By Norris Burkes Oct 1 2023

I’ve met a lot of folks who assume that it’s easy to work with the clergy. But I know of one person who would beg to differ. She was the chapel office manager when I was stationed at a small California Air Force base in the mid-1990s.

As the Non-Commissioned Officer in Charge (NCOIC), she ran our chapel business at a mile-a-minute, coordinating chaplain appointments, keeping our books and arranging our chapel for worship. She was a law-and-order manager, good with regulations and policies.

However, in the high-touch world of ministry, the chaplains found her sometimes too surly. She didn’t always demonstrate the compassionate qualities required of someone dealing with the troubled airmen who sometimes wandered into our chaplain offices.

While we tried hard to keep our conflicts private, regrettably, our commander got wind of the stormy atmosphere amongst the staff and he ordered something called a “climate assessment survey.”

Yes, that’s a bad thing.

The survey began with a visit from the base psychologist who interviewed each staff member involved.

He asked each of us to make a choice.

“Which do you think most important,” he said. “to get the job done correctly, or to get along with the people you are working with?”

You can guess which one Sgt. By-the-Book chose. She saw her job as top priority. And if you’ve been reading my heart-so-tender columns, you’ll know that I often make the get-along choice.

Opposite that, there are folks who believe peace is achieved through regulations and boundaries. They subscribe to the saying, “Good fences make good neighbors.”

OK, let’s stay with the fence analogy for a moment.

Imagine you are rebuilding a storm-damaged fence, but as you begin your repairs, a chatty new neighbor interrupts you for a visit.

That’s me.

I’m hoping you’ll invite me in for a diet Pepsi. After a while, I might even suggest a better way to design the fence and will help you rebuild it. Maybe we even put the project off until next week.

Like some of you, I think this is the best approach to fence building. That’s because I believe our primary task must always be people. Folks like me believe our job is best accomplished through the good relationships we maintain with our colleagues, neighbors and coworkers. 

There are others, like my staff sergeant, who can’t find time for people until their job is thoroughly finished. They won’t have time for the sociable neighbor until their fence is stained and the brushes cleaned.

After all, if they don’t get their fence fixed, their dog will run off, burglars will have a nonstop path to their back door and the homeowners association will cite them. They will, one day, welcome me and others like me, but only by invitation.

Now let’s return to my old chaplain’s office for a minute. Who do you think was right: me, the people-person, or the task-oriented sergeant?

Drop me an email, voicemail or letter and tell me what you think.

In the end, the only thing I know for sure is that if a job needs doing, we all are the ones who must do it – together.


This column excerpted from my upcoming book, “Tell It to the Chaplain.” You can sign up for my weekly column at Send comments to Leave recorded comments at (843) 608-9715 or write 10556 Combie Rd Suite 6643 Auburn, CA 95602.