Monday, November 08, 2010

I need someone competent

Some time ago, I worked for a church supply company. One day a priest came in and when I asked him if I could help him, he said, "I don't think so. I need to talk with someone who knows that they are doing".  I assured him that I was very capable and wouldn't he please at least tell me what he was looking for. He repeated that he needed to talk with someone competent. I said, "I am the only salesperson here. Can I at least try to help you?" Father then said, "You wouldn't know anything about what I need." I went on a hunch and said, "The only other person here is our warehouse guy?" He looked a little embarrassed and said, "Yes, I bring him out". 

I went into the warehouse and asked the only other employees to come out. He was a 20 something man who worked as our truck unloader. He knew absolutely nothing about what we sold. When he arrived, Father said, "Finally, someone who can help me". He took a candlestick out of a plastic bag and said, I need unbleached candles to fit this. The unloader looked at him with a puzzled expression and turned to me. He said, "I have no idea, she's the candle expert here". and walked back into the warehouse. 

Father looked bewildered as I informed, after just glancing at the candlestick for a moment, that he needed a short 4 candle (7/8 inch candle with a self fitting end). I recommended a short 4 candle (7/8 x 12) and told him that they are called short 4's because 4 of them weighs a pound and candles used to be sold by the pound. 

That was my first experience with the inequality and lack of respect I would receive throughout my time as a parish worker. Time and time again I encounter people who assume I know little or nothing because of my age, gender, or title. Believe it or not, I am more adept than my boss when it comes to pastoral theology. I also have more experience in parish administration. There is a reason why he hired me to do my job and it's not because he felt bad for me. I am here to help him do his job. 

Don't get me wrong, Father is a wonderful priest with a great many talents, but like the rest of us, he isn't perfect and he can't be everywhere. That is why he hired a parish staff to do the things he cannot do and to help him and round out his abilities. 

My primary job is to teach and to administer the faith formation programs of the parish. I recruit and train teachers and ensure that your children are safe. I plan the curriculum, sacramental liturgies, and retreats. I teach specialized classes for your children as well as for the parents. I also determine whether a child is ready to receive a sacrament. 

Still, parents call the rectory and tell me that they must speak with the pastor for countless things which fall under my jurisdiction, such as: calling to say their children will be absent and to ask about the time of classes.

Other parents, refuse to attend workshops when they discover that a layperson will be giving the instruction. Trust me, there is a better chance that you will understand and not fall asleep if I teach the workshop that if he teaches it. Father knows this! That's why he asked me to teach it. My instruction will also be accurate. Father knows that too! That is why he asked me to teach it.

Even the students think I am unqualified to answer their questions. I visited the 10th grade class and one of the students was so disappointed because Father didn't come to answer her question even though he had said that he would. She was shocked when I asked if it was something she could ask me. The teacher even said, "I don't know if you can answer this question". Just as in the candle conversation, I said, "I can try, but I can answer most questions or at least get the answers for you next week". The girl asked one of the most common questions possible and I gave a thorough teaching. I found out later that Father was unsure of how to answer the question and was trying to buy more time. 

I shouldn't have to hand out a copy of my curriculum vitae when introduce myself in order to be taken seriously as a professional. In fact, I would rather not talk about my qualifications. Still, if your must know, I have over 15 years experience in parish administration and religious education, I graduated summa cum laude with a degree in ministry from a well respected orthodox Catholic college and I am currently maintaining a perfect GPA as I work toward a graduate degree in theology. I have worked with bishops and cardinals from around the world and I have even been called on to assist in the Vatican.

Don't let my age, my gender, or my lack of a clerical collar fool you. I know what I am doing. I know there are plenty of people working in parishes who don't have any business being there, but at least listen to what they say before you jump to conclusions.