our aim for excellence. It’s true that we are not like those companies that can pay big and hire the best; instead we try to hire the best available and interested person who is willing to work for what we’re able to pay (which isn’t much). For this reason, churches probably end up with more than our fair share of Kevins and Angelas, while pastors like me sometimes act the role of Michael. I don’t want to be a Michael any more than Michael does but it happens because we are not trained to run a franchise and corporate (our chancery or central office), like in the show, is not much help and not much better. Whether it is Kevin’s doltish incompetence or Angela’s prudish self-righteousness, we are all characters of some sort. Some pastors have the skill for managing people and motivating successful teams while others simply do not.
People who are attracted to work for church usually have a calling to do so. Similar to a calling to priesthood, they generally want to have a job that makes a difference in the lives of others and helps them become closer to God. In spite of our faults and foibles, we get by and, through the grace of God, sometimes do good work. Like other offices, ours periodically employ characters as creepy as Creed or desperate as Meredith or cynical as Stanley or mindlessly talkative as Kelly, but rarely do we come across ones as boldly eccentric as Dwight Schrute—maybe once in a while in the presbyterate or episcopate. When priests get together and laugh about the cast of characters that are us, and those we employ, it can be far more hilarious than watching the antics at the Scranton branch of Dunder-Mifflin.
When the kid said, “Your office looks like the office in The Office,” it struck a chord for me that resonated a shallow reality of an absurdity stranger than fiction. It caused me to smile and prompted me to pray, “God, save the church from ourselves (as you have many times in salvation history).” I know He will (as He has always done).