Creating an appreciation that's appreciated

What do you do to recognize those people in your parish who have offered their time and talent (and sometimes even their treasure) to support the ministries of the church? These may be volunteers or they may be staff, but whether paid or volunteer, lay or clergy, good and generous work deserves thoughtful appreciation.

Here are a few thoughts on creating an appreciation that is appreciated.

1) Make sure your appreciation doesn’t involve work for the honorees! This may seem obvious, but it is amazing how many times people will host a party for an individual or group, and at the end, the person or group being honored finds themselves involved in the clean-up.

The “extra work” may be extra time. Are you asking your honorees to go out of their way so that you can honor them at the time most convenient for you? Always ask yourself, what is it they would like? What will work for them? I still cringe when I think of the time my father, sister, and I planned a Mother's Day for my mother with all sorts of things we thought would be fun while my mother was standing right there and never once asking her what she would like to do.

We may have very good intentions when we honor people; but these intentions go awry when we make plans based on what would make us feel good, rather than what would make those we honor happy.

2) Be creative! There’s nothing wrong with a cake at coffee hour. But admit it: there’s nothing really special about it either. People will give a minute of attention at best to the honorees before returning to their coffee and conversations. So ask yourself: What else can you do? It may be different from what you've done before.

One of the most amazing celebrations we hosted at my former parish for the Sunday School teachers was the annual Teachers Cruise! Living near SF Bay helps, of course, but we asked one of the parishioners who owns a boat to take us out on the water for an afternoon. We brought some bagels and goodies for everyone to eat and gas money for the captain and away we went! The thing that was so great about it was that this group of people that normally scurries about, looking for ways to help could not do so. There was nothing for them to do but sit back and enjoy. Think about what resources you have, and remember that you are not confined to the church building or religious activities. Speaking of which…

3) Your clergy really don’t want a book on spirituality, thank you. Imagine, if you will, that you are a manager. Your direct reports say they have a special gift to thank you for your work, and it is…a book on management! It does make you wonder what kind of message they are trying to send.

Now, there is no doubt that clergy are (more often than not) interested in spirituality. However, I can tell you from personal experience that I have received many a book that I have never opened and many a stole that I have never worn. I know people do it because they think that’s what you’re supposed to give a priest. I’m here to tell you: your priest probably wants something else.

Going back to our hypothetical manager: what do you tend to get that kind of person as an appreciation? Something related to an activity they like outside of the office. Music, gardening, dining…pay attention to what they actually like to do! Go beyond the spirituality box. Do something different, like the friend of mine who told a new ordinand she’d gotten him “something in red.” When he opened the box, it wasn’t a new stole; it was a beautifully aged steak!

4) Make appreciation an ongoing practice A big celebration is wonderful and a necessary marker at the end of a year or other milestone. But remember to thank one another for the small things, too: all the extra efforts that make your program better; the brilliant suggestion; the additional assistance. A phone call, an email, a card—taking the time to notice and then tell someone they have done a great job will make a big difference. Noticing and focusing on the small, good things can change the tone of a program from one of criticism and negativity to one of enthusiasm and energy.

Our acts of appreciation are, in fact, acts of love. Let us be as loving and generous towards one another as we can, by the grace of God, and see what God will make of it.

What ways have you found to show your volunteers and staff that you love them and are grateful for what they do?