Open Hire, A Path Toward Reconciliation


Andy Wade –

What might it mean to expand our vision of reconciliation? The typical emphasis for Evangelical Christians is to, well, see reconciliation almost exclusivley as getting people on the bus to heaven. But what if reconciliation was much broader than that and our call to be “ambassadors of reconciliation” actually permeated every aspect of our lives? It’s that broad vision we’re exploring this year at Mustard Seed Associates.

So when I stumbled upon an article about “open hire”, something I had never heard of before, I was intrigued. What is open hire? Well, in a nutshell, at least as I understand it, open hire is the policy of hiring whoever walks through the door and wants a job. There has to be an opening the seeker can fill, but open hire does away with resumes, interviews, background checks, references… all the things that make perfect sense for a business to do.

impact_bakers_flour_bw-1024x690I first learned about this idea in a recent Grist article by Nathaneal Johnson, “Felons, addicts, immigrants: This bakery will hire anyone”. Greystone Bakery in Yonkers, NY has been practicing this idea for thirty years, hiring ex-cons, immigrants, addicts, and others. They do it not because it makes good business sense (though it’s difficult to argue with their success), but because it makes good community sense. CEO Mike Brady explains, Rather than spending money on interviews and background checks, we are spending it on training and development.”

According to the Grist interview:

Brady also said that it was immaterial whether or not open hiring was a better way to do business. His goal is to make sure his business also helps the community and helps people out of poverty. With that goal, there’s an imperative to try new things. There’s a lot of recognition that the things people have been doing aren’t working, he said.

This company, founded on Buddhist ideals, can teach us about reconciliation between people, with individuals and society as a whole, and between individuals and the communities they live in. It also demonstrates how businesses can be instruments in transforming the lives of those trapped in a cycle of poverty, a kind of economic reconciliation.

The article continues:

There are tons of metrics for businesses on environmental impact but very little on social justice,” Brady told me. “Are we helping the community we are in? Are we leaving it the same? Or are we hurting it?

And then, interestingly enough, the article concludes by leading us into another area of reconciliation we’ll be exploring this year, reconciliation with God’s creation:

As I never tire of pointing out, environmental progress depends on social progress. When people are desperately poor they have no choice but to pillage the commons — to cut down forests, or turn to crime. When those people find the means to support themselves with dignity, forests are protected and high-crime areas turn into healthy, walkable neighborhoods.

According to the Greystone Bakery website, this vision has grown to include many key elements necessary for healthy workers, families, and communities.

In the 1980s, our founder, Roshi Bernie Glassman recognized that employment is the gateway out of poverty and towards self-sufficiency. In 1982, he opened Greyston Bakery, giving the hard-to-employ a new chance at life. His open-door policy offered employment opportunities regardless of education, work history or past social barriers, such as incarceration, homelessness or drug use.

Out of this hiring policy a new and larger mission grew. Low-income apartments were built for the formerly homeless, providing housing for Bakery workers and their peers. Soon after, Greyston Child Care Center was founded to ensure that a lack of high-quality, low cost child care wouldn’t be a barrier to work. As the AIDS epidemic spread, Greyston responded by opening Issan House and the Maitri Center, providing housing and adult day health services for people living with HIV/AIDS. Growing awareness of health disparities for communities of color and growing concerns about the environment prompted the creation of the Community Gardens and Environmental Education program. Most recently, in response to the recession, which disproportionately impacted poor Yonkers residents, Greyston launched WD 2.0, a comprehensive workforce development program.

  • When you think about reconciliation, and our call as followers of Jesus to be ambassadors of reconciliation, what comes to mind?
  • How are you embodying this call in the community you live in?
  • What are some creative expressions of reconciliation you’ve seen or participated in?
  • What new ideas spring to mind about how you might live more fully into that call right where you are?

Comment below or, if you have a longer story you’d like to share, I’m collecting submissions to share on this blog throughout the year. Check here for more specifics about this topic for our blog.