Were a thorough rendering of the particulars of this job description made public, any applicant would politely smile, say “thank you” and head for the nearest exit. The employment opportunity of which I speak is that of a part-time office administrator for the church that I have a certain longstanding association with as the pastor for the past 25 years or so.
With both joy and sorrow, the congregation and I will soon be saying “so long” to another treasured staff member who will be leaving the “friendly confines” to assume the duties of a stay-at-home mom with the impending birth of her third child. Having seven years of history in the office as a coworker, it is no stretch to describe her as irreplaceable, though she will undoubtedly have to be replaced.
What, in part, makes for such an obscure line of work is in part due to the fact that I happen to have authored the particulars of this job description, mostly making it up as I went along. You see, for a good number of the early years of our congregation’s existence, I was the secretary along with being the pastor.
Before we had a building or even a place of worship, the bedroom outside our bedroom in the basement of our home was the church office. Thankfully, these days, the office has moved out and, with a little remodeling, a walk-in closet has moved in. Keep this to yourselves, since I served as the entire paid staff back then, there were more than a few days in the office where I could have used a change of clothes while working still in my pajamas.
Inside my rather intimate cubical were file cabinets, handmade bookshelves, a desk donated by my father-in-law, a plodding computer and a sturdy wooden chair. Exit into the family room, a few feet away, and a hulking refurbished copy machine the size of a small tank could be found complete with a sorter and bypass tray.
Yes, those were the days when I answered the phones, filed the files, picked out the music for worship, prepared and ran off the bulletin, composed and mailed the monthly newsletter and other correspondence, counted and deposited the offering, formulated and updated the record-keeping, ordered the office supplies, paid the bills, retrieved the mail and, of course, made the morning coffee and watered the houseplants. Thankfully, I’ve delegated all those responsibilities except getting the mail. No secretary seems willing to cross over state Route 224 outside Ottawa, where the mailbox is located.
Rhetorically, who wouldn’t want to work in a church office with someone the likes of me, anyway? Sure, it could be argued, I’ve developed a few quirky idiosyncracies over the past 35 years as a pastor, but that’s to be expected over such a span of time.
So, the new hire, whoever she or he is, can be an expert with Microsoft Word, but in this office we use WordPerfect, a word-processing program I’ve grown up on with. They need to be well acquainted with all the seasons of the church year calendar, such as Pentecost and Epiphany, and their corresponding colors, as I watch out for summer, fall, winter and spring. I don’t have a degree in horticulture, so they need to know what plants get ordered and when, such as lilies, poinsettias and red geraniums, which I think have something to do with Pentecost.
Whoever said, “don’t sweat the small stuff” wasn’t talking to my secretary as I regularly instruct them, “remind me to remember to do this next week.” That way, my personal memory bank is “off the hook” with such details, and if I forget, I have someone to blame.
We sometimes call our church “off the wall” because we use video projection in our modest worship space, and it is literally projected “off the wall.” I’m a bit of a computer geek, but that only means that I use lots of different software for things and know how to be dangerous. Just ask Rick, from Ottawa PC Repair.
The office software is always on the update and the upgrade and that make for a learning curve that always seems to have a steep uphill climb.
For nearly 30 years we’ve accumulated thousands of files, be they documents, music, videos or pictures. Computer diagnostics are a must, though not to fix any computer so much but to find where any given file is located. With five networked computers, six backup external hard drives, a few items on a cloud somewhere, any given file can be anywhere at any time.
It might seem manageable to keep track of a congregation of less than 300 people. But then again, not if you’re being asked to keep track of everyone’s birthday, anniversary date, baptismal date, spelling of first, middle and last names, address, phone numbers, e-mails or when they last taught Sunday School, served on the church council or attended a bible study. These details are best committed to memory, as any one of them can stop by the office without an appointment.
Such are some of the challenging and perhaps harrowing tasks of a church secretary! Any takers?
Ken Pollitz moved to Ottawa in 1991 as mission-developer/pastor of New Creation Lutheran Church. His biweekly column provides insights and viewpoints from Putnam County. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org