Grandma’s Homemade Chicken Soup

Kind words, kind looks, kind acts and warm handshakes,
these are means of grace
when men in trouble are fighting their unseen battles.
— John Hall

Since I left Buffalo for school, I have been in at least 12 different churches over 40 years. That’s a new church, on average, every three or so years. Our longest stay in any one ministry was seven years.

I have now been at MFS Investment Management for about 10 years, my longest stay anywhere. What is the secret of longevity?

I found out I like discovering solutions for problems, or in developer’s terms, bug-fixes. I am a CSI agent, Code Screw-up Investigator. In the pastorate, the idea of interest was helping people, solving some of their spiritual or emotional problems, which I guess is far more difficult and involved.

I discovered that MFS management, although there is some degree of politics nevertheless treated people with a considerable degree of equality. Maybe they needed to do this to avoid lawsuits. Even so, I never felt like a second-degree citizen. I never felt put down, even though I brought the fear of such along with me. Programmers review code; they don’t review each other.

In the church over the years, we took personal blame for many broken things needing to be fixed. Somehow, it was important to assign blame, although why will never be clear to me. A couple separated, a marriage on the rocks, an unruly child, the absence of some gift in the church, the shortage of funds, all needed a pastor’s expertise.

Respect is another matter. At MFS some of the developers see me as a guru or expert. I have often been called in as a consultant to address a computer issue, even if I didn’t think I was the man for the job. This taught me to build bridges to people who did know what to do.

I lost the church’s respect, and when I saw it happening, I couldn’t find the way to stop it from happening. The only thing I can think of is that the church expects its pastor to be a top-notch administrator and fund-raiser, and that simply isn’t me. Also, today’s pastor is part dictator and part benevolent leader, that is, a benevolent dictator. There isn’t enough dictator in my psychological make-up, sad to say.

There is something else about the current leadership, or management, at MFS. When I was out on disability for four weeks during my two thyroid operations, I received two get-well packages, one from the entire department, no doubt directed by management, and another personally from the Chief Operations Officer. The COO sent me a box of Grandma’s Chicken Soup with a big bowl (sent via a website) instead of flowers, along with a friendly reminder of how much I was missed at work. I was overwhelmed with such thoughtfulness. I wrote her in an email:

I unwrapped your gift just moments ago, and want to hurry off to you a thank you.

Your gift of Grandma’s Chicken Soup is to me far more than a kind gesture or thoughtful expression during my recovery.

It is all of this and more so. It symbolizes the kindness and the general working atmosphere that makes MFS Investment Management a great place to work. And it shows that this thoughtfulness, this caring, and the kindness that comes from it start at the top.

I was unprepared for your gift. I am overwhelmed, simply because in all my travels and all the leaders over the years I have met and worked with and worked for, there have been none to approach this level of concerned awareness. You have passed the finish line while others have not left the starting gate.

You need to know that while convalescing, I have been working on my memoirs and have been reminiscing over the many stormy seas my wife and our sons and I traversed before we found the MFS haven. The chapter on MFS should be called Grandma’s Chicken Soup? I like it!

I had emailed some district officials I know in religious organizations, but did not hear back from them. I am not complaining. I am underscoring the MFS relationship.

MFS also pays me. This sounds obvious, but when it was discovered that the industry was offering developers 12% more than I was making at the time, MFS gave me a 12% pay raise. Granted, their effort is directed at making my job position competitive, but regardless of the reason behind their generosity, they provided my family and me with two college educations, a retirement fund which is well on the way, and monthly payments on our own home. MFS takes no vow of poverty, nor expects anyone working there to do such. I have also received yearly bonuses, which have continued to date.

When I was pastoring, October was pastor-appreciation month, when pastors received gifts and offerings in appreciation for their service and ministry. I was never so honored. Just pointing out a difference.

We have our stressful moments at MFS, but they are interspersed with laughter and Nerf-ball tossing. Meetings at MFS are generally times of sharing the latest comical situation before discussing business. More often than not, a decision is the result of 99% vote in favor, and even when management overrules, we tend to accept it. We might have walked away grumbling, but somehow realizing that, had we been where management sat, the decision would have been the same.

In spite of all this, I still would favor pastoring if I could, but not as an administrator, only as a teacher. I would leave MFS with undying appreciation for what they did to make my future possibilities my realities.