Can I view my work as a calling? Let’s see. Well, I started working in Sheet Metal Fabrication back in 1996. At that time I really didn’t think much of it, but I showed up every day and folks put up with me until the end of 2000. Then they invited me back to this missional business this year. I look at this job with new eyes. I try to see the work of my hands sacramentally, loving the Lord with all my heart my soul, my mind, my strength.
See for yourself what I do:
I’d like to demonstrate how I solder endcaps on a 6” galvanized gutter.
I begin by securing the endcap to the end of the gutter with vise grips as shown here.
Next I apply the flux. The active ingredient is hydrochloric acid. I apply the flux just before soldering each side of the endcap.
I usually heat the soldering irons (three pound) until the flames turn a bluish green color. That’s not a scientific observation. I have to carefully measure the amount of time each iron is in the fire and get to know how hot they are. Marking the ends of the handles helps me remember which iron is hottest. It doesn’t take long for an iron and the solder to cool. For this reason I keep two irons going at a time.
Here is the seam after I’ve soldered it. The lead and tin bar pictured a 50/50 combination follows the flux, melting at a temperature somewhere around 500°F. For this reason I can’t touch the gutter at the seam for awhile after soldering. I tip the gutter toward me in order to solder the bottom tab.
Next I set the irons beside the pot and set the gutter up on it’s face on a wooden stand especially notched for this position. I put the irons back in the pot, flux the endcap and in a moment solder. This time I use one three pound iron and one 1 pound iron because the 1 pound can fit in the top hem where the three pound cannot.
I find this seam the most difficult to solder. The solder drips and runs down over the tabs and sometimes does not cover the hole made over the second, or middle tab.
Finally the gutter is set on its back wall on some metal stands we have around for that purpose.
I flux the seam. Because I’m leaning over the top of this gutter to see it, it is important to move my face away from the seam as I solder it. The fumes are quite toxic. I hold my breath and lean back.
This part might seem obvious, but the way roof gutters work is that they collect water as it flows downhill and move it toward a downspout that then takes it off the building. The back flange that you see here is pitched shallow on one end and deep on the other. So on this gutter the water flows from right to left.
The paperwork shows that the drop out belongs 7” on center from the left side of the gutter.
I turn the gutter over mark it, punch and cut the hole and then turn the gutter back over and hammer in the drop out.
Finally I flux and solder in the drop out, mark the gutter, have it checked by QC and shelve it on the rack.
This is a simple explanation of what I do the most of as a sheet metal fabricator. 6” galvanized gutters with 5” dropout are by in large the most popular gutters sold. They sell for $7 a foot. This is not the only job I do. I pull orders, drive a forklift, operate the brakes, the plasma cutter, and whatever else is needed.
I suppose what is most significant about this work is that I do it out of a sense of ecclesial calling. The business where I work supports the church where I live and over the years I’ve developed (along with everyone else) quite a long list of skills tailored to the particular needs of the community. When I left Bible college I valued academics, teaching, and ministry to the poor as the highest calling. When I joined Jesus People USA in 1996 I learned that community here is about belonging and an openness to doing what is most needed at the time. Over the years this has been many very different tasks like dishwashing, cleaning, cooking, an electrician’s aid, sheet metal fabrication, sales, writing, book publishing, advertising, design, website building and maintenance, teaching, and now back to sheet metal fabrication. I’m learning that one skill is not more important than another, all are needed. I’m learning that my significance does not depend on tasks but on faithfulness: Faithfulness to God first, and a daily willingness to set my complaining, my ego, my bitterness aside and be willing for God to do with me what he will.
I notice that when I get used to doing a certain job a certain way for a long time, let’s say building 6” gutters with 5” drops, it’s a real downer when I’ve got to sweep off my bench in order to build a painted steel gutter that involves rivets and caulk. I’m a creature of habit. I love routines and knowing just what to expect. Steady work without surprises is rewarding that way. But I also know that I have a very dangerous job. It’s that one moment where my mind drifts and I’m not watching or thinking that is most dangerous. I could routinely flip that gutter while it’s still hot and get a nasty burn. I could splash some of that flux in my face or walk into a stray piece of metal.
I love it that God has given me work with my hands and a team of fellow Christians with whom I share a common mission. That is a luxury many don’t have. In my experience it is after I settle in, say five years later, that I begin to think I’ve got it down and I start to lose interest. I get less engaged, stop pulling my weight, start thinking about other things. What happens is that I start missing the point of work. Work is meant to glorify God. In whatever I do I have to be loving God in it, seeing it with His eyes, prayerfully and cautiously seeking His will in that moment.
How about you? In what ways is every little thing you do over and over “as unto the Lord”? Or how could it be?