ASK FATHER: I don’t feel appreciated as a parish volunteer

From a reader…

QUAERITUR:

I volunteer a substantial amount of my time and talent to help our priests with sacramental prep, providing music for Mass (which alone takes up several hours), as well as helping to clean the rectory on a regular basis. Furthermore, I readily offer my assistance as needed for other tasks. I’ve been doing this for six years now, and not once have I been thanked by one of our priests for my efforts. Quite the opposite, if I need the priest’s time for something (ie: to discuss a spiritual matter) I have to practically beg for a half hour of their time (picture the woman begging our Lord for the crumbs that fall from the table, and that’s about how I feel when I need to ask for some of our priests’ time). Meanwhile other parishioners have no issues with getting time to meet with him.

I don’t get it. While I don’t do things for the sake of being thanked, the lack of appreciation I receive as well as being treated like a second-class parishioner, is really starting to take its toll on me. I get frustrated and want to tell my priest to clean his own house (I work full time and only get one day off a week as well and I still have to keep my living quarters clean) and do all my other daily tasks without anyone else helping me.

I make sure to graciously thank him for his time and sacrifices, but I still get treated like dung.

Why are some priests so ungrateful towards volunteers, and what would you recommend I do? I feel like stopping all services, but I feel God would be displeased with me, or that I would lose out on greater merits for Heaven. At the same time, I worry that this is just enabling him in his ungrateful behaviour.

Why are some priests ungrateful? For the same reasons that some bishops are ungrateful, some cardinals are snide, some popes are testy, and some lay people are annoying.

Original sin is at the heart of this, further complicated by personal sins.

We are all human.  We are all subject to the same struggles and temptations. All of us are capable, through God’s benevolent grace, of great acts of heroism. We’re also all capable of small acts of … well, of smallness.

I think I understand your situation. While not doing virtuous things for the sake of earthly reward, that occasional pat on the back and knowledge that what we’re doing is appreciated is a good thing.  I will be the first to admit that priests (and others) don’t always show proper gratitude.  This is why I say Masses for benefactors and I let them know through the blog.

What’s the best strategy?

Perhaps you can use the passive-aggressive approach: grouse and grumble a lot. Do your volunteer work with lots of sighs and looking at the clock. Gossip with your friends and neighbors about how lousy Fr. Q is. When asked what’s wrong, answer, resignedly, “Oh…. nothing.” Perhaps find a way to comfort yourself by overindulging in created comforts: food, booze, luxuries. Complain a lot, even when you’re alone. That should work.

Another, different, strategy would be to take the matter by the horns and go to Father directly.

“Father Q, I know that you have many things that are demanding your time. I, too, have a lot on my plate, but volunteering some time here at St. Dionysius the Pseudo-Areopagite Parish has always made me feel like I’m contributing to the work of the Church. Lately, however, I just don’t feel like I’m being appreciated. And it’s not that I’m looking for money, or any public recognition or anything, but if you could let me know if what I’m doing is of any value, I’d appreciate it. And if not, is there something else I could be spending my time on. I don’t want to keep doing something that isn’t in keeping with what you want the parish to be.”

About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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28 Responses to ASK FATHER: I don’t feel appreciated as a parish volunteer

  1. bombcar says:

    I know of a guy who spent 3 years working for a group of people, helping them in every way he could, and in appreciation they killed him.

  2. benedetta says:

    This ^ comment :0 ?!

  3. bombcar says:

    We celebrate His birthday soon. He’s pretty famous.

  4. Charles E Flynn says:

    Is it true that right after the Last Judgment, He is going to invite everyone who at appeared at His right hand to a retrospective exhibition of the furniture He made?

  5. un-ionized says:

    Oh, you people are just too funny. At first it seems “off” but I am also finding out that humor is a really helpful response to pain. Especially if you don’t really see a good solution yet.

  6. benedetta says:

    And, while it’s doubtful that the pastor is going to actually plot to kill him/her the above writer, let’s say they engage in some constructive dialogue and this priest says a lot of non-things in reply. I think it’s helpful to consider other options. There are likely a good number of other places which could use help and manage to display appropriate gratitude for it. Yes?

  7. bombcar says:

    That may be true – but I am thankful every day that God gives me grace even when I’m not at all displaying appropriate gratitude.

  8. VexillaRegis says:

    Oh dear, this is a very common thing in Catholic parishes. You are not alone! The priest sees you as a commodity or a slave (servants are paid). I would advise you to just stop doing any work for the priest and the parish. If he berates you for not showing up to clean or playing at Mass, just say something like “good morning to you too, Father!”
    There are better ways to gain greater merits for Heaven and, yes, you are enabling him in his ungrateful behaviour. Also do not seek spiritual counsel from that priest anymore.
    Be polite, detach and move on. You will see that he soon finds someone else to treat badly, that’s how this kind of people work. Make sure you are being extra nice to that unfortunate lady or gentleman.

    Peace.

  9. Fr. Bryan says:

    Excellent post! I give a state of the parish address every year in which I list off all of the parish volunteer groups and thank everyone. I also am looking to institute a volunteer appreciation dinner in the spring (perhaps an idea to bring to the pastor). Gratitude is so important, and yes, sometimes we priests do forget, or can start to take things for granted, or get mired in the many demands, or have succumbed to stress, or don’t feel appreciated ourselves sometimes. I’ve done it too, mea culpa. I appreciate the reminder via this post, especially at Christmastime, to remember to thank everyone who make the parish what it is. Reader, thank you for asking the question, and Fr. Z for the post. Please pray for your priests, for we priests are all too human.

  10. marthawrites says:

    I agree with VexillaRegis: cordially give the priest two weeks notice telling him that you have found that the needs of other organizations appeal to you at this stage in your life and you’d like to spend some of your time assisting them. No other explanation necessary. And then quit cold turkey–no subbing for an organist who doesn’t show up or a cleaning lady who is sick.

  11. Allan S. says:

    I see “marthawrites” beat me to it. The obvious solution appears when one considers the definition of the word “volunteer”.

  12. Hans says:

    My experience as a permanent deacon has been that parish priests are often so busy looking forward to the next thing they need to do — the next fire to put out as it were — that they often fail to look back and appreciate the help they receive in going forward. When it is brought to mind, they do appreciate what is done to help them. It’s not maybe the best reason in the world, but it seems more likely than that they don’t appreciate what you do. As Fr. Bryan says, priests remain human.

    As such, my suggestion would be different from some of those above: Don’t do less, but more. Ask if there is anything that you could be doing better. And ask Father if he would like to go to lunch (or breakfast after weekday Mass, or for coffee, or a beer, or something else that seems appropriate) ‘some time’. It might not (probably won’t) be possible just that day, but a little flexibility usually can make it happen.

  13. VexillaRegis says:

    Dear Hans, I think you missed the fact that the person who asked for advise is treated differently “like dung”! then other people. He/she should not be advised to expose her-himself to even more of this abuse. After six years things are not going to change for the better.

  14. quote bombcar: “I know of a guy who spent 3 years working for a group of people, helping them in every way he could, and in appreciation they killed him.”

    Amen to that! So, this means the questioner is in very good company, as well as those who are not appreciated by family, friends, and bosses.

    My Pastor is very appreciative and is always thanking people. He has thanked me for things that I never really considered helpful, but to him it was. Sometimes he gives me a mission that is fun and a joy for me but would be a pain in his neck, but shhhhh, don’t tell him. ;) I always get a thank you and a blessing.

  15. Hans says:

    Dear VexillaRegis, in fact I didn’t miss it. However, I took it from the context of the rest of the question to mean that Father’s behavior was neglectful, not abusive. There is an important difference.

  16. Matimus says:

    I have been a willing volunteer at our parish for many years and I find that some priests are very good at expressing gratitude and others are not. Our current priest is very good at it but that is not what keeps me going – I do it because our parish is my spiritual home and I enjoy being a part of what makes it work. However, I do give a little extra effort for a grateful priest. The only thing that bothers me about this account is the priest’s unwillingness to meet with this person. I wonder what is behind this?

  17. scholastica says:

    Oh boy! I’ve been here and sadly my family was alongside me. It was good for a while, then with a switch in leadership it was not so good. The new pastor suffered extreme clericalism. I finally realized that I had entered into a codependent relationship where I needed approval and appreciation that he was not able to offer. After coming to a head, I prayed fervently for him. He was resigned in a matter of weeks to a higher post. So, good for him and good for me. I learned a great deal in this for my own purification. Primarily this, “Look to Him that you may be radiant with joy and your face will not blush with shame.” If my intention was always to do the work in, with and for the Lord, it did not belong to me in the first place and I had no right to expect thanks or approval. If my eyes were always on Him, I would not suffer this disappointment. Moreover, I might see that he was allowing me to suffer the ingratitude of creatures with Him, thereby drawing me into His Sacred Heart where I could make a more perfect reparation.
    That said, we are not perfected yet, and for your own peace of mind it may be best to follow Fr. Z’s good advice and detach as necessary. In fact, Our Lord warns us not to” throw our pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, then turn and tear you to pieces”. This is what eventually happened to our family after the pastor left. Now two adult daughters don’t practice their Faith and one has estranged from her family, but not her Faith, after joining our attackers.
    Lord, Come and do not delay!

    Oh, and our work involved teaching (ccd)and sharing the traditional Faith and practicing Fr. Z’s brick by brick suggestions of buying nice vestments and altar appointments that the pastor wanted.

  18. It seems that our correspondent is spending all free time at the parish, after working a six-day work week. Overall that is unhealthy. He, or she, needs time to themselves, time for family and friends. I would think that helping with sacrament prep OR music for liturgy OR cleaning the rectory would alone be a generous donation of the balance of time available each week. Piling on so much work, even for the most grateful pastor, is perhaps not what Our Lord is asking.

  19. Fallibilissimo says:

    It’s right and just we call them “Father”. In this valley of tears down here God, in His mysterious wisdom, has chosen not to eliminate the effects of original sin, but He provided us a great salvific family in the Catholic Church. I once heard it said that “the good news about the Catholic Church is that it’s a family. The bad news is that it’s like a family”.

  20. APX says:

    philothea.distracted,

    It’s funny you say that. I’m also heavily involved in my Latin Mass Community. There seems to be this idea that singles have this plethora of free time to volunteer and devote to doing things for the Church that married people don’t have the time for (even though it’s often things for the married couples’ kids). Oftentimes, the only way to say “no” and have people accept your “no” is to get substantially angry, or they’ll give a guilt trip about how you don’t love our Lord because you’re not willing to sacrifice everything.

  21. Elizium23 says:

    I am uniquely blessed in my current parish that I am extremely active and I receive the appropriate stroking of my ego that I continue on, day after day.

    It was not so in my previous two. The first one, where I had my conversion and finally made my Confirmation at the tender age of 29, was extremely heterodox. I often blew out of Daily Mass with complaints about liturgical abuse or points of doctrine and I was loud about my complaints. For my troubles, I was harrassed by the priests and staff who didn’t want me because I didn’t fit their demographic and I was eating all their free food. It was a hate-hate relationship that ended badly.

    My second try ended in accusations of sexual harrassment and my suspension from ministry. I nearly lost hope at that point, and ceased active practice of my faith until I moved to a new apartment, where I found…LOVE.

    My new, current parish I have faithfully served for 11 years. My pastor is authoritarian but just and merciful. It’s clear he runs the show, and every good idea flows from him, not from us. In return for my service I am, well, I am asked to do more things. I take this as a golden seal of approval. He once said, behind my back, “Thank God for Elizium23.”

    Now I am having a perspective on my parents’ side of things out here in the Diocese of Ipsydipsy where I don’t live. Our parish suddenly experienced a rapid turnover of the pastorate, after an attempted parish merge which was aborted. My parents have been through the wringer. Both active volunteers, they are part of the demographic that is No Longer Priority with the new (interim) pastor and he has made sweeping changes that make it clear Mom and Dad are not so welcome anymore (his goal is, ironically, to be the Most Welcomin’ Parish in the West; the preferred demographic is getting concerts and wine and cheese). Mom’s charity program has been eliminated unceremoniously and the volunteers have only received insults for their 25 years of service. They are actively fomenting dissent, which I personally view as a suicide pact. But in this age of cars and transportation, anyone can freely parish-hop over to where they feel welcomed, and eke out a new fiefdom until the next clash happens and more dissent is generated.

    I don’t think volunteers should be in the business of being appreciated. I think we need to live lives of humble obedience and service. Our reward is not of this world, after all, and we shouldn’t be blowing trumpets before us as we give alms. On the other hand, if we are not shown appreciation in some way for what we do day in and day out, there is probably something dysfunctional going on. I don’t blame the pastors of my previous parishes for kicking me to the curb, my own behavior led to that. As volunteer laity, we have the right and privilege to change jobs under our own power. Don’t torture yourself with drudgery. Either enjoy what you do or move on.

  22. notenoughflair says:

    You cannot change your pastor but you can change yourself.

    In describing your situation, you didn’t once mention prayer or how your service was helping you to grow closer to God. If you are not growing in holiness and deepening your friendship to Jesus Christ through your prayer and service, you’ve got a serious problem. If your primary focus is on your relationship with Jesus, He will make clear your path, and you will be able to get more perspective on how He is calling you to best serve Him.

    If the devil can’t make you bad, he’ll make you busy. I agree with other commenters – put some distance between you and your duties.

    I suggest that you take a “liturgical vacation” for a few weeks to another parish – go to a different parish for daily Mass, or at the very least, go to a different Sunday Mass than you usually attend to get yourself out of this rut. I also highly recommend spending time in adoration in a quiet chapel where no one knows you. I have found that simply being with God alone in a “safe” environment where I know I will not feel the pressure or the distraction to work takes a huge weight off of my shoulders.

    Set some boundaries so that you can truly get that rest that you so very much need. Tell the parish staff that you’re taking a Volunteer Vacation. Don’t say, “If you can cover for me, I’m going to take a little break.” Say “I’m feeling very burnt out and I need to recharge, so I’m going on a volunteering vacation for two/three/four weeks. You’ll need to find someone to cover my duties during that time. Here’s a list of those duties, in case you need to know what to cover.” Put an automated Vacation Reminder on the auto-responder of your personal email that you use to correspond with parishioners and parish staff, and change your voicemail to add a vacation notice as well. And then don’t check your emails. Delete the mail app on your phone for a while if that’s what it takes to keep you from being sucked back in. You’d be amazed at how liberating it is to delete the mail app on your phone.

    I would also like to make a recommendation that you take some time during that break to read “Soul of the Apostolate” by Dom Jean-Baptiste Chautard, O.C.S.O. He says in the book that a lot of people who volunteer are channels – they let the grace flow through them, but at the end of the day, they are only conduits and have nothing left for themselves. What we need to do is to be a reservoir – we should be filled with the love of God to the point where we are full and our abundance flows out to the benefit of others. We continue to be filled, while others reap fruits as well. That book will give you a fantastic perspective on how to prioritize your spiritual life.

  23. bsjy says:

    Perhaps the volunteer activity and the sense of being unappreciated is the Holy Spirit inviting you to a deeper understanding of service, ministry, and gift. Saint Martha is a good model for all of us who give and give but are always keeping score. Jesus told her that Mary’s was the better gift.

    When I give something to another, I must let go of it. Otherwise, it is not a gift but a trade. Jesus gave us the model of gift: he died for both thieves hanging from crosses on either side of him and let each decide what to do with the gift. One took it gratefully while the other did not.

    Pray to the Lord to increase your charity such that you do your service to His glory and not for human acclamation. The way to salvation is through the Cross, and this is the shape of your personal cross. Pick up your cross and follow Him.

  24. WVC says:

    No offense to the original poster, but let’s remember we’re only getting one side of the story. This nameless pastor isn’t able to explain his own observations or reasons. The original poster may, in fact, have been treated “like dung.” There could, however, be more to the story than meets the eye. Is the original poster extremely clingy and needy? Did the pastor at one point attempt to be gracious and learn quickly that he could not supply the amount of emotional investment demanded from the original poster? There is a line between asking for “spiritual counseling” and “sucking up hours of someone else’s time so you can ramble about how horrible one’s own problems are” – and trust me, I have definitely run into the latter and learned to avoid/minimize contact as much as possible because I don’t always have 5 hours to spare. Is the original poster already involved in passive/aggressive behavior that wasn’t mentioned (and may not even be consciously aware that it’s passive/aggressive behavior) that has taught to priest to keep his distance less he get drawn into something he’d rather avoid?

    None of that may be true. The original poster may be perfectly representing the situation. Or maybe not. And there certainly are priests out there who are mean, small, and spiteful. However, here on the internet and not in real life, let’s not be too hasty before we throw the unknown pastor under the bus recognizing our very limited knowledge in this actual situation.

  25. VexillaRegis says:

    The original poster is perfectly free to hang his or her harp in the willow trees by the river.

    Thank you, Fr. Z and Fr. Brian, for being wise and good priests who remember that you are Christ’s vicars here on Earth and that you are here to confer Christ’s love to people, and to do it in a way that can be perceived by us. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  26. Joe in Canada says:

    Sometimes a priest has had the experience in the past of getting “trapped” by a parishioner who volunteers to do all sorts of things. Some parishioners are very needy and find a priest might be someone they can talk to – sometimes at length. Some priests subsequently become suspicious of other volunteers. I agree with the advice about taking a break. There are many needs. God does not ignore the widow’s mite, or the hard work this person has done.

  27. mysticalrose says:

    I always figure that priests, being men, are just like husbands: they forget to bring you flowers! But they tend to show their gratitude in other, more indirect, ways. In the case of my husband, folding the laundry. In the case of my priest, well-thought out homilies, reverent liturgy, etc. Sometimes we just have to receive the gift of someone else’s gratitude in the way that they are accustomed to giving it, and not according to our own preferences.

  28. sunbreak says:

    I think maybe the person who asked the question is doing too much and should cut back because it sounds like there’s resentment in the post. Trying to make yourself a right hand man/woman to the pastor ultimately doesn’t work very well for anyone. At my parish, and speaking as a volunteer, I can say that a person has to set boundaries as to how much he/she will do since the pastor would keep finding more work for the same volunteers to do all the time. It’s all very well to have these lofty thoughts of service to God and parish but if someone is neglecting their own household to do something for the parish, well, maybe something needs to change.