I’d been job-hunting for about a month when I saw the listing: Seeking Copywriter for Marketing Agency. It was December 2012 and with the holidays (not to mention rent) breathing down my neck, I figured it was worth a shot. I submitted my resume along with a few writing samples and in a few days, I was asked to come in for an interview. I’d never done any copywriting before and visions of becoming the next Peggy Olson danced in my head. I was determined to nail it.
Dressed in a new pair of black slacks, a crisp button-down blouse, and sensible heels, I walked into the Lake Mary Primera Building -- just an 8-minute drive from our apartment in Sanford, Florida. A cheerful blonde with a Scottish accent greeted me in the hall.
“Hi, I’m Kate.* Are you Priscilla?” she asked. I extended my hand and introduced myself. She led the way to the office and sat me down in their lounge to wait for the interview to begin.
The rest of it was pretty commonplace. She and a guy, Mick, asked me a few questions about my job history and explained what the position entailed. I would be writing blog posts and website articles for various local businesses, incorporating SEO strategies and occasionally writing press releases. The pay was decent and it was a regular 9-5 gig with a half-hour for lunch. They were eager for me to start right away. I thanked them both and let them know I’d see them bright and early Monday morning. At the time, there was zero indication that I would soon be working for a company that vocally attributed any of their successes to “the Lord.”
My first day came and I filled out paperwork and got settled at my new desk. There wasn’t much in the way of privacy as all work stations were part of one long communal desk, with Kate sitting at a separate desk near the front. She and her husband Rob had started the business in Scotland and then brought their office to the States. Everyone seemed friendly enough and I eased into the work without a hitch. But then, it happened.
“Who can tell me what this verse means?” Rob asked, going on to quote some scripture. At first, I thought maybe they just philosophized in general at work, but then he kept going. Jay, one of the web guys, responded with his ideas on it. Then Mick did. Then Kate.
“Alright, that was an easy one. I’ll give ya another,” said Rob, and he quoted another verse from the Bible. Not being a religious person in any way, but also not wanting to cause any trouble, I buried myself in my article about cottages in Northumberland and ignored the conversation. I figured maybe it just happened once in a while. When I told my husband about it over dinner that night, all he could say was, “Welcome to Lake Mary.”
In all the jobs I’d worked, I’d never heard anyone so much as ask anyone about their religion or faith, much less have a group discussion about it in the office. But this was my first time working in Lake Mary, home of Christian entertainment channel, Good Life 45, among other things. I wondered if this was a more common occurrence the closer you got to the Bible Belt. I hoped it was just a first day fluke and left it at that.
The next day, though, it happened again. And the following Monday, I overheard some of the co-workers discussing the sermon they’d heard at church that past Sunday. It seemed they all went to the same one. I started feeling completely out of the loop, but they never really said much to me about it. I wondered if they even cared to know what I believed or if they were fine just going on and on about their own beliefs no matter who was present.
“We got the account! Things are only getting better for us, praise Jesus,” Kate said one day after a phone call. Rob chuckled to himself.
“Of course we did, Katie! We’re a Christian marketing agency, after all. Jesus watches over us,” he said, finally proving what I’d been suspecting all along.
I sat at my desk, trying to think up angles on how to write interesting articles about lawn care, realizing I was now officially working in uncharted territory. Like I said, I’m not religious, but I’ve got lots of religious relatives and even a few friends. And although I didn’t agree with their beliefs, it would’ve been bearable had the jokes never began.
First it was off-hand remarks about Jewish people in a less-than-flattering tone. Then they made some jokes about Islamist extremists. And then I began to notice the butt of a lot of jokes was actually one of my co-workers, a fairly quiet Middle Eastern guy named Namir.
“You’re so lucky to have finally converted or you would’ve had to go and marry one of those towel-heads,” I heard one of them say to Namir. It turned out that he had indeed converted from Islam to Christianity while living in Lake Mary. He would half-smile at their jokes at times, and other times he would just stare at his screen and continue working. I wanted to say something to let them know I was beginning to feel uncomfortable, but money was tight and I didn’t have any other prospects. I kept my mouth shut and typed away.
I wondered if there was any kind of law that stated a company had to disclose their religious affiliation (if any) before hiring a new employee. I knew at the very least that there had to be something that stated employees shouldn’t feel harassed for their faith or lack-thereof, even if it was an indirect harassment. I spent my days buried in my work, occasionally texting my friends back home about the insane things I would hear in the office. Whenever I made it to work a bit early, I’d catch my coworkers standing around in a circle, holding hands and praying outside in the parking lot. They never asked me to join, but one of the girls did ask on several occasions if I wanted to carpool. Knowing that joining the prayer circle might be part of the deal, I decided to pass.
Suffice to say, I didn’t last very long at the company. John and I found jobs back in Miami and decided we’d had enough of Central Florida living for a while. When Christmas vacation came around, I let them know I would not be coming back to work in the New Year. I drafted several emails telling them I’d rather work in porn than listen to their psychobabble for another minute (which was true as I wound up editing porn magazines shortly afterward), but never sent them.
A year later, it seems they’ve officially closed their doors. I like to think they closed after Namir had enough and decided to sue their asses for harassment, but that’s probably not the case. Who knows? Maybe the next copywriter they hired wasn’t quite as patient as I was.
In a way, I kind of wish I’d stayed longer just to see how far the crazy went. Would they have finally invited me to pray with them? Would they have asked me what church I went to, or invited me to join them one Sunday? Or maybe that was the extent of it -- quoting Psalms and making racist jokes between assignments. If I should ever end up in another similar situation, maybe I’ll stick around longer and find out. For now, I’m happy being an agnostic, sinning heathen, working for myself.