William Diehl was a steel executive in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. He was a good elder in his congregation until he started asking, “So what?” about his faith. Then he became a great elder because he was able to connect his religious life with his business life. A book came of the struggle, titled, “Thank God, It’s Monday.” He concluded how Sunday launches us into our weekdays. Our vocation of faith is meant to be expressed in our occupations, wherever we work. Diehl wrote how one congregation posted the sign, "Servant’s Entrance," above church exits.
Diehl got it. So did my father. When theologian Elton Trueblood wrote, “Churchgoer is a vulgar, ignorant word; it must never be used; you are the church wherever you go,” he could have been talking about dad.
One of the testimonials shared about dad following his death related to how the staff at our family’s country club regarded our father (Yes, I grew up affluent and patrician). From the fellow who shined golf shoes in the locker room to the caddies to the groundskeepers to the waitresses in the dining room, they all said how he treated them with respect and courtesy. How he knew them by name. How he appreciated what they did and who they were. To them, he was a gentleman. Dad (admittedly patriarchal) was that old-fashioned guy and morality capitalist and servant boss with old-fashioned manners who valued persons for who they were regardless of wallet, make of car, portfolio or position. Old-school Republican dad (his party since having committed suicide) would have connected the dots when historian John Meacham advocated for “principle over idolatry of power.” Given dad’s work ethic and integrity, I can guess he would have viewed our nation’s accelerated wealth disparity as unfair, as well as our termite riddled economics, the poorer suffering the most. This disparity has worsened since the virus.
America honors Labor Day, folks, not Wealth Day.
Contrast dad to some younger members of our family’s posh country club who my brother overheard in the clubhouse locker room. These newer club members – flush from fast stock market deals or daddy’s money — had watched our dad finish his round of golf with his old friends (real men of business who built industries, earning success the hard way). My brother heard these gelded princelings (Kushner clones) mock our father. How could the Plainfield Country Club allow as a member a fellow who worked in a paint store?
Consider also what I witnessed. My brother and I had finished 18 holes. We were in the lounge having lunch (a "men’s only" lounge) when a fellow rushed in to join his friends at their table. He loudly apologized to his buddies: “Really sorry for being late, but I had to attend my grandson’s christening.” Says it all. I channeled my inner Groucho Marx, who wise-cracked: “I wouldn’t want to join a club that would accept me as a member.”
Dignity. Respect. Character. Fairness. The commitment to do good work. You are the church wherever you go.
An American selfie: Our mom served on a board for an orphanage. Periodically, she hosted parties at our house for the children. We had a built-in pool in our backyard. We also had in our side yard a blacktop court for basketball and volleyball. More than a few of our friends’ parents informed mom they didn’t like their children swimming in the same water as those black orphans. Mom told them what they could do.
An American selfie: Meet a seminary friend. Paul’s church in Jersey had a basketball court in their parking lot. Local fellows started playing there on a regular basis after school, others joining after work. Their language wasn’t the cleanest. The neighbors complained. Paul spoke to the young men. They apologized and cleaned up their language. The neighbors again complained because of the noise, sometimes going past twilight. Paul finally realized why the neighbors kept complaining. The young men were African-Americans. The subject of the young men became an item of discussion at church meetings, more so in the parking lot after worship. Paul again went out and spoke to the young men and made a deal with them and narrowed the time when they could play. Paul was looking for a solution. Paul wanted them there. He thought it had potentials for outreach. Then one day the church leaders voted to remove the basketball backboards. Paul wrote his resignation that night.
What testimonials will be offered about you?
The Rev. Robert Andrews is retired pastor of Grove Presbyterian Church in Danville. Read more of his work at robertjohnandrews.com.