Have you thanked your parish secretary? (PP. 363-365)
“Among the many unsung heroines and heroes of the Church are thousands of parish secretaries.
They are a special breed, unique for their dedication and generosity, indispensable in the variety of roles they play. They are at once receptionists and counselors, intermediaries and managers, bookkeepers and social workers, detectives and confidants.
As I think of the parish secretaries with whom I have had the privilege to work, a flood of names and fond memories pop into my heard? Ethel, Donna, Virginia, Sweetie, Louise, Shirley, Marge, Harriet, Joyce, Nancy, Judi and Peggy. All of them bring a special gift to their parishes, and they are the backbone of parish life. Often, parishioners are unaware of the long hours they work and the countless behind-the-scenes tasks they perform to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Usually they are a parishioner’s or visitor’s first contact with the parish. They shift gears constantly, because their service is linked directly to the lives of others. What has happened today in the life of family in the parish often determines how the secretary’s day will unfold. In a parish office, one never knows whether the next phone call will be from a grieving family, a newcomer, the bank or the plumber.
Believe it or not, sometimes there are complaints, and parish secretaries are posted at the front lines. They listen, explain, pass along the message, heal, repair and save the day – usually getting no credit for having done so. Daily they are confronted with a host of expectations (often conflicting), and they are subject to all manner of evaluation, but they take it in stride. Although it is not in their job description to read minds, they are expected to do so. Amazingly, they succeed.
There is tedium, too, and accuracy matters when counting the collection, recording sacramental information, assigning Sunday ministers, or making reports to the diocesan office.
Scheduling software notwithstanding, how do they keep track of the fact that altar server Harry should be assigned to the same Mass as his lector-dad, Miles, and his extraordinary minister-mom, Susan? How do they balance the checkbook while the phone is ringing and the doorbell chiming? How do they remember to tell Father, as he rushes from one appointment to the next, that Mrs. Smith is in the hospital and needs the anointing of the sick?
Church work is about Christian discipleship, but one must also have street smarts to be a parish secretary. As one recently told me, “Bishop, you wouldn’t believe who comes to the door.” I would believe, and I know that a good dose of holy skepticism and good humor makes the job easier. As pastor of the Church in Arkansas, I am proudly confident that whoever does come to our doors, each is treated as Christ.
Large parishes have multiple secretaries, each of whom carries out a delegated set of important tasks. Small parishes have one secretary (perhaps part-time), the jack-of-all-trades who runs the place with quiet competence. Rarely are parish secretaries paid a salary commensurate with their work, and in many cases they just volunteer, out of love for the Lord. What would we do without them?
When someone accepts the job of parish secretary, she is soon astounded at the sheer variety and volume of the work and says to herself, “I would never have guessed that so much goes on in the parish office.”
She probably wonders how she will get it all done, probably works past closing time, and probably doesn’t count the cost. Realizing both the amount of work and the amount of good accomplished, she responds with a generous heart. Her response is one of faith in the Lord, love for His people, and stewardship of her own gifts.
We don’t thank our parish secretaries near enough. Why not give yours a call or write her a note to express your gratitude? No doubt she’ll be busy when she receives it, but she’ll welcome the break and smile that someone noticed!”