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Ask the Patriarch 122
On Saying Grace

from Nate

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This summer I’ll be working as a counselor at a small independent (not scouting or church affiliated) camp. I took the job knowing that the director wants to maintain a spiritual (Christian) focus but he was amenable to accepting staff “wherever they may be on their faith journey.”

I’m more than satisfied with the job, but at a staff-training weekend I learned that we as staff would be called on and expected to lead each meal eaten with our respective cabin of campers with a prayer. As an agnostic, I’m uncomfortable with this, but I don’t really want to leave my group of campers feeling left out in any way.

Your website has been an excellent resource in the past and I was wondering if you knew of any appropriate secular mealtime blessings / messages or at least ideas for such that I could invoke without having to worry about a moral crisis between being honest and being pragmatic.

The Patriarch replies:


While I will make some recommendations further below about secular forms for grace, I do not think you should use them during your employment. But, knowing a secular grace is very useful for social occasions when you might be called upon to offer some words before a meal. However, we are dealing with the terms of your employment here, not a social event.

If as a vegetarian you were to take a job at MacDonald's, for example, it would not be appropriate for you to press PETA pamphlets into the hands of the customers. Your job would be to give the clientele what they want, and not to undermine the business which is paying you.

You have taken a job with a Christian camp. There's nothing wrong with doing that. However, having taken that path, your responsibility is to perform your duties in line with the job description, in accordance with the expectations of the parents who are paying for their children to attend a Christian camp, and of course meeting the expectations of the children themselves.

If that means saying an appropriate Christian grace before each meal, then do so with due respect for the act. You are not saying grace for yourself, you are doing it on behalf of the children. And you should not find this to be a moral dilemma. It is your job, not a personal profession of faith.

One thing you can do, provided the children are mature enough, is to ask them to take turns saying grace at one or two of the daily meals, though I would recommend you set the example by saying grace for at least one meal a day. To assist them if necessary, you might have a few forms of Christian grace printed out for them to read from.

This is the only way to do the job in good conscience.

While I strongly support and encourage the promotion of agnosticism, it is not appropriate to do so, even indirectly through a godless grace, as an employee of a Christian camp.

Secular forms of Grace

There are a few examples on our Clergy Resource Site:

Blessing upon a meal - or grace

And here's a nice poem that can serve as a single long grace - or the verses can be used individually:

A secular grace