By Aristea Zekios
An Endangered Species?
Volunteers are the main arteries of the ongoing life of a parish. Their monetary value cannot be measured. Their contributions to education, music, administration, outreach, fellowship, and various other ministries are vital to the teamwork between clergy and laity that builds up the Body of Christ. Their willingness to become stewards by lovingly offering their time, talents, and treasures is a living witness to the Gospel message. Any reduction in volunteer activity could pose a threat to the life of a parish.
We are challenged to keep the spirit of voluntary stewardship alive and to nurture its growth. The following suggestions might be considered to foster such growth.
The clergy are responsible for laying the groundwork. They teach their flock to see how God has given gifts to His People for the building up of the Body of Christ. The priest must generate enthusiasm from the pulpit. He should make the possibilities for service known, whether these be teaching in the Church School, visiting the sick, organizing or participating in a food pantry for the needy, etc. - all according to the needs of the parish or community.
Specific requests should be made known, either through verbal announcements or bulletins. People won’t volunteer if they are not informed.
People should be asked to help with a specific task. Personal contact by the priest or laity is the most direct method. It is important to be absolutely honest with the prospective volunteer about what the task involves. An outlet should be offered in case the volunteer wants to terminate the job. No one should feel trapped if his or her expectations are not met.
A volunteer’s talents, interests, and abilities should be taken into consideration. Consider the example of Saint Stephen. He was appointed to oversee distribution of goods for the needy so that the apostles could preach the Gospel. It is wise to use the same reasoning with parochial volunteers. Obviously a person gifted in teaching Church School shouldn’t be asked to mow the lawn each week. Sometimes it’s better to hire and pay workers for `household’ chores so that parishioners can use their time and talents for outreach or ministry. Bear in mind that it isn’t right to throw, overwhelming, `slave labor’ jobs at volunteers; burnout may occur.
Some of the best `P.R.’ people are volunteers who have already performed in a special capacity. They can be dispatched to ask others for help. It’s important that they approach new parishioners and involve them so that they, too, can participate in the life of the parish. Seasoned volunteers can befriend and train others. This lends itself to forming new friendships and making newcomers feel welcome.
Some people are afraid to volunteer for fear of negative criticism. Everyone in a parish, both clergy and laity, must remember that volunteers are not paid. Therefore it is wrong to harass a volunteer through negative comments. If a task is not being performed adequately, the volunteer’s job should be diplomatically and lovingly changed into one more suited to his or her talents.
Children allowed to serve as Christian stewards will grow up considering volunteer work routine. Boys and girls can distribute bulletins, collect offerings, read the Epistle or Hours, hold the Communion cloth, assist in greeting visitors, help at fellowship gatherings, visit shut-ins, distribute and collect food for the needy - to name a few. It isn’t necessary to make youngsters wait until they are older. Children are members of the Church too!
Last, but not least, volunteers should be thanked. The words `thank you’ should be used more often. Other forms of honest and sincere verbal encouragement should be used to foster volunteer enthusiasm. For example, why not tell volunteers of the positive efforts their selfless service has on others?