Monday, November 28, 2005

On behalf of Church Administrators, custodians, and sextons everywhere

Congregational administrative support, administrators, sextons, and other behind the scenes people who do the day in and day out labor that allows us to have our time thinking about deep things and inventing new curricula and saving the world through love, peace, and justice get the short end of the stick way too often.

Instructions for Working with your Support Staff. A Guide for DRE's, Ministers, and lay people in congregations.

1. Assume Good Will. Your support staff intend to support the work of the congregation. They did not intentionally screw with your phone system, email accounts, pile of stuff you left in the corner for next week, or reimbursement checks. If an error happened, it was an ERROR.

2. Recognize their knowledge. The only people in your congregation who have a complete grasp of the multiplicity of policy issues involved in anything that someone wants to do is the staff. The committee chair that wrote the policy on publicizing announcements before worship is now on the activities committee, and no one else on the publicity committee even knows there was ever a written policy. (See also #6)

3. Do not even think of scheduling an event before checking it out with the staff. There is nothing more that should need to be said about this. But of course, there is.
Just because your calendar you got in your newsletter doesn't have anything listed for Saturday afternoon, does NOT mean the building is available on Saturday afternoon. It could be carpet cleaning day, it could be an outside wedding rental, it could be that the Coming of Age class is having a sleep over that wasn't open to the public and so was not on the calendar. The use of the kitchen is not auotomatically ok.

Related: Your cousin's friend Johnny doesn't get to have his wedding here for free just because you said you'd be the official responsible person and use your key instead of having him do a contract through the ofice. Also true for our not-UU non-profit but really important events, for our book signings, our carpentry classes, our free one time legal advice clinics, or our group education classes that are really an opportunity for people to see what a great therapist/coach/teacher you are so they can hire you privately.

Related Related: If you give up a reserved room because you're going to have an event in your living room instead, don't change your mind back and expect to have the room back after it's been given away.

4. The office staff's desks don't become public property on Sundays when they aren't in.
The computer has a password because there is private financial information in it, as well as emails of a personal nature from parishoners to the office. Don't hack the password just because you want to print the lyrics to this is my favorite song and I want to read it during Joys and Concerns and forgot them at home. The markers belong in the marker drawer, the lables are for mailings not name tags, the expensive paper that was hidden below the desk is for Canvass, not your Sunday School fold-up activity, and File Folders are not a substitute for oak tag posters.
And used tissues go in the TRASH.

5. It is no one's job to clean up your half-distributed flyers and keep them for you till next week. If you don't clean them up yourself, they will be thrown away. Then don't get mad that your flyers aren't around, and don't yell at the office staff for how much paper they use when you look at the budget at the end of the year.
Related: The xerox machine is not there for your christmas letters, poems, or kid's cute picture.
Related Related: If you're going to sneak a copy, and the copier jams, don't be asking the office staff to spend 30 minutes to fix it for you.

6. There is no staff person who can read your mind just because you did something a certain way last year. You have to ask for what you need, completely, and well ahead of when you need it. This is especially for committee chairs who have not changed committees.

7. It is not the Sexton's job to wash your dishes. and yes, just these two cups does matter.
Related: It won't kill you to put the extra toilet paper roll ON the roll instead of balancing it on the edge.
Related Related: Running a vacuum after you give the kids sprinkles for art would be a nice kindness.

8. It is not the administrator's job to explain to you personally every little decision s/he makes. That falls to his/her supervisor. What you can do is ask questions...

Always refer to #1 - Assume Good Will, and to #2 - Recognize their knowledge

Why didn't you [fill in here with My Way]....
Didn't you know that [fill in here with My Idea or special knowledge that you obviously don't have] ...
You can't [fill in here with What I Didn't Like] ...

I was surprised by that...
I thought we usually...

Thanks for letting me know. I didn't realize that before. I'm sure there was an error, or that there is something I don't know about our policies that meant that [thus and so happened,] if I have questions about that, to whom should I address them?

Add more?


Jess said...

Brilliant, simply brilliant. This applies to University administrators, too, in soooo many ways.

I would add a caveat - Small Kind Gestures are always appreciated, especially words like "please" and "thank you" and "I'm sorry." Written thank you's after the staff has gone out of their way to help you are even better.

Cranky Cindy said...


Also, if you stop in without an appointment, chances are good that the staff are busy. One should walk into the office, pause, and wait for the staff to finish what they are doing before announcing your needs.

"Excuse me, when you have a minute? I can come back later if necessary." is a good way to go. The staff will rarely tell you to go away, but they'll be grateful forever that you offered.

ALSO - your desire to talk about your new nephew, your difficult holiday, or your new idea for a UU group does not mean that the staff desires to be the sounding board for this. Your thursday afternoon free time does not mean that the staff have an equal amount of free time.

PeaceBang said...

I know you'll all want to kill me for saying this, but I just want to (1) fall on my knees and thank the Lord Buddha for our church staff -- and that means our Office Manager, our Secretary and our Sexton -- who are the most delightful, competent, conscientious and sweet people you could ever ask to work with and
(2)express my gratitude that 99% of the congregation wouldn't THINK of doing any of the crappy things you've listed. It never ceases to amaze me, four years into this settlement, and I have big gooey stars in my eyes as I write this.

I must have been very very good in another life to deserve this, or maybe it was just having no office staff (and hell, no office!!) for three years that made me karmically worthy to inherit this church and appreciate it.

You can slap me now, I'll stop.

Happy Cindy said...

Hey hey now! There's no slapping on my blogs!

I couldn't do my job w/o our incredible staff. I agree with your #1 above, except MY co-workers are the most delightful, competent, conscientious and sweet people you could ask for :-D

WOW, your congregation is so well behaved! 99%? Just checking, did your staff read the post and come up w/ the 99% or are the gooey stars in your eyes blinding you?!? ;-)

Really, in my congregation, no one person does all of the above listed inappropriate and unacceptable behaviors, and they don't happen on a daily basis. It gets spread out among people who just don't understand the context their requests go into. Stuff like walking in and interrupting is more common than wanting to rent the hall for free. We have a lot of outside rentals that are included here too, so who knows what the percentage is... no one actually keeps a log of rude behavior.