The next adventure

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If I were writing the story of my life, last week would mark the beginning of Book 5. For those who, theoretically, might not have been following along, here’s a recap:

  • Book 1, 1970–1986: Childhood.
  • Book 2, 1986–1992: Academy and college.
  • Book 3, 1992–2010: Young adulthood and establishing my professional career.
  • Book 4, 2010–2017: Family man (marriage and stepchildren).

And thus sets the stage for Book 5. The setting for this new volume is set in the context of having served in the Communication Department of Florida Conference for 25 years, although the groundwork for my new adventure was laid in December 2016.

Florida Conference administrators were looking to take a new direction in how news and information was disseminated. They did not, however, really know exactly how to go about doing it. Regardless, in December, members of Administrative Committee presented a plan to the newly installed Executive Committee (voted in by the recent constituency session for the new quadrennium) to initiate the process of deprecating the Communication Department and creating a Public Relations office.

There were casualties of this action. The Communication Director (my boss) was not reappointed for the new quadrennium. Before anyone raises the question—yes, it is completely within normal procedure that department directors are reappointed for each constituency term. It’s not often that a director is not reappointed, but it does happen, and any Conference director knows that the possibility exists that they no longer have job at the start of the new period. (Florida used to be triennial but recently changed to a quadrennial period.)

As for me and a coworker, we were told that we would be specifically invited to apply for positions created in the new PR office. The fate of our Editorial Assistant (who is a part-time hourly worker) was unknown. The bizarre part of all this was that the death of the Communication Department came about with no clear directive on exactly how it would be replaced. As a result, all of us were asked to remain for six months on an interim basis until details for a new PR office were established.

Six months went by. Executive Committee met several times, as scheduled, during those months, and the fate of our department was never put on the agenda.

The first working day of July (which wasn’t until July 5 due to the weekend and Independence Day holiday), I arrived at the office wondering whether I technically had a job. This feeling wasn’t helped when I discovered my ID badge, which is used to enter certain locked doors, no longer worked. I knew my missionary credential on the back of the card was printed to expire at the end of June. I didn’t actually think they would’ve coded the card to stop working July 1, but that’s exactly what they did.

When I managed to get into the building, I recall making what I now feel was probably a less-than-professional comment to a worker in the Human Resources office—something about our cards should have already been adjusted to continue working in the absence of news of what would happen to the Communication Department and being unceremoniously “expired” didn’t exactly boost morale. I did subsequently apologize for letting my feelings get the best of me. Later that day, our cards were reactivated, this time for four more months which would take us through the end of October.

This time, decisions were made within the specified time period.

In August, my boss was given his ending date and would depart at the end of the month. Astonishingly, the coworker who, like me, was supposed to have applied for a position in the new PR office, was also not going to be retained. Since he was in the middle of a substantial project for Human Resources staff who desperately did not want him to depart so soon, he was given until December 1, but has moved over to their area of the building.

Last week, I learned of the plans for Public Relations at Florida Conference as well as my fate. For the new department, the idea to hire new employees with the desired skill set was abandoned and an external team was recruited on a contract basis to work on PR projects and would occupy space in our office to do the work—the space formerly occupied by Communication.

At this point in the story, I was about to write that my fate came as something of a surprise, but it actually wasn’t. The surprise was just that it came about so suddenly.

Back in May, during the original interim period, I submitted an official proposal to Administrative Committee requesting to transfer my position from the Communication Department to the Service Center which takes care of high volume photocopying, shipping/receiving/mailing services, office supplies, physical plant upkeep, etc. This request was backed up by the Service Center Director who had begun lobbying for me to come over.

In recent years, my role with the Communication Department very commonly saw me assisting other departments with small design and printing tasks, and the Service Center staff would frequently hand me the files for a submitted job that needed to be adjusted to come out of the copier the right way (booklets, multiple up on a sheet, etc.). Since the Service Center’s entire purpose for existence is essentially to support the work of all the ministries and departments, it felt a natural fit for me to work within the Service Center.

The request that I submitted in May was tabled until administrators had a better sense of what would be happening to our department. At that time, they were still intending to hire full-time employees and weren’t yet sure they wanted to have one less FTE (full-time equivalent) available to the new PR office.

However, on September 5, along with the news that a contract PR team would be arriving, I also was told that I would be transferred to the Service Center effective immediately. How immediately? It was basically a “can you pack up right now” sort of thing.

Moving day

I received a rather sudden directive to clear out of my former office and relocate to the Service Center.

The challenge was, my office space isn’t exactly traditional. Moving it isn’t so simple a matter. Regardless, I spent Wednesday and Thursday getting most of my contents placed in boxes. Thursday afternoon, my work surface desk area was disassembled and reassembled in the Service Center.

With a little negotiation, I was to have been completely out of my old office by Friday so that it was empty and ready for the PR team on Monday. It would have happened but for just one little snag.

Hurricane Irma.

Rather than complete my move on Friday, I naturally spent the day collecting final supplies to ride out the storm. The office remained closed Monday afterward, so it wasn’t until Tuesday this week that I could plan to finish.

The final twist in this story centers around arriving to the office Tuesday and discovering that my new boss, the Service Center Director, had evacuated from his manufactured home to wait out the storm in St. Augustine. He spent the day Tuesday returning and tending to his home. The other employee I later learned had to remain at home to care for his young daughter.

So there I was on what, by all accounts, seemed like my first official day in the Service Center, completely on my own. I did open the door and actually put delivered mail in boxes for employees to retrieve, but I had no idea how to operate the postage system to mail items out. I was just barely familiar enough with the volume copiers that I might have been able to run a few simple jobs, but I didn’t yet have the software installed on my computer to send a job to the machines, nor had my ID badge been programmed to give me access.

On top of that, many employees in the office were getting into storm recovery mode and making plans for relief efforts with which we are affiliated. Suffice to say, it was a very unique and tiring day.

Things are on their way to normalcy now. All said and done, I will become the one who oversees the copy jobs that are submitted. This will allow the other two full-time Service Center employees to focus more on shipping/receiving and building management. I’ll still work on small design projects to help other departments, and I’ll remain responsible for building signage.

In today’s world, I realize it’s an extreme rarity for someone to begin working as an intern at a company straight out of college, become a permanent, full-time employee, and remain there for 25 years without really ever having been required to endure the stress of an actual job hunt. Because the departments at Florida Conference operate in many ways as quasi-independent businesses, moving to the Service Center does feel to me like I went through a job hunt because I knew my time in Communication was coming to an end. While that so-called job hunt was actually no more than one single letter to administration, the waiting game and uncertainty across eight months made it feel like a laborious journey to ensure I still had a job.

Yet, I must be very clear in saying that I am quite excited about this new adventure I’m starting. The work will expand upon the parts of my former position that I loved most and, for the most part, will diminish many of the aspects I didn’t much care for.

The final hurdle to clear is to demonstrate to administration that this was a good idea. My new ID badge apparently is only valid through the end of 2017. While a disconcerting feeling remains in the sense that my job could possibly be in jeopardy again, my new boss and I feel rather confident this is going to work out well, and I will likely be issued a full-term badge on or before the end of the year.

And now that you have the story, I’ll close with a small plug for any reader who is affiliated with a Florida Conference institution (church, school, etc.): we are looking to begin taking on basic print jobs and small design projects for our institutions. While we may not always be able to give quite as fast of turnaround as a place such as Staples or FedEx Kinko’s, I guarantee we will blow their prices out of the water. This statement is largely directed to some of the smaller entities since larger ones, we’ve found, tend to own equipment because they photocopy so much material. Smaller institutions can’t afford it, and that’s where we’d like to help. Just get in touch and we’ll talk about how we can help.

4 Responses

  1. Noel Shanko says:

    Lee, I worked at the Conference office for 22 years. I believe that you and I started there about the same time. I was always impressed with your commitment and dedication to the responsibilities assigned to you. As you enter this new phase of employment I am confident that you will be a valued asset to those with whom and to whom you serve. Perhaps the Apostle Paul had you in mind when he wrote, “All things work together for good…” and you know the rest of the story.

  2. Brendan White says:

    Lee, although I have not had the opportunity to work closely with you, our paths have crossed a few times over the years. I have always admired your work, your commitment, and your dedication to detail. I am thankful the decision was made to continue your employment. I believe it speaks volumes in favor of those who made the decision. Keep up the good work, my friend.

    • Lee Bennett says:

      Thank you for your comments, and apologies I allowed so much time to pass before realizing your message was awaiting moderation.

      In the ensuing time, new wrinkles have developed in the story, but I’m doing what I can to work through them.


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