For many ELCA congregations, their respective synod office/staff seemingly only emerge when they want money or something else is wrong. Now, thankfully, Divinity and other communities of faith have developed enough of a working relationship with the wider church, recognizing that more of a Gospel-impact can be made with the help of other children of God near and far away. And so, we can see the Bishop or one of the Assistants to the Bishop and not automatically cringe, as is the case for others who may not have the…most positive experiences with higher-ups in our Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Of course, many of those with not the…most positive experiences will respond with the…not-so-Christ-esque-love of the angry phone call: to vent all possible frustrations over pastoral transitions or budget issues or some disciplinary matter or the future of the entire church as they once knew it. Because, of course, it is always someone else’s fault, including the Bishop or one of the Assistants, whenever something goes wrong inside their home church building walls. Nevertheless, logic and common sense and love and compassion and peace and understanding and all the good Christ-esque things tend to go out our soul windows when just enough anger and frustration and hostility and outrage and sadness and despair attempt to take over the entirety of our being.

And so, when the stop-at-nothing phone call is made, it isn’t usually the Bishop or one of the Assistants who answer, at first. It is usually the synod equivalent of parish administrator, who not only serves as the initial, “Hello! How may we help you?” but as the initial line of loving and patience-beyond-understanding defense. For many years, that vital role has been filled by Sony Richardson-Gilroy, who will conclude her ministry with our synod office at the end of this month. Granted, the overwhelming majority of ELCA Lutherans in our Northeastern Ohio Synod have probably never needed to make a phone call or send an email to her, regardless of the emotional tone to it, because so much about organized religion operation is taken care of by people we often take for granted, allowing so much of ministry to run much smoother than we realize it could go otherwise.

It makes me wonder that as many home church buildings have at least one wall dedicated to pictures hanging to display all the clergy who served that congregation, if there should be another wall dedicated to the parish administrators, who often played (and continue to play) the most essential role in making our church world go round. And it doesn’t stop with answering a few phone calls and emails and formatting bulletins and coordinating building usage and maintaining some sense or order amidst the chaos that can ensue with volunteers serving in ministry. They often serve as the initial line of loving and patience-beyond-understanding defense. They often serve as the first glimpse into the grace of Jesus Christ, as the first peek into a church that is meant to be built on awe-inspiring hospitality to any who need even just a little bit of hope amidst a world seemingly overrun with anger and frustration and hostility and outrage and sadness and despair. The parish administrator often serves as the opening window into the slightest ray of hope.

Maybe you never needed to contact a Sony in Cuyahoga Falls or a Lori in Parma Heights, and yet, our church world kept (and keeps) going round. Granted, every once in a while, clergy may help with that, and even more so with numerous other volunteers working behind the scenes. But so many precious intricacies need taken care of for the rest of us to focus on our respective parts in the body of Christ. Precious intricacies that would be overlooked otherwise and may not be attended to with the same loving patience-beyond-understanding care. So, for the Sony’s and Lori’s and countless other most faithful servants who have tremendously impacted the inside of church buildings and beyond more than we could ever imagine, thanks be to God, indeed!

In Christ,
Pastor Brad