Friday, 29 April 2016

Be the parish secretary. Go on I dare you.

Parish Secretary.  Now to many people those 2 words conjure up the image of a retired lady, in twinset and pearls (and I mean no offence to either retired ladies or twinsets and pearls), sitting in the office for a few hours a day, answering the seldom ringing phone, making the odd cup of tea for the priest, filing a handful of documents a week and crocheting and reading to fill the rest of the hours.  That I believe is how most people think the advert for such a post would read.

Now I do not know every Parish Secretary that there is.  I do not know if the opposite of the above is unique to very large parishes only.  Or to parishes like mine that are vibrant and alive and have dozens of interest groups, ministries, support groups and other things like perpetual adoration, a massive catechism group, young adult group, youth group, bible study, parish council, articles in publications, soup kitchen, Lifeline and on and on and on.  

Busy parish = Busy priest = Busy secretary.  

I opened this blog with the perceived parish secretary definition.  I do not think anyone in our parish (unless you are not paying attention) thinks that is what our secretary (me for those who are not keeping up) does.

Correctly stated it would read as follows should anyone want to advertise for another secretary here in the future:

Parish Secretary:  one person with 6 ears and 10 hands needed.  Able to have a conversation on the phone whilst simultaneously listening to the person standing opposite them and the priest asking them something.  Must be able to type, file, answer the phone as well as their cellphone at the same time (both calls will be work related – guaranteed), make good tea and coffee.  Must be of a sleuth level equal to Sherlock Holmes and must be able to source anything from missing wedding records of 1973 to companies that remove bees, a good price for gas cylinder refills, the name of a parishioner who attended Mass last Sunday and sat in the 4th row, 9th from the right and the barrage of questions including such as “does the Priest have to be present at Confession” and “Why did the Priest replace the Our Father with something else on Sunday" (he didn’t – ever).  Be able to handle people who are awesome, friendly, rude, demanding, uncooperative, grieving, hysterical, laughing, chatting, warm, comforting, kind or needing something.  Must be able to discern when people simply want to talk and unpack on someone (my Lifeline Counselling training has stood me in good stead).  

Must be able to run the very full diary of a very busy and involved priest who also has a radio show, a newspaper column and a plethora of committees and other that must be attended to in addition to a very big parish.  Must have the discernment to ensure that meetings are spaced according to the time the PS (parish secretary) deems will be suitable for the priest, dependent on the reason for the meeting/counselling/preparation/blessing etc.  PS must be completely knowledgeable with the Home Affairs as well as the Catholic Church requirements for marriage and must ensure that the file of documents for each one of the normally 30 a year are handled correctly. All bridal couples will not be equally easy and patience (even sometimes counting to 100) is required.  She must be able to complete all the documentation – marriage certificates and Home Affairs register and ensure that she has everything for the Priest to register the marriage.  PS also needs to know all the rules and requirements of Baptisms, married couples, unmarried couples, one parent not Catholic, needs of Godparents and must be able to spot and draw to the attention of the boss (aka Priest) any possible problems when the forms cross her desk.  Especially in a parish with 25 Baptisms a year.  A good working knowledge of annulment is a strong advantage to be able to ensure that documents are correctly filed and to know what is needed in terms of a 2nd marriage. 

The PS must be sound in the areas of bookkeeping and be able to correctly identify the correct department costing for all documents before handing to the Accountant.  Must be able to run a tight petty cash as well as any other areas where she is accountable for money.  In the case of our parish, being able to administer and control 500 niches in the Garden of Remembrance, all the proofs and final manufacturing of plaques, the liaising between office and families of the wording etc, sometimes looking after Ashes, the arrangements for blessing and placing of Ashes.  Again as a major part of this parish, this is a big job and requires tact and understanding as those you work with are often fragile.  Or feuding families.  The PS should be able to find every Baptism, Wedding, Death and Confirmation record of every person since 1967.  This will be tested often.  When people incorrectly think they were Baptised at your church, when in fact they were not, the PS needs to be able to smile whilst muttering on the inside at the waste of time searching for entries.

PS must be well spoken in at least 2 languages, must have grammar and spelling that is far above average and an ability to write – articles or anything, is a great advantage.  In addition she must be available all the time.  Before and after work – calls will start at 630am some days and the last requests / instructions from parishioners will often end after 9pm. 
PS must be as comfortable talking to the Archbishop as she is out shopping for dishliquid and toilet paper.  Diversity is the order of the day and any expectation of any 2 days being the same is non-exist.

She must be able to find priests to stand in for Masses or help at Confessions and having 14 priests on speed-dial who know you well (and like you) is a distinct advantage.

Confidentiality is key, people very often bare their souls in the priests’ office and even reception.  High levels of integrity are needed.  As are patience, empathy, generosity, humour, humour, humour, friendliness, warmth and yes, sometimes a stern voice when taken for granted by those whom you actually serve.  In addition, PS needs to be able to fill candles on a table one minute, write the bulletin the next, deal with the pile of mass intentions and see they are properly placed on the next .... she must be a master of removing paper jams in the copier (normally caused by the boss), repairing the plug of the kettle if needed and filling the fountain.  A working knowledge of labour laws to do with contracts, leave records and other staff matters is also a distinct advantage.

PS must like to drive.  It will be required. Finally an ability to read the boss' mind and try and stay one step ahead is a big plus.

So ….. for anyone who ever wondered what I do every day.  Or what this parish secretary does.  Or how we can possibly be so busy in the office Fr Chris and I.  There it is.

Read Fr Chris’ comprehensive article about 5 weeks ago which was published in the Southern Cross newspaper as his regular column.  You will be amazed to read the intense workload of a priest.  Then read my article above. 

 I do not have time to put pearls on – I barely have time for lipstick.

Welcome to the world of a parish priest and parish secretary.  It will never be dull – you have my word.

Busy priest = Busy secretary. We are a perfect match and that is a blessing.

I would not have it any other way.  

Till soon 
c'est la vie xxx

Friday, 15 April 2016

best self. better self. what a disaster. wisdom from a nun.

Two weeks ago I commented to a friend that when I come back in my second life, I want to be a nun.  She asked why but the answer was complex .... and has nothing to do with my unbelievably awesome hubby and kids, but much more to do with a striving for excellence, compassion, kindness, near perfection and everything else that seems to come to mind when I see these ladies.  And yes, I speak to nuns regularly in my job. And yes they laugh if I say I strive to be as perfect. 

It took me longer to get my friend to stop laughing than it did to complete my nun explanation.  I do agree that when looking and listening to me, nun is not at the forefront of your mind.  Admit it. 

But yesterday I thought a lot about nuns again, because I spoke to one twice on the phone this week, and having spent time with several nuns on a social level over the last two years, I know to be true the fact that they too are striving .... to be compassionate, to be kind, to be doing the right thing ..... 

Our parish priest, as you know, had the most impact on me the day he spoke to us, a while ago already, about always trying to be "our best selves" or "our better selves".  Now let me put it out there ..... I appear to really suck at this.  I actually thought I was spending 75 percent of my life making progress at "better self" and 25 % failing dismally.  I do not know how my fellow parishioners feel they are doing - but I seem to always have either one or both my feet in it.  

I have a nun on email .... who is not a local one, which makes it better for frank discussion. I have asked myself repeatedly this week if it so hard for them as well.  She asked me what "them" encompasses.  "People like you, who God chooses for their job", I told her.  It elicited quite a chuckle over the email lines.  "Did God not choose you for your job", she asked me.  That part was easy - anyone who knows even a tiny bit about me knows that the one thing I love ridiculously much in life is my job - to have worked with people when they are getting married, having babies, saying goodbye to loved ones, placing Ashes, I get to touch their lives in a tiny tiny tiny way, but I have come to really love being with the parishioners and they shower me with love in return.  But this was not my question.  My question was is it much easier for her to be her "better self" all the time.  Is it just lay people who fail. 

Her answer came in capitals - NO.  "We make mistakes, many of them, we speak too fast, we judge too quickly, we apologise too slowly, we pray too much, we pray too little" ... it was a long list.  "Anyone who deems themselves as never failing certainly has quite the opinion of themselves" .... I wish I could let you hear what must be the accent she speaks with. 

She was extraordinarily real.  It was like speaking to Lifeline except that no-one knew me. 

But she heard me.  She understood that I want to be understood.  That I am not going to get it right every day.  At least I am prepared to admit that.  Many won't.  I will not always pray enough, say the right words all the time, judge slowly, speak the words people want to hear. But she says, that makes me human.  She also asked me to write down the names of 3 people who seem to get it right most of the time.  "Not names of people who they themselves think are above this theory, names of people that YOU think are getting it right". The 3 names obviously meant nothing to her since she did not know any of them, but an interesting analysis followed.  That is between her and me.  

But I will try.  Every day.   Because I do not want to have to start every 2nd sentence with Sorry. 

Right at the end of our chat I realised that some will always sit in judgement.  And others will always be judged.   And very often the latter, is the one trying harder. 

She chuckled, "well then, do you not think that the judged is more successful at trying to be their best self than the person sitting in judgement?" - I love email - you always get the wording right when you repeat it. 

Wisdom in a habit.  

I am going to aim for 40 % success in better self this week.  Swift to bless, slow to chide. Which means I should come in around 28.2%

When you are mad at someone - write their good traits in column A and their bad traits in column B ...... A usually far exceeds B.  But then, before you go further, how about writing down your good traits in column A and bad traits in column B .... still being your best self?

Can you see me chuckling? Trying to work out who can honestly say yes. 

What are you going to strive for this week? 

till soon 
c'est la vie 

Tuesday, 12 April 2016

50 kinds of gorgeous papers. what a lot of love.

Many of you do know that when I turned 50 in January, my daughter turned 21, and came home from Cape Town for our joint celebration.  When she left to go home, and I returned from the airport, there was a glass jar on the dining room table.  Beautifully and colorfully decorated .... and marked in front in silver koki ... "50 Things About You".  My Jess had decorated this jar and inside were 50 slips of folded paper, to be opened and read one at a time whenever I felt like it.  And on each of the 50 papers she had written some memory - funny, poignant ... whatever, that she had of me. 

Friends have asked me what kind of things these slips said .... which I read out to my hubby and son, much to their amusement.  So here are the ones I have already opened - you will learn something about me .... and share in my joy at the same time. If you think you know me really well ... did you know all this? So ... as written by my daughter to me -

  1. One word "crispy" - you sometimes forget things on the stove
  2. You have such a beautiful handwriting ... you often start a form all perfectly in the beginning and then towards the end you are scribbling
  3. You are now 50 years old and becoming part of the penshie club (pensioners) so you do not have to feel bad about getting pensioner discount (which a supermarket offered me at the tills when I was 45)
  4. You constantly check up on me, even though I live in CT, and you still "mom" me
  5. You are glitter and bling mad
  6. Saying to us you are "3 mins away" from where you must fetch us ... but we hear the dogs barking at our home
  7. You still think skinny dipping is ok - which it isn't
  8. We love you even though we know that you DO cut your own fringe
  9. You try and "guilt trip mom" us sometimes 
  10. You make the best ever mac 'n cheese
  11. You take us on spontaneous trips to Mc Donalds at 11pm for Mc Flurries - in our pyjamas
  12. You ALWAYS manage to mess on your top when you eat - always
  13. You throw your whole heart into everything you do 
  14. You taught me about hygiene and taking good care of myself from a very young age
  15. You own a 1000 different pens, but use the same 3 every day at work till they are finished
  16. One day you accidentally waxed my entire eyebrow off mom #enoughsaid
  17. You know the absolute true meaning of sacrifice
  18. You buy a Beeld every day, without fail, for 30 years
  19. You make the BEST chip dip
  20. Remember the endless soapies we watched since I was small like Ally Mc Beal, Fraser, 7de Laan and Isidingo (I still watch the latter after 15 years - K)
  21. For the endless speeches you helped me write and listened to over and over and over again
  22. When you pour something cold in a glass, you fill it, immediately drink half, and top it up
  23. You grab any glass at the basin when you want water
  24. You get irritated by dogs barking, even if they are 5km away
  25. You cannot go to the movies without a regular popcorn and a LARGE slush puppy
  26. You had Alvin and the Chipmunks as a ringtone a couple of years ago
  27. We have a fun family "gang sign" like The Force be With You.  You cannot do it with your fingers
  28. You cannot drink or read anything unless you have established where the middle of the cup/glass/book/mag is
  29. You took Zumba classes with me in your late 40's and really shook it up
  30. You wrinkle your nose up when you laugh
  31. You randomly bust loose with your own songs and raps - loudly
  32. Before you eat a bowl of icecream you add 100's and 1000's and 5 other types of Nicoletta toppings - stars, silver balls, choc bits
  33. You are so brave - more than you can ever realise
  34. You are a pro at hair buns for ballet and getting the hair perfectly smooth
  35. You are so completely centered in your Faith and such an example to us with this
  36. You were at almost every soccer match, hockey match, cricket match, netball match, swimming gala etc when we grew up - and we loved it 

And so I still have 14 to open.  So what did you learn about me that you never knew? 

till soon 
c'est la vie 

Sunday, 10 April 2016

casting your nets. asking for help. that man in the arena

Casting nets on the other side of the boat was the Gospel today during Mass.  

It gave me food for thought whilst driving home.  How often do we do that?  Or do we tend to fish on the one side of our boat day in and day out and eventually in total despair just toss the net back into the boat.  Now I have, through trial and error, happy and bad times, by hook or by crook and such, become over the past couple of years a master of casting the net both sides of our boat.  Hell, I even cast in front and back sometimes and if necessary I will even swim under the boat dragging it. 

They say "necessity is the mother of invention".  Well Amen to that.  Whilst discussing it online with someone this afternoon she commented "but you do not know how hard it can be" .... no my dear, I do.  Trust me we have the PhD, MBA, and every other letter in this. Re-casting is what my speciality is.  I am not addressing this to people who tell me they are battling because they now eat out 3 and not 5 times a month ... or cannot have weekly take-aways, or have to give up a coffee date, or scale down their car, or buy less at Woolworths ... I am talking to people who are battling to put food on the table, fuel in their cars and clothes on their backs.  For whom the little decisions are the huge and scary daily decisions.  

So for the many that I currently know, that are battling, mostly with finances, in a time when so many are reeling from the cost of living, getting retrenched, having to close their businesses, finding themselves so lost, so desperate, so overwhelmed, let me lead you as follows, and if you know me, you will know that I speak from experience.  I will place at the end my favourite verse "The Man in the Arena" ... I have been that man, we have been that man, so yes, I am qualified to speak on this subject. 

1.  Ask.  Someone.  Anyone.  You have to learn to ask.  For help.  For a shoulder. For food.  For assistance.  Ask.  Yes you have to stick your pride in your pocket.  Churches have Outreach programmes, these are able to assist you.  Peruse the web for places that help.  Speak to your priest, speak to your friends, speak to your colleagues, speak to your family, speak to a counsellor (and you can do so at Lifeline, confidentially and at no cost whatsoever), but talk to someone. Sometime, somewhere, someone will hear you.  If not, keep asking. I did the Counselling course at Lifeline ... several hours a week for 13 weeks ... intense ... but has given me a skill no-one can ever take away.  To listen.  To understand. 
2.  Do not drive anywhere, and I mean anywhere that you can walk.  Trust me .... if you walk 2km here and 1km there it adds up ... fuel kept in your tank.  No short trips, no unplanned trips.  Know exactly in the morning what your route will be .... school, work, whatever ... plan in the stop for bread .... plan in the random stops ..... no extra stops. 
All of the out of the way stuff must be lumped into one day.  Sometimes it comes down to the wire with fuel.  
3.  You may have to stop handing out car guard money at every stop.  This is hard I know - you can feel really dreadful.  But there comes a stage when it is family first.  It may only be R3 a day that you save, if you make stops daily, but over a month - R90 buys bread and milk my friends. 
4.  Give up the extras - DSTV for starters.  You will survive.  Maybe you have to have it off for a month.  They credit you when you have it put off by them.  Yes it is awful if you are a huge fan.  Find a friend, or two, who won't mind you popping in to watch sport by them, or would not mind you coming over once a week to catch up on your series.  Again refer to #1 - ask.  It may give you the R750 back into your budget.  If there is no choice, switch if off for 6 months.  You can put it on anytime.  Is it hard? Yes.  And you may need to look at old fashioned ways of entertainment - trust me it is possible to play Cluedo 16 times a month. 
5.  Kids first.  In everything.  Food, clothing and all other needs.  Kids first.  Spend the money on the crucials across all family members, but for all other critical things kids first. First to eat, first to be taken care of.  And I am not talking about working salary earning kids.  I mean dependants. 
6.  Work out if there is something you can do to bring in a little extra.  Can you sew?  Offer around school to do simple sewing repairs for friends.  Do you do calligraphy?  Paint? Make costumes well .... repair stuff like toasters, read aloud well .... whatever ... advertise for free over and over in the Junk Mail .... you will be amazed what people are happy to pay for to take it off their plate. 
7.  Have a yard sale, or a boot sale, whatever you want to call it.  Go room to room ... get rid of that lampshade you got in 1999 that you know you are never going to use again. That top you are going to wear when you lose 10kg.  Now is your chance ... you will be amazed how much stuff you can amass over time. Advertise .... a good way is to stick up a note at your local supermarket board for notices. And if you are nervous about security ... find a spot .... where there are people ... like an open shopping centre car park in your neighbourhood ... and I am not talking about Menlyn or such obviously, people walking past buy.  And it is not "selling your stuff" it is getting rid of clutter.  
8.  Need something urgently that cannot wait?  Look online.  2nd hand is not necessarily rubbish.  Clothes, sports equipment etc etc .... it is there.  OLX and Gumtree are good places to start. 
9.  If you are a believer, then pray.  Again and again and again.  To whoever it is that you follow and believe in.  I am Catholic, and I sometimes think that God must have rolled his eyes and thought here she is again!!! But as hard as it is .... All in His time.  Every time. 

I can go on forever.  If you have a question, a fear, a desperation - I am going to do something unusual and offer my email address.  I did it once before last year and was inundated with mails.  I cannot offer money, or jobs or any such.  But what I can offer is a list of places you can turn to, many many suggestions ... hundreds in fact on survival ... so contact me on - we are not bound by where we live in the world ... we are bound by the fact that we are humans. 

Wishing you love ... and patience....... and a calming of desperation. 

till soon 
c'est la vie 

2019 - new beginnings and other excitement

2019 is a big year for me.  For the first time in probably 30 years I am not in a fixed Monday to Friday job.  This is huge.  I return from...