If you were a parishioner of mine, you might hear a variation on one of the following messages after your turn as a committee member, liturgical minister, or other parish role:
“Thank you for your involvement today. I appreciate it.”
“Thank you for the good work. I really appreciate it.”
“What an excellent job! Thank you so much for what you do!”
On the surface, each seems an endorsement and a dollop of praise wrapped into one, but they are not equal statements. Far from it.
I reveal a secret to many of my present and former parishioners who tune in here, but it reflects the truth of a situation and my own long evolution of cultivating appreciation for others. Is that cloudy enough? Let me explain.
The first quote is an expression of gratitude. A parishioner may hear it from me, but there is no judgment on the quality of the task performed. I may well have thought the person did a terrible job, was a complete distraction, and I may have wrung my hands or clenched my teeth. But involvement itself and the motivation behind it are basically good things. So I thank the person. But without comment on quality.
The second quote has a little more behind it than a simple thanks. It may have occurred to me a lector or psalmist or committee member does a consistently good job and there’s a nice level of quality involved. The person may be a first-time cantor or Communion minister, so maybe it’s not up to the standard of others, but relatively speaking, the volunteer has come out of herself or himself to do their best. I might not praise the effort if it came from someone else, but a move from inactivity to action is my definition of “good” work.
If you’ve done something that moved me, I will get specific and state it first. (“Excellent job”) Then I will add emphasis to the thank-you. (“So much”)
My wife has long seen this method in operation. She thinks sometimes I might give undue encouragement to people who think I like what they’ve done when really I’ve just expressed gratitude. I do believe that gratitude is a quality that should be cultivated, and not just for church ministers who handle volunteers and other assistants.
I note some clucking about the recent Vatican statements of congratulations to the president-elect. While I haven’t read the telegrams, the pope is possibly engaging in basic diplomatic niceties. A congratulatory note is not an endorsement. In other prelates, perhaps, there is more enthusiasm. I might be pleased if a tone-deaf cantor steps aside for someone else, even enthusiastic to a degree. Relief would be my strongest emotion.
My dear wife is correct that people don’t always hear my gratitude in the same way I render it. That’s not my problem: listen to my words, not what you want to hear. There’s another method for coaching and mentoring people, guiding them in good liturgical or spiritual practice. That’s a topic for another post.