Course at Cathedral teaches how to see work as vocation

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When Cathedral of the Incarnation parishioner Barney Zeng was living and working on the East Coast, none of his coworkers or colleagues asked him about his faith.  

“People never asked each other where they went to church,” he said. “It was pretty much a social taboo.”  

When he moved to Nashville five years ago, the culture was the exact opposite.  

“Everyone I met asked where I went to church, and they would ask in a very matter of fact way, as if they were asking where I went to high school,” Zeng said. 

Still, it felt wrong that he was hesitant to share his faith at the office. He eventually connected with the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work and now wants to share what he’s learned from them with others. Beginning next month, Zeng and his friend John Mark McDougal will be co-teaching a class on integrating faith and work, open to the whole diocese. 

The class, “Foundations of Faith and Work,” which runs from Sept. 14 to Nov. 21, will meet on Tuesday mornings from 7-8 in the Cathedral’s St. Albert Hall, right before attendees go to work. 

It’s a theology course specifically designed for Christians in the workplace. The materials and format used for the class are from the Nashville Institute for Faith and Work.  

Zeng himself was enrolled in the Institute’s Gotham leadership training course. “It was nine months long and I was the only Catholic there,” he laughed. “But it changed my perspective on so many things, and I hope the people who sign up for the Cathedral’s class will have their lives changed in a similar way.” 

Each class will include a video lesson by Dr. Paul Lim, professor at Vanderbilt University Divinity School in Nashville. These will then be followed by discussions moderated by Zeng and McDougal and personal reflection exercises.  

“Some of the key topics we’ll be exploring are performance and purchase based self-worth, and the dangers of seeing your self-worth in relation to how big your salary is or how well you perform at the office. We’ll also be looking at I-Thou versus I-It relationships, which is seeing relationships as transactional versus seeing them as personal,” Zeng said. “But I think the most important thing we’ll be discussing is work as a vocation.” 

In fact, Zeng’s biggest hope is that those who take the course will come to see their work as a calling.  

“Studies show that roughly 80 percent of Americans are disengaged from their jobs,” he said. “They see their work only as work, without much purpose besides supporting themselves and their families. But we want them to see themselves as co-laborers with the Lord in His vineyard.” 

Melissa Doyle, director of religious education at the Cathedral, agrees.  

“As Christians and Catholics, our ultimate calling is to let God be glorified in everything we do, and that includes our work,” she said. “We spend so many of our waking hours at our jobs, and we should be using that time helping to bring about God’s kingdom.” 

Zeng wants all local Christians in the workforce to consider signing up.  

“First and foremost, this is open to Christians of all denominations,” he said. “And it doesn’t matter what your job is either. Whether you’re flipping burgers at McDonald’s or you own a business, there are important takeaways here for everyone. 

“In order to see ourselves as co-laborers with God, we first have to understand the story of salvation history,” he added. “That way, we can come to see our role within that larger story. If you want to learn more about that and God’s plan for your life, please come to our class. You won’t regret it.” 

All who are interested in signing up can do so at There is a $50 registration fee. Those who are interested in fee subsidies or have other questions about the class can e-mail Barney Zeng at

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