A PLEASANT THING happened this week. I received a lovely note from a parishioner saying thanks for some small thing that I had done, that had been particularly appreciated. After I read the note, I was aware how good I felt. I was in a great mood. Saying thanks is a good idea, I thought. It feels good to be appreciated. I really like receiving the note!
But that happy feeling didn’t last too long, because then I started thinking about the times I neglect to say thank you. As the rector of a busy congregation I am surrounded by a great number of deeply committed people who work hard to help our ministry thrive, and who do a wonderful job. I know in my heart how much I appreciate them, but I wonder if they always know it. Too often, I think, I leave them to guess.
I can share this candidly with you because I know that I am not alone in this. The more I think about it the more I become convinced that as a church we don’t do a very good job of expressing appreciation. We just aren’t all that good at saying “Thank you so much; you are doing a great job!”
I know what I am talking about here because I have been on both ends of this. Many times I have travelled great distances and worked hard presenting material that required a lot of work in preparation, and have failed to receive any word of appreciation for my efforts. So I think of the times that I have failed to express appreciation adequately; and also the times that I have failed to receive it, and I think, in the church, of all places, this should not be so.
It’s interesting isn’t it, that saying “thank you” is such an easy thing to do, but is equally such an easy thing to overlook. It requires no special talents or skills; it requires nothing in the way of resources; only a willingness to slow down a bit, to notice what is happening all around us and to express appreciation. But all too frequently, it doesn’t happen.
Of course we don’t mean to be ungrateful. It’s just that life is busy; one thing is hardly completed before we are on to the next, and the “thank yous” get lost in the transition. But none of us has ever met a single person who likes being taken for granted, and who doesn’t enjoy a sincere compliment or statement of appreciation in recognition of their efforts.
It is important then for us to work deliberately to develop and nurture a culture of appreciation and encouragement in our congregations. This in itself would go a long way towards helping transform many congregations into more appealing, more magnetic communities. Besides, if the purpose of congregational life and ministry is to help people become more like Christ, it is common sense that such change is more likely to occur in a climate of appreciation and encouragement than in one of oversight and neglect.
If this is going to take root it must begin with our leadership and then work its way through our whole structure. Bishops, you are incredibly busy people. You carry a huge load of responsibility and many people have unrealistic expectations of you. But it is important for you to make a point of setting aside time to write some thank you notes; to let your clergy know when you think they are doing a good job, and to say thank you – not just in general, but specifically and personally. This would be an incredible morale builder.
Clergy, take some time to write some notes to those in your congregation who are working so hard, and who occasionally get to wondering whether anyone is noticing, and whether anyone cares. Be specific; tell them that you are aware of what they are doing, the sacrifice they are making, and that you appreciate it.
All of us, clergy and laity alike, can pause today to think of someone to whom we should say a special thank you, and then to do it while it is fresh on our minds. And this Sunday, (and every Sunday) when we go to church, we can slow down long enough to look around and notice all the people who are working so hard in various ways to help our congregations to thrive. And we can say, “thank you.”
So think about the musicians and the work they have put into preparing; and the youth workers, and the teachers in the children’s program, and the greeters, and the chancel guild, and the sexton, and the wardens, and the coffee hour hosts, and the care givers, and on and on. And as they go about their work, seeking to serve the Lord, say thank you and tell them their efforts are appreciated.
And just to bring it all full circle, take a moment to write a note of appreciation to your clergy, and clergy and laity, to your bishop. Tell them you appreciate their hard work and faithfulness, and that they are in your prayers. What a difference this could make across the entire life of our church and each of our congregations.
So let’s be more intentional in developing a culture of appreciation and encouragement in the life of our entire church. Surely this will bring glory to God. And to all of you from Trinity, Streetsville who are reading this column. Thanks so much for your partnership in ministry. You are a truly wonderful congregation. Canon Harold Percy is rector of Trinity Anglican Church, Streetsville, Ont., and the author of several books on evangelism.