What is Good Work?

The following links were presented at Urban Seed’s Staff Sabbath Day at Norlane in May 2010.  The query “What is good work?” appears in the Seeds Covenant, which Urban Seed adopts as one of its key processes. Good Work is also listed as one of Urban Seed’s five named areas of work.

In practise this refers to our internal staff processes which include decision making, reflection and conditions etc. and our attempts at social enterprise with communities and people who experience under-employment.


Work as Co-creation: Genesis 1

Work as Curse: Genesis 3

16To the woman he said,
‘I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
   in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.’ 17And to the man he said,
‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
   and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
“You shall not eat of it”,
cursed is the ground because of you;
 in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
 and you shall eat the plants of the field. 19By the sweat of your face
   you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
   for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.’

Work and Rest: Exodus 16 Sabbath as test of human management of abundant provision;

Work and Discipleship: Mark 1&2, Luke 10, Matthew 20

Work and Hands/ Independence :

1 Thessalonians 4:11-12 11Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business and to work with your hands, just as we told you, 12so that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders and so that you will not be dependent on anybody.

2 Thessalonians 3:10 For even when we were with you, we gave you this rule: “If a man will not work, he shall not eat.”

Good Work: Learning about Ministry from Wendell Berry

From an Article by Kyle Childress, Christian Century, 2005.

Whenever Wendell uses the word “farm”, I substitute the word parish.  It works everytime…

Good work needs correct discipline” along with “enough time” to properly farm and to properly pastor. “Propriety” is an important word to Berry. “Its value is in its reference to the fact that we are not alone. The idea of propriety makes an issue of the fittingness of our conduct to our place or circumstances, even to our hopes…. We are being measured, in other words, by a standard that we did not make and cannot destroy” (Life is a Miracle). Proper work is the practice of submitting our lives to this call and to these people in this place. It includes the pastoral practices of preaching and teaching and leading the liturgy, but also the detailed, painstaking, mundane care of nurturing the people and paying attention to God working in them. Proper work is work that fits with the purpose of God in this particular place.

… The good worker will not suppose that good work

can be made properly answerable to haste, urgency, or

even emergency…. Seen in this way, questions about

farming become inseparable from questions about propriety

of scale. A farm can be too big for a farmer to husband

properly or pay proper attention to. Distraction is

inimical to correct discipline, and enough time is beyond

reach of anyone who has too much to do. But we

must go farther and see that propriety of scale is invariably

associated with propriety of another kind: an understanding

and acceptance of the human place in the

order of Creation–a proper humility…. It is the properly

humbled mind in its proper place that sees truly,

because–to give only one reason–it sees details.

(Wendell Berry – Standing by Words)

“good work is always modestly scaled, for it cannot ignore either the nature of individual places or the differences between places, and it always involves a sort of religious humility, for not everything is known.

Good work can only be defined in particularity, for it must be defined a little differently for every one of the places on earth.”

“Good human work honours God’s work.

Good work uses no thing without respect, both for what it is in itself and for its origin.

It uses neither tool nor material that it does not respect and that it does not love.

It honours nature as a great mystery and power, as an indispensable teacher, and as the inescapable judge of all work of human hands.

It does not dissociate life and work, or pleasure and work, or love and work, or usefulness and beauty.

To work without pleasure or affection, to make a product that is not both useful and beautiful, is to dishonour God, nature, the thing that is made, and whomever it is made for.

This is blasphemy: to make shoddy work of the work of God.

But such blasphemy is not possible when the entire Creation is understood as holy and when the works of God are understood as embodying and thus revealing his Spirit.”

(Wendell Berry)


Do whatever arouses you most to Love

(Theresa of Avila.)

Don’t ask yourself what the world needs…Ask what makes you come alive and then do that. What the world needs is people who have come alive.

(Howard Thurman)

People mistake our work for our vocation. Our vocation is the love of Jesus.

(Mother Teresa)

Gordon Preece

A lot of families are really suffering because we’re working such long hours, people are not getting to see each other, husbands and wives kind of pass like ships in the night, people sort of long for the days when they went to bed for reasons other than sheer exhaustion, and there’s that loss of balance in life. We need to recognise we’re called to work to serve God in our work, but also we’re called to be either married or single, and to serve God in those relationships, and in terms of our citizenship as well, we actually need a much more humane kind of way of working. http://www.abc.net.au/rn/talks/8.30/relrpt/stories/s323076.htm

Book: Changing Work Values:   Boomerang Press.

Article: Vocation in a Post-Vocational World: The Meaning, De-Meaning and Re-Meaning of Work

Catholic Worker

“There is no unemployment on the land” Peter Maurin

“Round-table Discussions, Houses of Hospitality and Farming Communes–those were the three planks in Peter Maurin’s platform. There are still Houses of Hospitality, each autonomous but inspired by Peter, each trying to follow Peter’s principles. And there are farms, all different but all starting with the idea of the personalist and communitarian revolution. . . Peter was not disappointed in his life’s work. He had given everything he had and he asked for nothing, least of all for success.”

(Dorothy Day on Peter Maurin)

Peter Maurin’s poetic, “Easy Essay’s” are the simplest way into the Catholic Worker “good work” tradition http://www.catholicworker.org/roundtable/easyessays.cfm

St. Benedict:  Monasticism, Old and New.

The first “Urban Seed” Central House internship was structured on a ‘monastic’ vision of 12 hours cleaning work, 12 hours study, 12 hours mission per week. Over the years a number of residential groups at Central House have committed to prayerful regular reading a chapter of The Rule of Saint Benedict with each other over the course of the year for its practical insights into shared living, offering hospitality and common work.

Benedict’s rule was a text and movement that was radical in its time.  Alisdair MacIntyre’s reference to Benedict in ‘After Virtue’ is often credited as inspiring the so called New Monastics, popularized by Shane Claibourne and “The Simples’ at http://www.thesimpleway.org/.

If my account of our moral condition is correct…..  What matters now is the construction of local forms of community within which civility and the intellectual and moral life can be sustained through the new dark ages that are already upon us. And if the tradition of the virture were able to survive the horrors of the last dark ages, we are not entirely without grounds for hope.  This time however the barbarians are not waiting beyond the frontiers, they have already been among us for some time.  And it is our lack of consciousness of this that constitutes part of our predicament.  We are waiting not for Godot, but for another- doubtless very different- St. Benedict. (Alisdair MacIntyre, After Virture: A Study in Moral Theory, 1984.)

Coming out of Urban Seeds connection with The Common Rule and the emergence of the Seeds Covenant and Network, Brent Lyons Lee articulated our own ‘new monastic’ journey with Ray Simpson (Community of Aidan and Hilda) in his book “Emerging Downunder.”

Dorothy Day joined a Benedictine lay order and was influenced by Fr. Rembert Sorg, OSB Eastern Rite who wrote “Towards a Benedictine Theology of Manual Labor.”

“All readers of Orate Fratres know Father Rembert himself for his very splendid articles… In the whole study of labor and of work there is usually an acceptance of our capitalistic industrial system and the acceptance of the machine as the means to do away with human labor… But here is a book by Father Sorg which is of exceptional interest to all in the lay apostolate which has more than a philosophy of labor, it has a theology of labor…

“Father Sorg’s treatise goes back to St. Anthony of Egypt who rejoiced in never having been troublesome to anyone else on account of labor of his hands. The great rules of St. Pachomius and St. Basil both called for manual labor. St. Jerome said that the monasteries of Egypt would accept no monks who would not do manual work and in St. Basil the strict rule of manual labor is inculcated…

“Father Sorg’s book is utterly delightful and he has chosen a wealth of quotations from the early Fathers. St. John Chrysostom writes: “The sun being risen, they depart, each one to their work, gathering thence the Lords supply for the needy.” In St. John Chrysostom’s Homilies, “almsgiving is the love of Christ. The manual labor of monks a sacred spiritual thing and a Holy Communion.

“Nowhere have I seen love so in flower, nowhere such quick compassion or hospitality so eager,” says St. Rufinus… ‘It was the custom, not only among these, but among almost all the Egyptian monks, to hire themselves out at harvest time as harvesters; and one among them would earn eighty measures of corn more or less, and offer the greater part of it to the poor so that not only the hungry folk of that countryside were fed, but ships were sent to Alexandria, laden with corn, to be divided among such as were prisoners in jails, or as were foreigners and in need, for there was not enough poverty in Egypt to consume the fruit of their compassion and their lavishness.’

“The third purpose of the monks’ labor was ascetical. “In avoiding the sweat of the face, the drudgery of the thorns and the thistles, all of which are the punishment of sin, and which induce sloth and atrophy, the rich shirk work itself, which is not a punishment of sin, but a glorious pleasurable exercise of human nature’s God-given faculties…

When Earth’s Last Picture Is Painted

When Earth’s last picture is painted and the tubes are twisted and dried,

When the oldest colours have faded, and the youngest critic has died,

We shall rest, and, faith, we shall need it — lie down for an aeon or two,

Till the Master of All Good Workmen shall put us to work anew.

And those that were good shall be happy; they shall sit in a golden chair;

They shall splash at a ten-league canvas with brushes of comets’ hair.

They shall find real saints to draw from — Magdalene, Peter, and Paul;

They shall work for an age at a sitting and never be tired at all!

And only The Master shall praise us, and only The Master shall blame;

And no one shall work for money, and no one shall work for fame,

But each for the joy of the working, and each, in his separate star,

Shall draw the Thing as he sees It for the God of Things as They are!

(Rudyard Kipling)

The Shed

1. In a world in which the work done is determined by the economy, we seek to undertake good work. Work which is about making good things and promoting the common good.

2.  In a world which is wasteful of the environment, space and resources, we seek to use what we currently have and find a use for everything (ie. saw dust for the garden). When purchasing materials or tools we need to consider whether we really need it, can we get it second hand from others or from a skip, is it a good use of the limited money we have and would it be better to borrow it.  We are especially concerned with taking the old and making it new again.

3. In a world which seeks instant gratificiation, we seek to be patient with what we have and the process of completing projects.  This means we need to become aware of our and others limitations as humans and of practical limitations.  We need to learn to work and live with these.

4. In a world where personal success, selfishness and individualism are applauded, we seek to share in the way of building community and meeting peoples needs.  This involves sharing time, ides, space, creativity, skills,  knowledge and life beyond work with people.

5.  In a world which values big changes, large projects and success stories, we seek to    encourage and rejoice with people over the small steps they take, to enjoy simple projects for  what they are, value what we have and find beauty in everything.

6.  In a world which revolves around greed we seek to be generous with what we have.  Not    in a way which breeds dependence but in a way that draws out and encourages generosity in  others.

7.  In a world where sustainability and responsibility are neglected, we seek to corntribut to the shed through maintaining the work space by taking care of tools, repairing damage, keeping the shed clean and tidy and contributing financially to the upkeep of the shed as we are able.

8.  In a world which compartmentalizes all aspects of life, we seek to integrate and connect our spirituality with our work.  Fundamental to this is the idea that everything is connected to everything else.  Restoring old furniture or using second hand timber to make new furniture reminds and teaches us about the way that people and God have helped to create and renew our own lives.

(‘The Shed’ was run by ex residential intern Dave Waterworth and Matt Dodson.  Many people including Urban Seed residents made use of the Shed at Peter Chapman’s ‘Common Life’ house in North Melbourne in the early-mid 2000’s)