Each month Church of England volunteers devote over 23 million hours across the country to community action over and above their normal church activities. Volunteers are the bedrock of community action, and here's some thoughts and issues for consideration:
Why do people volunteer? In a 2010 report called “Building Better Neighbourhoods”, prepared for the Oxford diocese by Warwick University, six motives were put forward:
Personal experience which encourages people to help others in similar situations;
An outlet for their skills and abilities;
An awareness - attentiveness - to society around them;
A sense of community belonging – ‘we're all in it together’;
That it was simply natural to get involved.
But the sixth motive, explaining the Christian perspective, really spoke for grace – that is, unconditional love. It underpins those other five, because there is no monopoly for Christians in receiving the grace of God. Christians may be in the best position to articulate what it's all about, but God acts through whom He will.
Here’s a quote from the report, from a person referring to the ‘Christian faith’ motive:
“I don't like [the term] ‘volunteers’ because it smacks of having an arm up your back in some way whereas this is absolutely no pressure. We want people to give from the point of giving because they feel it’s the right thing to do, usually a God-centred giving and a God-prompted giving. ... The faith and the giving are absolutely intertwined. It’s not giving out of duty, it's giving out of love.”
and – “if you have a faith that is deep-rooted and you really believe this faith that you have, it will overflow into what you do.”
That is what unconditional love does. It leaves no option but to reach out to help others. We call it volunteering but it is in fact extraordinarily involuntary. That love, flowing through us for others, just has to keep going.
We are not, however, angels. It is worth, therefore, drawing attention to some human weaknesses: certainly aspects which all should consider:
Human feelings are important: appreciation, thanks and recognition are not conditions but are nevertheless highly valued. The needs of the volunteer should not be forgotten in the zeal to help others.
Life doesn't go on forever: often initiatives are driven by a small number of individuals, and the time comes when they can't go on any more. Don't push them to the limit, and they should feel no sense of guilt when their initiative draws to a close because there's no one to step into their shoes. Succession plans are great if they can be arranged, but voluntary initiatives often have a life cycle of their own: they're born, they live, they die - and another is born somewhere else. That's the way it happens, so don't try to institutionalise something which can't be institutionalised.
Let the vocation of the volunteer run its course: if you try to mould it into something else there is a risk it will die. This is the process by which a thousand flowers bloom, not an opportunity for establishing a grand plan.
And if the initiative is really meeting a need, but there are no volunteers who can afford to give up their time without remuneration: then raise the funds and pay them! In the funding section we list sources of funds, and in the admin section there’s some pointers to people who can help you with payroll