Sixty-five church secretaries enjoyed shopping, dining, and soaking up words of wisdom from a variety of speakers at the annual meeting of the Holston Conference Secretaries Association.
But some said they especially enjoyed talking with other church secretaries, who understand what it's like to be the administrative captain of a busy ship.
"We have the same problems and situations," said Susan Hall, administrative assistant at First Pulaski United Methodist Church, Wytheville District. "People say to me, 'You're a church secretary? What do you do all day?' I say, 'You need to come and spend a day with me.'"
Meeting Sept. 17-19 at Oak Tree Lodge in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., the all-female group learned about cell phone bills and salary worksheets from Conference Controller Rick Cherry. They were advised by the Rev. Ron Matthews, executive assistant to the bishop, to "choose very carefully the mountain upon you wish to die." They talked about copying machines that don't work, volunteers who don't show up, and preachers who don't show up, either.
Peggy Bishop, administrative assistant at Trinity (Greeneville) UMC, said she appreciated speaker messages emphasizing the "Offer Them Christ" theme and John Wesley's three simple rules: Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.
"We see people who are happy, and people who are bereaved," Bishop said. "My day is very busy, so I have to make a decision: Do I hit the eject button, or do I need to listen with my heart?
"Sometimes we have to share the laughter and the tears," she said. "But if we have Wesley's three simple rules in place, everything else will fall in place."
The Rev. Amy Cook, pastor at White Oak UMC in Chattanooga District, preached on the final day and served Holy Communion.
"I know enough clergy peers to say, 'God bless you,' because pastors are crazy," she said to laughter.
Cook then emphasized a critical component of the church secretary's job: "You are the first voice they hear and often the first face they see," she said. "You are the introduction to the church, so Christ be with you."
That's what Rhonda Stearley said only moments before, when asked about her most important responsibility:
"In my position -- at the front desk -- I have to set an example for the rest of the world," said the administrative assistant at First Sevierville UMC, Maryville District.
Susan Hall made the same point:
"Most of the time, I am the first person that people speak with on the telephone," she said. "The way I treat them shows them a lot about the church. I feel like I'm the ambassador of the church."