As the Gospel of Luke tells the story (4:16-30), Jesus returned to Nazareth after his baptism in the Jordan and his initial time in the desert. Purified by the three temptations and focused on his future ministry, he comes back to his hometown family and friends to speak clearly about his mission to Israel and to the larger world. As was his custom, we are told, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath. As a returning dignitary he was invited to read. He chose the text of Isaiah 61:1f, read the words aloud, handed the scroll back to the attendant and sat down to teach.…
We are told that someone had handed him the scroll for the reading and then returned it to its proper place of honor. No name or title is given. The task is simply done properly, efficiently, respectfully and without calling attention to him/herself (Lk 4:17).

That text almost always comes to mind when I have the occasion to telephone a parish office for information regarding a confirmation, funeral, event, address or the need to speak with one of the priests or parish staff members.
Over these many years I have always had a great deal of appreciation for parish secretaries, and whenever I have the need for information, I know I can call and receive prompt, courteous assistance.

“The voice on the phone” is always friendly, patient and helpful. Do they have a minute for a question? Of course they do!

These folks, hired for their endless tasks, are like God: day after day and week after week they keep trying to put the world in order.  

Often very kind but nameless individuals … they open the parish office on Mondays, make referrals to county resources, take and pass on messages, keep the records, answer the phone, cover for the pastor, sort the mail, find current, up-dated addresses or new phone numbers, run errands, check e-mails, explain the rules for Lenten fasting, console the sorrowful, calm the angry, help the worried, call the plumber, congratulate the newly engaged, type the Sunday bulletin, answer the door with a smile, keep the current list of the sick, hand out keys (and manage to retrieve them when necessary), send out certificates when requested, clean out the pamphlet rack, prepare parish mailings, keep the files up to date, empty waste baskets, make the coffee, clean up messes, take Mass intentions, schedule weddings, put chairs back in order, stay attuned to the gossip without becoming involved, order office supplies, make arrangements for meetings, provide a listening heart for the clergy, apologize for the errors, smile endlessly and finally close up shop at the end of the week.  

Always in the background like that synagogue attendant, they are ever present. They are like God.

They know when to be silent, even if they are rolling their eyes in disbelief!

Their formal job description is daunting in scope but unassuming in practice. Of course, like all jobs, there is always the final item, “… and all other duties as needed …” which in itself can fill the week in an instant. They keep parishes running as smoothly as possible amid the disaster of the day.

They often are the smiling glue that holds the community together. There must be a very special place for them in heaven.

These parish secretaries are the people who keep coming to mind whenever I read that passage in Luke about the nameless synagogue attendant who hands Jesus the scroll and puts it back, surely one of the biblical predecessors for parish secretaries.

Jeremiah had a secretary by the name of Baruch who even had to make a second copy of the famous prophetic scroll when an angry king tore up the first and burned it (Jer 36:32).  The anonymous synagogue attendant and Baruch are heavenly patrons par excellence!

Unfortunately, we take them for granted far too often, and never say “thank you” enough.

Theirs is the work of evangelization at ground zero. Their kind voices on the phone and friendly smiles at the door are simply indispensable. Thanks to each and all!