Many parishes suffer from both a lack of volunteers and “over-volunteering”-often the same people are called upon to do everything while others are excluded. Photo: Mangostock
As a teenager and a young adult, I was very involved in volunteer service. Now, as a parent with young children, I need to hire a babysitter just to be able to volunteer, since many organizations don’t welcome children. Nor do they offer evening or weekend opportunities, when friends and family are more available to help me.
That’s why one of the greatest benefits to me as a church member has been the opportunity to volunteer and bring my children along.
Yes, I have found it hard sometimes to participate in the more traditional volunteer duties in my church. I could not teach Sunday school, for instance, with a screaming infant on my hip; nor could I read the scripture during service with my two-year-old trying to sing into the microphone.
But if, like me, you’re willing to explore other possibilities, you’ll find that your church offers many formal and informal ways to volunteer-whether you want to help your teen get some job experience, involve your children in services or get involved yourself.
One Sunday after worship, for example, as my family and I were waiting in line to leave the church, my children grew impatient. It was the perfect opportunity to involve them in some volunteer activity. I pointed out the sidesperson who was collecting used orders of service from the pews and returning books to the shelves and asked my children if they wanted to help. Of course, they had to turn it into a competition to see who could collect the most orders of service! As they raced through the pews, I doubt that they were aware of contributing volunteer time. Nonetheless, the sidesperson greatly appreciated their efforts.
The activity didn’t require a formal volunteer arrangement or any kind of commitment, but it did allow our family to help in maintaining our church. For many young families, flexible arrangements with self-directed efforts such as this are easy ways to get involved. The key for parishioners is to take opportunities as they present themselves-whether it’s wiping the toys in the nursery, sorting crayons in the Sunday school or sweeping the floor after a church social.
The key for churches is to encourage people to take advantage of volunteer opportunities. Whenever a parent who grabs a broom is brushed aside or a child is discouraged from eliminating broken toys from the nursery, the desire to help is diminished. In other ways, too, that desire may not be nurtured. Many parishes suffer from both a lack of volunteers and “over-volunteering”-often the same people volunteer or are called upon to do everything while others are excluded.
Sometimes people are excluded simply because they are not aware that their help is needed. If the same 10 women bake cakes for the bake sale every year, they eventually believe they’re the only ones willing to bake cakes. Others are not asked or informed of the need. Not everyone can be proactive or identify what needs to be done. As church members, we must be willing to ask for help and to encourage others to help.
People may be reluctant to volunteer because they aren’t sure how to do what’s required. When my family picked up the orders of service that Sunday, we didn’t know if there was a recycling box to place them in or whether we were supposed to follow a certain protocol. For someone shy or new to the church, such lack of knowledge can be daunting. Fortunately for us, another sidesperson pointed to the table where the orders of service were to be piled. As church members, we must be willing to share information.
Sometimes people feel they are not valued as volunteers-whether because they can’t be available consistently or because they once offered to do something and were turned away. For many of us, being open to all forms of help and trusting people to help appropriately is difficult. We want to be organized and be sure of what is to be done. If this means keeping a list of volunteers and a regular schedule, some may feel they aren’t welcome as volunteers because they can’t commit to doing a reading every third Sunday or staying to do dishes after every social. However, often all it takes for people to feel welcome is for a regular volunteer to step aside and make room for their efforts. As members of the church, we need to be receptive to all levels of commitment and skill.
There is so much we can gain as volunteers within our church-from the satisfaction that comes from being useful, to the ability to learn new skills and establish references. Even the very youngest can help if given the chance.
There is little difference between our church communities and our individual families. We need to embrace the abilities and efforts of every member and welcome involvement in all aspects of worship and service. Just as I would never refuse my two-year-old’s help with the laundry at home-even though it means extra time and effort on my part to guide him-how can we refuse any member’s offer of help in our church?
Dara Squires is the author of "Readily a Parent," syndicated parenting column and online blog. Squires lives with her family in Corner Brook, N.L.