Monday, December 24, 2012

Victory! I thought I had become a technical dinosaur, bested by the mechanical beast. A few months ago, the staff convinced me to have a new phone system installed in the parish offices. On Friday, with the phone already ringing non-stop, I asked about changing the voicemail greeting to include the Christmas Mass times. “No problem,” came the response from our wonderful parish team, “How hard can it be?” This was, as we learned, THE WRONG QUESTION TO ASK.

3 hours later I saw the entire staff huddled over a user’s manual and a telephone, pressing buttons randomly and chanting what sounded like Mayan curses in a low hum. One of them went over to light a candle in the church as a form of prayer, or perhaps to appease the telephone gods. Another stopped just short of sprinkling the phone with holy water, thinking twice about the admixture of water, curses, and electricity. I swear I saw someone hide a sledgehammer when I walked through the door, but I couldn’t find it later when I wanted to use it. The aroma clearly revealed that one of them had put garlic around her neck to ward off the phone gremlins, and I'm sure I saw someone walking in cirles around the phone with burning sage. When the staff finally gave up and left, I know I heard laughing in the equipment closet, from the corner where the guts of the new phone system reside.

Saturday morning saw me poring over the manual. I ended up hunkered over a phone and a manual, randomly pushing buttons and chanting in a low hum (staff, please forgive me for ever doubting you). Sunday between Masses and baptisms I kept picking up the manual, hoping that a few new pages had been added since I last looked through the index.

Today, when the phone started ringing at 4:45 AM, I determined to conquer the challenge. I searched the web and found the programming manual for this sophisticated new VoIP system. "Aha!" I thought too quickly and naively, "Now I've got you cornered." I found several entries for programming the auto-attendant voice functions. One of them went like this: "Enter programming block E1600F6B and select message number from 001 to 255, with numbers 001 to 070 being reserved for programmed system functionality and numbers 132 through 185 being volatile for station functions."


Back to the cloud to find another manual. Bear in mind I had the 188-page station manual on my desk, and had already downloaded the 312-page programming guide. Now I found the 277-page "Features and Functions" guide and downloaded that.

Eureka! On page 235: "Press the TRANS/PGM button and hit the # key twice, then select system message number from 001 to 255 (see chart of reserved numbers in appendix E) and press the HOLD/SAVE button, then select options 1 through 5 for recording (see page 181 for feature explanations). Listen for the double confirmation tone and press options 1-7 (see page 201 for feature explanations), followed by the * key, and listen for a verbal confirmation of your selection. Once received, press the # key followed by the SPEAKER key to begin recording, and when finished recording press options 1-7 to indicate save and propagation selection (see page 203 for feature explanations), followed by the # key. Listen for the single confirmation tone, and once received press the HOLD/SAVE button.”

I switched to decaf for my next cup of coffee, then using a combination of skills that Sister Ellen George, IHM, taught me in fourth grade English and that Father Sebastiano Grasso, SJ, taught me in a Roman course on Renaissance chancery Latin, I sat down to diagram the instructions. Two hours later, reasonably certain that I had the progression of button presses and options mapped out, I marched confidently to the Master Phone Station to show it who was boss. An hour and ten minutes later, following five failed attempts, continually tweaking my outline and checklist, after twelve people had tried, and with about 33 combined man-hours behind us, the parish voicemail now reveals to callers the times of Masses for Christmas:

Christmas Eve at 5, 7 , and Midnight (with a festival of Christmas music beginning at 11:15), and Christmas morning at 10:30.

The problem is, callers in April, July, or September will likely hear the same message and not be grateful for the advance notice of Christmas Mass times. Pretty sure I still hear that little chuckle in the equipment room.

December 24, 2012
Msgr. William J. King

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