April 25, 2012

Church Secretaries are Saints

Over the sink in our office kitchen is one of my favorite cartoons by priest and Church Pension Group calendar-creator Jay Sidebotham.

A church has added three new stained glass windows. One depicts the church secretary. The tagline: the real saints of the church.

Today is administrative professional’s day. I think this might be a made-up holiday, with card-makers and florists in cahoots. Nevertheless, it gives us an opportunity to raise up the ministry of administrators.

I don’t know a single church that doesn’t veer toward chaos if the church secretary goes on extended leave. These are the people who bind all the disparate parts of the congregation. They are the first voice on the phone when the call comes in that a grandfather suffered a stroke. They collect all of the parish announcements and somehow craft them into something that makes sense for the bulletin insert.

They put the coffee on and tend to visitors, listen patiently as a parishioner vents, send out reminders to the acolytes, and collate the monthly newsletter.

At our last church, the parish secretary also was part social worker. In an Appalachian river town where poverty leeched onto whole neighborhoods, our church was known as a place that helped. At least three days a week – and occasionally three times a day, Diana would welcome the stranger into the church, listen to his or her story, and see how we could help.

Sometimes this is wrenching work, like when the same young mother wheels in with her stroller, two babies, then three and another on the way, and the heat is turned off, and they’re out of money for milk. Again.

Like most of us in church work, our job descriptions barely touch all that we do. But for church secretaries, I suspect this is especially true.

So for all of the work that falls under “Other tasks as assigned,” I give thanks today for the administrative professionals in our churches and dioceses. Hallmark-holiday or not, they more than deserve a special time of gratitude.

I’ll begin the litany. And I hope you’ll add names here too, so that throughout the day we can say a prayer of thanksgiving for the special ministry of these men and women.

Robin. Diane. Melissa. Diana.

Thanks be to God.