WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Wendy Whittleton says she has prayed with a person over the phone and had personal conversations with those reaching out for help.
Father Roger Rouleau says he is blessed to have a good parish secretary in Roseanne Bingham.
"A good secretary is invaluable to the priest in fulfilling his ministry," said Father Rouleau, pastor at Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Vermilion.
"She is the first greeter to anyone who comes into the parish. She's the one there throughout the day while I run away to the schools or the care homes. The secretary provides that steady base throughout the week, and maintains the fort while I'm in and out of the office," said Rouleau.
Anyone who calls or sets foot in the parish is her responsibility. There are many things that would not get done if not for her. When Rouleau took a week off in January, Bingham kept the ship afloat.
While priests, deacons, youth ministers and pastoral assistants would certainly label their roles in the parish as a ministry, does such a term apply to the parish secretary?
"Her whole job is to the service of the community, and to some extent she ends up being the face of that community because she is the first greeter. There is a ministry of welcoming others," Rouleau said.
Bingham agreed, saying, "It is a ministry to a point because you are dealing with people, and sometimes you deal with their emotions."
Bingham does bookkeeping, recordkeeping, answers phone calls and does general office work. The food bank operates out of the church, so she fields calls for that too. In today's world of automated phone services, it is pleasant to have a personal connection with the parish secretary.
Earlier this year, the church was without a caretaker. She and other parishioners took on extra duties, including shoveling snow and vacuuming the carpets.
"You learn patience and you learn to be very conscious of other people's feelings. You learn compassion there, and I think that's all really helped me in my job here," she said.
Her husband Larry is a research coordinator in the agricultural sciences department at Lakeland College. They moved to Vermilion 12 years ago. A perk of her job is that she gets to interact with a lot of people.
"That's really rewarding because you get to talk to them one on one, and you get to know their families. That's what I like the most about it, plus I still have my time alone when I get things done," said Bingham, who plans to retire at the end of June.
Janet Klasson has been the secretary at Blessed Sacrament Parish in Wainwright since September.
She enjoys the different experiences every day brings. Expecting the unexpected is part of her ministry.
Klasson does everything from registering newcomers and paying bills to liaising with the school, and preparing the bulletin and prayer intentions.
Previously she worked as an admin assistant, has familiarity with church life as a practising Catholic and was actively involved with parish council for many years.
"All of those things I make use of. It is quite a bit different from a normal secretarial job. I think it would be difficult to hire someone off the street who wasn't a practising Catholic to do this job because of the understanding of parish life and having lived it," said Klasson.
While her daily responsibilities are common to secretaries in any secular setting, being in a church is poles apart from working at a downtown business.
People come to the church in search of answers to many questions. Hers is often the first face they see, the first voice they hear.
"You get a lot of people coming in who are grieving. You touch the lives of other people, and you have to be the face of compassion in a lot of ways," said Klasson.
Overall, she loves her profession. She said it's lovely to be working right in the church building. At the start of each day she can ask for a blessing and say a prayer.
"That's something I've never had before. If I ever have trouble balancing something, I'll go in and say a little prayer, and pretty soon I've got my problem solved. The presence of the Lord is here," she said.
Another reward is being witness to the otherwise hidden acts of piety and charity in the parish. For example, the sacristans will work behind the scenes completing necessary tasks. Someone will come in and wash the kitchen tea towels or complete miscellaneous errands.
The job is busier than she ever imagined. Even though she was in the parish for many years, on parish council and finance council, she did not know what the job entailed – but now she has a firsthand appreciation for the work of a parish secretary.
Wendy Whittleton says her job as the office manager at Holy Trinity Parish in Spruce Grove/Stony Plain it's more freeing than a standard office job.
She has to be a loving, hospitable presence to those who come in. There are times when she has prayed with someone over the phone or had deeply personal conversations with others who are reaching out for help.
"If someone is coming in who has just lost somebody, then you offer that hug or condolence. I do look at this job as a ministry."
When something needs to be done in a smaller parish, volunteers are always plentiful. But a major challenge for larger parishes, including Holy Trinity, is finding enough volunteers. In today's hectic, bustling society, she said people seem more willing to pay to have something done for them than to put in the time to do it themselves.
"With the rural, farming community churches, people have that pitch-in-and-help mentality."
"As you grow, that's one of the biggest challenges – getting people to feel that this is their parish, this is their family and you've got to help out with the chores," she said.
"It's just like being a mom. How often do you see the rewards? You only see the rewards after the kids are grown and you see that they turned out pretty good.
"When I see the things I've influenced or been involved with turn out well – that's my reward."