Thursday was my final day as secretary at Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Durant. While I enjoyed calling myself the Church Lady, it was time to pass the torch to other able people.
Our council president asked me to write a reflections piece for the council to review at their next meeting. He told me I have a unique insight into the congregation and where it is going. Werner has no idea I have a blog, so it seemed a very out of the blue request.
I did not turn in a formal piece of paper with my reflections, because by the time they met on Thursday evening, it all seemed to be one big moot point. I had offered my insight on various occasions, as I am a vocal – yet tactful and respectful – person.
I took on the church lady position in October 2010. Controversy swirled from the moment I started, as I beat out the church organist for the job. And we also had major communication issues. Council members would ask me to relay information from one of them to another instead of contacting one another directly. I took a deep breath and dug in.
Since I have worked in HR and politics, I was up for the church battles. But I soon found one key difference that made the church job more difficult: I was a part time employee with no authority. And the council wanted to treat me as a full time employee who was in charge when convenient. Yes, I had my work cut out for me.
I have become better at saying no and setting boundaries during recent years. So I said no when no needed to be said. And I organized the office from top to bottom, both physically and procedurally. The best organizations empower their individual members. We had a top heavy system in place, which could not continue. Our pastor was stretched thin, and with new medical issues, would be stretched even more during my time there. And I was only a 20-hour-per-week employee. Other people needed to take ownership.
And, the hugest factor: giving was and is declining, and the operating budget was nearly as slim as it could go. It was time to propose a more significant cost savings. I told the council we needed to transition into a volunteer team of secretaries.
I did all I could to make the transition smooth. I helped to recruit three out of the five volunteers needed. I wrote a manual. I continued to streamline processes. I looped the pastor and council in on the entire thing and asked for their help. However, I couldn’t do it all on my own, and while pastor and I worked together on the recruiting front, the council did not.
The council is made up of volunteers also. And you know the saying, you can’t fire volunteers. But it’s disappointing when the leading volunteers do not take ownership and help to steer the ship in the right direction.
Instead of taking the five weeks to recruit and look at big picture items, some individual council members were more worried about who would print off their reports for the council meetings, and nonsense like that. I offered that each member could print off their own items for meetings, either from home or the church office. After all, the pastor did it. And I received a dazed and confused response.
So I plugged along during those five weeks, praying the bigger picture would come to light for people in the congregation. The office secretary job is not rocket science. It only requires a few committed people to take ownership for a few hours a week. Apparently that is a tough thing for others to accept.
I also grew annoyed with the little things during the final weeks. People worrying about a specific bullet point on a home visitors guide, as opposed to realizing we have been visiting more people in the past month than we have in the past several months. People concerned with a minor three line change to the bulletin, as opposed to inviting their friends and family to church on Sunday mornings.
My main take away from the church lady job is disappointment. I know many good people go to Gloria Dei and volunteer there. And I know most people have good intentions that get lost in the static. But the overall culture of refusing to see the forest through the trees was suffocating at times. Maybe that’s partly because I was a cog in the wheel rather than the driver of the vehicle for once. Then again, if I as a cog could see it and care enough to attempt change, why couldn’t others?
This is what some people would call an “AFGO” (another ____ growth opportunity). In some ways this job allowed me to be an outsider looking in on an organization facing tough choices. Yes, I was in the middle of it, but I was relatively new to the congregation and did not have an emotional stake in the church.
The job wasn’t all negative. I truly enjoyed the lasting friendship formed with my pastor. I met some neat members who bring so many talents to the congregation. And I learned that one person can only do so much – propose ideas, hold hands, provide a path – but it’s ultimately up to others whether they carry that forward after she has departed.