Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Faith and the marketplace: bringing the values of belief to work

Story and photo by Mitch Finley, Inland Register staff

(From the July 6, 2006 edition of the Inland Register)

Rick and Yvonne Shulman (IR photo by Mitch Finley)

What do faith and work have to do with each other?

Many Catholics have no difficulty recognizing the faith dimension of work when that work qualifies as some form of official ministry, or of the caring or service professions such as medicine, counseling, teaching, and so forth. But how does being Catholic fit into scores of other occupations – clerks, custodians, bus drivers, corporate executives, accountants, and the thousand-and-one other kinds of work? Where’s the connection between being Catholic and living that Catholicism on a day-in-day-out basis?

Rick Shulman, a realtor, and Yvonne Shulman, a human resources / marketing director, are members of Spokane’s St. Augustine Parish. They agreed to share their experiences and insights about the work-faith connection.

Yvonne Shulman graduated from Gonzaga University with a degree in personnel and industrial relations, and has done human resources work ever since. For the past nine years, she has worked for a Spokane law firm, Lukins & Annis, and since being there she has also taken on marketing responsibilities.

Rick Shulman attended the University of Illinois and worked as a computer consultant, programmer, and systems analyst for the City of Chicago, the State of Illinois, and others. Later, he did similar work for various Spokane companies.

For about 12 years, Rick and Yvonne owned and operated their own retail computer business in Spokane. Rick then became a realtor and that has been his work for the past 13 years. “I’m basically an independent contractor,” he says.

As a way to nourish their everyday faith, the Shulmans belong to weekly prayer groups. For five years, Rick’s men’s prayer group has been meeting at his and Yvonne’s home Tuesdays at 6:30 a.m. “There are seven of us,” Rick said, “and we’ve all been pretty consistent. We have a little socializing, a little prayer, and it reinforces faith during the week.”

Rick says that he doesn’t have any religious symbols or art displayed in his office space. “Most of the people I work with know that I’m Catholic and that I’m pretty faithful about that,” he said, “but I don’t go out of my way, I’m not evangelizing. I don’t have a Bible on my desk. You won’t see me praying, and genuflecting, and crossing myself during the day, or before a meal. But I think that in my business practices I bring some of the things that I believe in to my work.”

For example, in real estate work, he says, “it’s very important that you disclose, say, known defects in the property, and some of the things you might feel obligated to disclose are not necessarily required by law. One issue might be, how would you feel if you’re selling a house to somebody, and the house is next door to a place where a known sex offender is living? State law does not require a realtor to disclose that, but you’re working with a client, and you’re befriending them, and it’s an intense relationship for a month or two, so there’s a moral decision that would have to be made there which may not be governed by the legal system. I haven’t had to deal with that particular situation, but there are other issues that have come up, and I’ve had to deal with it.”

Sometimes one spouse recognizes aspects of the other spouse’s faith in action that may escape the latter’s attention.

“One of the things that first struck me when Rick was first in real estate – I guess diversity wasn’t as much of an issue as it is now – was that early on, he had a client who was African American, and (Rick) was and is very principled about that,” said Yvonne. “He wasn’t about to tell anybody, any of the neighbors or any of that, about this. We’re going to show these people the houses, and it doesn’t matter what color they are. Rick has always been very principled about that.”

Rick said that he admires other men in his Tuesday morning prayer group who pause in the course of their work day to make time for prayer. “I’ve often thought, ‘Boy, I wonder if I could ever get to that point,” he said. “I do not do that. I do not stop in the middle of the day, or in the beginning of the day, in my workplace, and say the rosary, or even a one-sentence prayer. I might say, ‘Oh my God, I’m glad that happened!’ but that’s as close as I get.”

Like Rick, Yvonne has no sacred objects or art in her workspace. In the law firm where she works there is an occasional noon-hour Bible study, but she doesn’t attend. She does, however, participate in an informal “prayer chain” to which some employees belong, and she receives notice when someone has asked for prayer for some intention. “People know, not necessarily that I’m Catholic,” she says, “but that I am a believer and that I’m there for them.

“We have a gal right now,” Yvonne said, “who’s going through chemo, and someone mentioned that she’s really down, so we decided to ask for donations so she could get away for a night, just some special time. People are very generous in situations like that. The daughter of one of our attorneys died of cancer recently, and there was a really generous outpouring in the firm – ‘What can we do?’ We collected food and money, and we formed a team for a fundraising race to generate money to work for a cure. People reach out a lot to one another.”

Yvonne’s women’s prayer group meets Wednesdays at 6:30 a.m. “Everybody in the group works, including one woman who’s been a stay-at-home mom forever. We’re all Catholics, although we’re from different parishes,” she said.

She thinks that both she and Rick try to integrate their faith and their everyday lives. “We are not prayerful people, we don’t do a lot of devotional prayer or reading of books, but we are on our parish’s social justice committee. Rick goes into the parish for an hour once a week to take phone calls from people needing assistance.” Rick also maintains the parish’s website.

Sometimes Yvonne must conduct what, in the human resources biz, is called the “exit interview.” In other words, she tells employees that they are being let go.

“We try to do that with compassion and kindness,” she said, “We try to be understanding and help them work through it as much as possible. Not everybody appreciates this or acknowledges it, but I think that they feel that it’s not being done maliciously, that somewhere in there my personality is not such that I’m cruel and getting a lot of pleasure out of doing this. I think that comes through. I try to be the cheerleader, too, and be optimistic, and help them be the best that they can be.”

Part of living out faith in the workplace involves trying to cultivate a good balance, between work, leisure, family, faith, and so forth.

“We don’t do that well,” Yvonne said with a small shrug of her shoulders. “We get involved in too many things. Our parish has a prayer shawl ministry. Women meet at our house once a month, and we knit prayer shawls to give to people. We pray over the shawls and give them to people who have had cancer, or lost someone in their family, or are sick. We’ve given out about 65 prayer shawls in the last year. People are really touched by it. Usually for women it’s a prayer shawl and for men it’s a lap robe; same thing, but we give it a different name.”

Rick said that in his work as a realtor, it’s not unusual for people to be looking for a house to buy “who are getting into their first home, and they need some special help and some follow-up. Also, I’ve helped a number of people who are transitioning from their home to a retirement center. That takes some special care. I’ve helped a number of people whose parents have passed away and they have an estate to settle. So from that perspective I think I’m doing some of God’s work, too. You don’t turn off faith and spirituality when you go to work and turn it back on when you go back home. It’s just you, all day long. It’s who you are, all day long.”

Rick suggests a question that can serve as a good way to evaluate whether one’s faith is alive and kicking in the workplace.

“At the end of the day,” he said, “when you go home, do you feel comfortable with what you did that day, or do you stay up at night worrying, ‘Did I do the right thing?’”

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