Breakfast in America: A Litmus Test for the Church?

We can forget that we are ambassadors for Christ everywhere we go, in everything we do, and to each and every person that we meet

I was listening to an interview of Kevin Finch. He is the nephew of the well-known pastor, author and thinker, Eugene Peterson. Kevin comes from a long line of pastors going back generations, and he is the founder of a ministry to people in the food industry called The Big Table.

The food industry may seem like a strange idea to target for a ministry, but Kevin’s eloquent explanation of his call to this ministry, and hearing the clear voice of God in it makes sense. The website provides some further insight.

The restaurant and hospitality sector of the workforce is the largest sector of the American workforce, doubling any other industry. It is also growing faster than any other segment of the workforce. The Big Table website describes it as a “catch basin” for “all of the most vulnerable demographics” – single parents, at-risk teens, immigrants, ex-felons trying to turn their lives around, etc. It is a filed ripe unto harvest.

Perhaps, one reason for the vulnerable demographic is that anyone willing to work can get a job in the restaurant and hospitality world. It is often the first place people look for entry level jobs and the last place people look when all else fails.

“[P]ut so many at-risk individuals together under one roof and it is not surprising that this industry has the highest rates of people struggling with alcohol and drug addiction, massive amounts of divorce and broken relationships, redline stress levels, job instability, rapid turnover, and almost no safety net.”

Restaurant and hospitality workers get paid (often not very much) for serving others with smiles on their faces, while a large portion of them suffer in their own lives more than the average person. The website reports the following:

  • Forty three percent (43%) of workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry fall below the “survival” line – DOUBLE the rate of any other working population;
  • Workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry struggle with drug and alcohol addiction more than any other working group; and
  • Benefits, like health insurance, vacations, sick time, etc. are largely not available for workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry.

In my own experience, I see that workers in the restaurant and hospitality industry are often exploited. They don’t get paid overtime. Bosses often schedule them part-time to avoid overtime pay. They don’t have to be paid even minimum wages, so they most rely on tips. They sometimes get paid “under the table”, and that usually means they get paid even less.

Restaurant workers are very likely to need multiple jobs to make ends meet. Working conditions can be extremely stressful in a hot kitchen or full restaurant, under the pressure of demanding bosses, expectant and often ungrateful patrons, and ever changing conditions. The lowest paid workers are often the first target of angry customers and critical bosses.

I was as a busboy in a popular restaurant in high school. Some of these factors I have experienced firsthand or through friends and family in the hospitality industry. I also worked retail, which includes some of the same pressures to perform with a smile under the hot light of customer interrogation and store bottom lines.

As a young bus boy, I noticed (and can still see in my mind) that every seasoned waitress, Maître d’, cook, and kitchen worker smoked like chimneys. The stress of performing in that pressure cooker environment showed in the worry worn faces of those veterans on which smiles often lost their battle with the struggle of simply getting through the night.

So, what does any of this have to do with the Church in America? In the course of the interview, Kevin Finch said something that made my ears perk up. That is the point is the point of this article, but a little background is necessary to set the stage.

Continue reading “Breakfast in America: A Litmus Test for the Church?”

The Maintenance Man and a Mandolin

Senior man playing mandolinOn my way into the office this morning I heard a story on the radio. A man with a strong southern drawl called in. (It is a nationally syndicated show – no southern drawl here in northern Illinois).

He said he did maintenance work, and a lady he knew asked him to do some work on her home. He did the work, and when he finished, he told her the cost was $60 even. She asked if she could pay him by the end of the week, and he agreed.

She called him a few days later and apologized. She said she just did not have the money to pay him and asked if he would take her husband’s mandolin instead of cash. She was obviously sincere so he took it.

He did not know how to play the mandolin so he took it to someone he knew and offered to sell it. The other gentleman got very excited and said he would definitely like to buy it. The maintenance man said, “Just give me a fair offer”; and the other man said, “I’ll buy for it $2000!”

The maintenance man decided to go back to visit the woman who gave the mandolin it to him to tell her that he sold it. He hoped she would not be upset because it had been her husband’s.

When he arrived at her house, he told her that he sold it. She only asked, “Were you able to get your $60 for it?” With that, the man handed her an envelope. When she opened, her eyes welled up with tears, and she began to sob.

When she composed herself, she explained that her husband had passed away, and the reason she did not have the money to pay him for the work he did was because she still owed money on her husband’s funeral which she had been paying a little bit at a time.

She asked him to wait right there at her front door while she went inside. She returned with the latest invoice from the funeral home. It was $1940. Exactly what was in the envelope!