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In good company

"In good company" Continued...

Issue: "Foster care's future," March 5, 2005

The newer companies also don't have historic precedent for such practices. Dick Friedrich, an engineer at Smiths Aerospace, a 1,200-employee firm in Grand Rapids, Mich., has since 1988 attended a weekly lunchtime Bible study that's at least 50 years old. "It may be longer," Mr. Friedrich said, "but we don't have any written history or witnesses to confirm a longer period."

Mr. Friedrich said the regular meetings help him keep his work focus biblically aligned, and make him feel accountable for living out his faith at work. He also enjoys the "assurance that I have brothers and sisters who can share my work burdens and joys." The study also serves as a signpost for nonbelievers, who, he said "get to know us in our Christian walks."

Still, the firm has waxed more "politically correct" in recent years as a change in ownership brought an influx of employees from overseas. "We still have a Christmas party-I think it's still called a 'Christmas' party-at which there is still a prayer that mentions Christ," Mr. Friedrich said. "But it's not hard for me to see how that might change in the next few years."

Lake Lambert, an instructor at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, said corporate America's 21st-century embrace of spirituality is in some ways a historical repeat. In 1904, the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) reported that it was leading active studies in 175 factories in 115 cities-a direct outgrowth of the now-resurgent management philosophy that spiritually healthy employees tend to be more stable, loyal, and dependable.

Going even further back, in the late 1880s cotton moguls in Gaston County, N.C., built and funded "company towns," where worker perks included company-paid housing, healthcare, sports teams-and a company-funded church, complete with preacher. Such "economic paternalism" had its drawbacks-such as "company man" pastors who, during labor disputes, tended to side with management.

Today, an estimated 4,000 employer-paid "corporate chaplains" offer a sympathetic ear at hundreds of companies across the country. Mr. Lambert is concerned that such perks attempt to "commoditize" faith, turning it into just another employee benefit, like flex-time or onsite daycare.

Corporate recognition aside, the integration of faith and work starts with the individual, Mr. Roth said. "It's not about trying to convert your co-workers, or trying to influence them in any way. It's about . . . the Greatest Commandment: Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbor. If we looked at faith in the workplace with just those two simple instructions, I think we would see dramatic changes in the way Christians do their jobs."

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