The new FirstJobs column asks TGC Council Members about their early experiences with work. Interviews are condensed.
John Yates is the Rector of Falls Church Anglican in Falls Church, Virginia. He is married to Susan, and they have five adult children and 21 grandchildren.
What was your first job?
When I was just 11 years old, I worked in the stock room at Belk in Asheboro, North Carolina, where my dad was manager. Dad wanted me to have a healthy work ethic, but since I was too young to work legally, he’d pay me $0.40/hour out of his pocket. I’d put boxes together, carry clothes to seamstresses, and run errands to get soft drinks.
Was that ever frustrating and boring?
I’d be given the most dull and seemingly unimportant tasks to do on my own and out of everyone’s sight. Although I was told that my work was important, that was hard to believe. I learned, though, to work with integrity even if something seemed unimportant or unnoticed. Even the dullest work can be done as unto the Lord (Col. 3:23).
Is that ever true about your work as a pastor?
Being a pastor isn’t only about preaching and teaching the great truths of God from the pulpit. So much of parish ministry is devoted to things that people never see, which means I can’t measure the significance of my work by what’s seen. After all, whether we’re alone or in public, God’s with us in all things.
Did you like working in sales?
Working in sales and with people was incredibly valuable. I learned that it’s challenging to work with the public and that the customer’s always right. Also, since I wanted our customers to buy the clothes we were selling, I learned how to get beyond my natural shyness.
Did your faith impact how you worked?
My dad was a great mentor to me in this area. He loved business, but he also loved people. He showed me that our customers and associates were made in God’s image and, therefore, important to us as individuals. He’d give generously to the poor—from traveling missionaries to uneducated farmers—fitting them for new suits and not charging them.
He always tried to compliment people, too. I remember one time when a woman who had just had a baby came into the store. Dad told us that it was the ugliest baby he’d ever met, but he still managed to say, “I declare that baby has the brightest eyes I’ve ever seen!”
That’s funny. Was he beloved in your community?
Dad just loved people and cared for them in real, practical ways. He’d greet them and show them dignity and respect. Hundreds of people came to his funeral. It was packed. Everyone told me how much he meant to them and how much they’d miss him.
My dad, a small-town store manager, had a tremendous impact on me. I learned from him that, whether I’m called to a big church or a small one, people are individuals and that work is a part of God’s blessing and calling, a way to love all kinds of people.