Southeast Christian Church receptionist Sue Ann McSwain once was told a woman left a delivery for her.
“It was some flowers and the card said, ‘Our phone conversation that we had yesterday, I just wanted to let you know that it got me through the worst day of my life,’” McSwain said.
That is just a snapshot of countless conversations McSwain has had over the past 20 years. She retired last week.
“I feel very honored that God chose me for this position,” McSwain added. “God gave me so much confidence in myself to what all I could do. Being a receptionist on the phone is truly a ministry because you are ministering to people on the other end. He has used me every day and that’s just a gift. I will miss that.”
Whenever anyone called (502) 253-8000 at Southeast’s Blankenbaker Campus, McSwain was one of the people there to answer the call.
“You never really know who’s on the other end of the line,” she said.
When callers had a question, comment or concern, McSwain did her best to answer that question or direct them to a specific person or ministry department.
Connections Center Assistant Robbie Leech was hired around the same time.
“Sue Ann will be missed by everyone passing through our reception area or those who have called and have heard her welcoming voice,” Leech said. “Both staff and strangers to our church were treated with compassion. Her voice makes difficult questions or needs a little less painful. I have heard her pray with so many people.”
Every call is important to McSwain.
“When I pull in here every morning, I ask the Lord to speak through me to answer His phones,” McSwain said. “If a person is calling into Southeast for maybe the first time, they saw this big church or haven’t been to a service yet but want to find out times, we will be the first contact they have with the church. How we answer that call, our tone of voice and how much time we take with that caller can make or break them.”
A phone call may seem small, but it represents a person to be reached.
“It is very gratifying to me after I have given them information for them to say, ‘You’ve been such a big help to me,’” McSwain added. “Maybe I just gave them directions or service times, but to hear them say that does my heart good.”
McSwain remembers the flow of calls being exceptionally high back when Southeast held an Easter Pageant.
“Before tickets went on sale online, they could purchase them at the church, but they had to fill out an order form,” she said. “Between the three receptionists, each one of us would individually get 200 to 350 calls per day. ‘Are you sold out?’ ‘We’re sold out.’ ‘You’re sold out? There’s no more tickets?’ ‘Yes, we’re sold out.’”
In her desk drawer, McSwain has a notepad of what’s become a long list of “funniest moments of the receptionists.”
At the top of the list would be a lady wanting to book a concert.
“She said, ‘I would like my dog to do a concert there,’” McSwain said. “‘It’s not your ordinary dog. He sings only Christian songs.’ She was so serious. I said, ‘Let me put you through to youth ministry.’ I followed up later because sometimes we just have to know how the conversations we send turn out. ‘How did that go?’ Brenda Hughes said, ‘Can I let you hear him?’ The dog barked the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus, and it did kind of sound like the ‘Hallelujah’ chorus. I said, ‘Is he coming here for a concert?’ She said, ‘No, he’s not.’”
“Another time, one of the receptionists answered the phone, ‘Thank you for calling Southeast Christian Church, ‘How may I save you?’” McSwain said.
When McSwain started, former Senior Minister Bob Russell told the front-desk receptionists to answer the phone, “Thank you for calling … How may I serve you?”
“When I first started, they would reply, ‘Medium rare, please. A large order of fries,’” McSwain added. “We’d just kind of chuckle. Now Chick-fil-A says that and some place I called the other day. I wanted to say, ‘You got that from us. We were the only ones who used to say that.’”
A new season
McSwain said she’ll miss those she worked alongside in ministry.
“I’m excited for the next season of my life with my husband, Lawson,” McSwain added. “Being here with my staff family, it’s going to be hard to go. We’ve done life together for a long time. They’ve prayed so many prayers for me and my family.”
“I know that she will continue to have a compassionate heart for people, the same compassion that she has shown for 20 years of answering the phone at the Blankenbaker Campus,” added Mary Jo Barbour, Connections Ministry associate.