Many St. Philippian regulars seem oblivious to, or take for granted, the many tasks required of St. Philip’s sextons. With more than 100 ministries, interest groups, and organizations that use the facilities regularly, the setting up and putting away is never ending. Is it magic? The first thing one sees in the East Gallery after early church is chairs and tables neatly arranged for Sunday breakfast. This is just one of the myriad of tasks wrought by our sexton crew of five: Binh Tran, Head Sexton, along with Ca Nguyen, Duc Tieu, Hung Tran (Binh’s nephew), and Lam Tran (Binh’s son).
Perhaps their accomplishments really are invisible; or perhaps we have learned to take their quiet efficiency for granted so completely that it feels as if these happen invisibly. Slipping into the church for a moment of soul refreshment on a weekday, you might find the sextons more visible because there are fewer people around. But none of their many tasks on this huge campus happen by magic — only by careful planning and cooperation.
Binh and his team work efficiently and competently, often communicating in their own shorthand — shared culture, language, and understandings. Binh explains their harmonious workings saying, “I know their stories.”
When former rector Roger Douglas hired this former Captain in the Vietnamese Army, in 1990 — as assistant to then–Head Sexton Oren Stewart —he could not have realized the huge favor he had given St. Philip’s. Capt. Tran, imprisoned for eight years for having worked with the Americans, was released to resettlement in the United States but given no choice of location. Imagine the native of a moist, lush green Vietnam adjusting to Arizona’s huge open skies and desert vistas and vegetation. Binh expresses only gratitude for people here, for the immense learning and encouragement he has received, and as he said, “for the kindness of everyone. I like it all.” He recalled especially how much he had learned from Oren Stewart, also from the late Ben Day and the late Miriam Nelson.
Now Binh, as St. Philip’s longest-term employee, serves as the fount of knowledge. He has directed setup for so many services and events, he knows which accoutrements are needed when: the Paschal candle for Baptism services, fire extinguishers for the Shrove Tuesday service, and water hoses for the Blessing of the Animals service. One of his unsung areas of expertise is directing memorial services and weddings. Recently he helped two relatively new priests become more comfortable with the ins and outs of managing a wedding rehearsal by running them through a rehearsal for the rehearsal. Binh, Ca, and the other sextons maintain a dignified, unobtrusive presence in the background but are at the ready to jump in when something is needed.
Binh expressed gratitude for parishioners who greet him with smiles and “good mornings.” When pressed for any complaints, he finally admitted that, on occasion when the sextons have needed to make enormous rearrangements in a very short time, “no one seems to notice.” Turning in requests for room setups in a timely manner would be of big help. Some have suggested that parishioners could help by restacking chairs themselves, and being sure to clean up after using a room. But saying “thank you” more often to the sextons is something any of us can do.
Buddhist in his background, Binh now enters the church every morning, crosses himself, and offers prayers of thanksgiving as well as asking protection for his far-flung relatives in Europe and Vietnam. We who benefit from these hard-working caretakers add our thanksgivings to his.
—Adapted in part from an article by Joanna GIllespie