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.
c'est la vie xxx