(This was written on national secretaries’ day in 2005, and we decided to hold it back for this year. The events mentioned are dated, but the points are timeless.)
Today is the one day every pastor in our city wants to be a church secretary. On this day each year, our association provides a luncheon for all secretaries of Baptist churches in metro New Orleans, and today’s will be held in Commander’s Palace, only one of the greatest restaurants in the world. To be exact, we pay half and the churches pay the other half of the cost of thirty dollars each, not bad for where we’re going. The room holds 85 people; we had no trouble with slackers not getting their reservations in.
Dr. Rhonda Kelley, professor, author of a number of books, and wife of the president of our beloved New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, will be the featured speaker. She is an ideal speaker but she will carry another positive when she stands up to speak today. Rhonda knows what it is to live in the shadow of big persons and to labor to make someone else successful–which of course, sounds like a church secretary’s job description. Her growing up years, she was known as the daughter of Bob Harrington, the chaplain of Bourbon Street. For almost all her adult life, she’s been known as the wife of Chuck Kelley, the president of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. Yet, she is really somebody, well worth knowing, an accomplished individual, a godly woman.
Great restaurant, excellent speaker, good food, impressive atmosphere. However, you might be surprised to know the star of these luncheons is the fellowship.
Church secretaries usually dwell in their little cubbyholes from 9 to 5, and go home to their families. Rarely do they get a chance to venture outside and meet their counterparts in other churches. That’s why events like today’s luncheon are so well attended and long remembered.
Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to speak at a number of statewide Baptist secretaries’ functions, primarily in Louisiana and Alabama, and at the national meetings in our two conference centers, Glorieta and Ridgecrest, where 700 or more will be in attendance. The truth is these ladies do not need a program or guest speakers. They are so delighted to get together with each other and share and learn they would do just fine if you put them in a room and locked the door and came back three days later.
Honestly, I have no idea how I ever got on the circuit of these secretarial meetings. But as one who loves to speak, loves to tell stories, and loves to be with fully alive, energized people, this is my favorite group. No one in any church is sharper than those ladies who “man” the church office and keep the wheels of ministry whirring. They pick up on every nuance of every story, laugh heartily at every joke, and respond quickly to every urging of the Spirit. I would gladly pay them for the experience of addressing their gatherings.
Often, I begin by telling them I used to be a secretary. If there is a white space or blackboard handy, I’ll write something in Gregg shorthand asking “if you can read this, raise your hand.” In a room of a hundred women, one or two hands will tentatively lift. Shorthand is a dying art.
I tell them that my secretarial skills paid my way through college, and that for two years after, before coming to the seminary and while pastoring a little church on the side, I worked as a secretary for the production manager of a cast iron pipe company in Birmingham. I did it all–worked the teletype, took dictation, wrote letters, answered the phone, even emptied the boss’ spittoon. He didn’t smoke cigars, he chewed them. But, hey, I grew up on the farm cleaning out stables and pigpens. Emptying a spittoon is child’s play.
Secretaries are always interested in knowing the origins of their position. I tell them facetiously that it got started when churches realized they had so many secrets they needed someone to safeguard them. They created the position, appropriately called “secret-aries.”
In the courts of kings like David and Solomon, various officials did their jobs. One of the titles of these workers was “recorder,” found, for instance, in I Kings 4:3. (The Hebrew word is “mazkir,” meaning “to remind.”) The recorder functioned as a secretary–taking notes on what the king did and said as well as other occurrences in court. When an individual was brought back into court, the recorder dug through his notes for the last appearance of this fellow and reminded the king of the details. When the royal leader met with another king, the recorder filled him in on their last visit, the treaties made, the promises given.
A royal function. Secretaries. Perhaps this is why important personages in our governments today still carry that title. We have our Secretaries of Defense, State, Education, and Human Services.
James L. Sullivan led our Baptist Sunday School Board in the pre-Lifeway era when his title was “Executive Secretary.” His daughter Lynn Porch, a classmate of mine at New Orleans Seminary and now in Heaven, told me he once had a letter from someone asking for information which he answered. A few days later, the same person wrote an irate letter to Sullivan, saying, “I didn’t want to hear from a secretary–I wanted the top man!”
I’ve been on the phone this week trying to get a pastor of a large church in another state to our area for a stewardship conference. I had seen where he led such a conference in Louisville and felt that we needed one here. I reached his secretary and left her word for him to call me. When three days went by without a word, I called my counterpart at the associational office in Kentucky and asked about how his conference with that pastor had gone. “Fantastic,” he said. “I recommend him completely.” I told him I was waiting for the pastor to return my call. He said, “Oh, don’t do that. I never did talk to the pastor. His secretary handles all these things for him.” Ah. I should have known.
A few minutes later I was on the phone. When the secretary answered, I identified myself and said, “You know what I just learned? I learned I don’t need to speak to your pastor to get him to my city for a stewardship conference. You can handle that for me.” She laughed and said, “Right.”
As I say, I should have known. That’s what good secretaries–they call themselves ministry assistants these days–have been doing from the beginning.
There is a line in Scripture somewhere that tells us the person who is under authority actually carries the authority of his superior. Case in point. Almost every president we’ve had in my lifetime has had brothers. Some were men of integrity and accomplishment, such as the Eisenhower siblings. Others were buffoons who brought embarrassment on the resident of the White House, men like…. Well, you probably know. None of these men, however able or incompetent, carried the authority of the president of the United States. But the ambassador or secretary of some government department who was acting on his behalf, that person carried the president’s authority in their words and actions.
The best way to honor our secretaries, of course, is not just with a nice luncheon and the rest of the afternoon off. There’s nothing wrong with this and a lot good, but it’s not enough by itself. Give her a living wage and good working conditions and the respect every faithful servant deserves.
Secretaries are interested in knowing that Isaiah used their word, “mazkir,” in another context in Isa. 62:6-7. “You who remind the Lord, give Him no rest, and take no rest for yourselves until He establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.”
How interesting to think of prayer as “reminding the Lord.” When we come before Him in prayer, we may recall to Him a) all the things He has done, b) the promises He has made, and c) the circumstances of our situation. Jesus assured us that the Father knows the things we have need of before we ask. (Matthew 6:8) All we’re doing is reminding Him.
No one reminds as well as secretaries do. We could all learn a great lesson from them.