Education

The First Church of Work-Study

Courtesy Jason DeRose
Courtesy Jason DeRose

As part of our look at work-study, we asked the D2D team if anyone had any good tales of working their way through school. Heather Murphy shares the story of a not-so-special after-school education. Below, Jason DeRose offers a story of the most sanctified $5 an hour ever.

For my college work study job, I got paid to go to church. Let me explain. I worked in the college chapel as the sacristan. That meant I picked up the Communion bread on Saturday afternoons and stopped by the liquor store once a month to buy a case of wine. I set the table on Sunday mornings, help serve during the worship service and cleaned up afterwards. Also, I washed and ironed the linens for the Communion table. Here's the breakdown of my (kinda) holy office:

The Bread: The college bakery made a round of whole wheat the size of a steering wheel. I was supposed to pick it up on Saturdays after 4pm. I often forgot, which meant having to literally break into the cafeteria on Saturday night to get it. There were days I couldn't find the bread at all. So I'd head to the grocery store and pick up something to make due. I'd then take it to my tiny dorm room for safe keeping until morning.

The Wine: I attended a dry campus. So real wine was a big deal. That's not to say that people didn't drink. I was famous for serving cosmo's in my dorm room, which I made with good vodka. But sanctioned alcohol was something else. I'd heave cases of those big, awful bottles of cheap burgundy into the back of my hatchback, then surreptitiously carry them into the chapel. Doing so could prove especially dangerous and messy during icy Minnesota winters.

The Linens: College students do not to laundry with great regularity. But since I was responsible for washing the communion linens, my whites were always bright. Late on Saturday nights, I'd put on a load of whites with bleach, hoping the wine stains from the previous week weren't permanent. They never were. I'd then iron the big tablecloth and a dozen or so napkins while watching Xena: Warrior Princess or Baywatch.

The Table: Early Sunday morning, I'd head over the chapel to set the table. I'd pour the wine into clay pitchers and arrange the bread on a big plate. And I'd help serve the bread and wine during Communion. It felt like I was doing something important. I was helping this community of the faithful — the believers, the doubters and the certain — muddle their way through worship. I was glad to help feed anyone who showed up. And a surprising number of people did show up, especially for college students. I was once a more (or perhaps just differently) religious person than I am today. But I really do think back on this work study job as meaningful, if sometimes comic.

All this church-related work study led to a weird confusion on my part. I accidentally went to divinity school after college. I told this story to a colleague of mine recently who said, "Oh, it's kind of like the difference between wanting to EAT in a restaurant and wanting to WORK in a restaurant." I guess it was. My other job during college wasn't work study; it was just a regular job at the local public radio station. That one led to something.

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