A reflection from Pastor Peter Perry, April 26, 2017
In my experience of over 30 years of pastoral ministry I have learned that the lay staff who support the work of both pastors and congregants are a vastly under-appreciated gift. As pastors come and go, lay staff provide the foundation of the continuous work of the church. The church secretary especially comes to mind as the one person in any church who usually knows the congregation best. If we truly are all many parts of one body, then the church secretary is the muscle memory that knows how to respond quickly and effectively to every emergency, big and small, who knows who in the congregation might be able to repair a broken window, give someone a ride to the hospital, walk the dog of a sick member, or fold 3000 bulletins before 5 pm. The church secretary knows where that important thing that is only used every three to five years is stored, and where it might be when we discover that it isn’t where it is supposed to be! The church secretary is the first person to talk to you when you call the church following a death in the family, the person who talks to you when you call upset at something the pastor said or didn’t say last Sunday, the person who smiles and makes you feel welcome when you are visiting for the first time, or just came in off the street looking for some help in hard times. The church secretary is the person who remembers that your brother died three years ago and that your husband had cancer ten years ago, and that your child who is now a firefighter used to play with fire lighting the altar candles as an acolyte back when Rev. Wesley was the pastor. The church secretary will remember the name of the choir director 30 years ago, and be able to tell you how to reach the pastor on her day off. The church secretary is a very special person.
Dolores Prouty has been the church secretary of First UMC Olympia for 21 years. She had a brief interruption in her years of service for health reasons, but came back when we needed her and has kept 13 different senior and associate pastors in line! She’s usually the one who makes the coffee in the morning, and that means she has brewed, at a minimum, 5400 pots of coffee for the church office. She has entered over 32,000 events on the church calendar. She has supervised the production of over 2500 worship bulletins. If she answers the phone 20 times a day (a conservative estimate), then she has said “FIRST United Methodist Church” at least 21,000 times. (You have to say it just the way she does with the big emphasis on the word FIRST!)
She has loved us all when we were loveable and when we weren’t. She has listened to us attentively when she had other important work to do. She has coordinated volunteers and unlocked doors and made calls in the hospital and to the homebound. She has made runs to the post office and the hardware store. She has kept our confidences always, and sometimes (often!) given the pastors not-so-subtle reminders that so and so needs a visit or a call.
Dolores announced a few weeks ago that the time has come for her to retire. Her last day will come at the end of June. It will be a sad day in the church office. By then we should know who will take her place behind her desk, and that person will be wonderful, I am sure. But there will always be just one Dolores Prouty. I invite you all to join me in thanking God for her ministry in our midst for the past two decades.
(In the past year, we’ve begun to take better care of our lay employees, offering our full-time workers health and pension benefits, but Dolores missed out on all of this during her career as our church secretary. We are therefore encouraging those who feel so led, to make retirement gifts to Dolores to provide a bit of a “going-away” bonus. A basket for cards and such gifts will be available in the church office. Unfortunately, you may not receive a tax deduction for such gifts, and to avoid a payroll tax withholding on your gift, we recommend you give your gift directly to Dolores.)