A Catholic Convert in Ottawa

Posts Tagged ‘volunteering

When talking about a task we truly enjoy, we might describe it as a labour of love—something we’d do even if we weren’t paid for our work because it brings us pleasure.

For one person, that task could be designing and building furniture or a garden; for another, cooking and baking; for yet another, caring for children or grandchildren.

For how many of us would that task be an act of service to our parish, such as serving as a lector or Eucharistic minister, or to our community, such as volunteering at the local food or furniture bank?

What put this in my mind? The other day, I read these verses in 1 Thessalonians 1:2-3*:

We give thanks to God always for you all, constantly mentioning you in our prayers, remembering before our God and Father your work of faith and labor of love and steadfastness of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

If our work in our parish or community isn’t a labour of love, are we serving in a position not suited to our skills and abilities—possibly something we agreed to do because no one else stepped forward or we were “voluntold” to fill the role?

Years ago, I served as an usher and greeter at the church I attended. I wasn’t suited to the role and didn’t enjoy serving. But when I had the opportunity to act as a lector, I felt very much at home. I still enjoy serving as a lector and, for over a year, as a Eucharistic minister; I feel blessed to serve my parish in this way and as though I’m in the right place.

If we’re not sure what the right place is for us, we can talk to our parish priest or to the leaders of a community organization we support to find out where there’s a need for volunteers and try different roles on for size, as well as pay attention to those times when we see someone else serving and think, “I’d like to do that.” In fact, that’s what started me on the path to helping serve Communion.

I pray that, if we’re not already serving in our parish or the wider community, the Holy Spirit would guide us in discovering just what our labour of love would be.

(*Scripture quote taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, 2nd Catholic Edition.)

I used to work in Toronto near the waterfront. Most days, at the intersection closest to my building, a man stood begging for change during the afternoon rush hour. If I had some change, I gave him some. But how many other people in need of a little change did I pass by on my way to the train station?

How many times have I hesitated to volunteer my time or to lend items for fear I wouldn’t get them back?

How many times have I put off making phone calls because I didn’t feel like talking?

The other day I read something in Proverbs 3:27* that made me pause:

Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due,

when it is in your power to do it.

Today we have less of a sense of duty than earlier generations did. In some ways, that’s a good thing. We don’t have to marry just because our families think we should if we haven’t met the right person yet. We don’t have to pursue the career our relatives think we should if the interests and abilities God has given us lie elsewhere.

But in some ways, it’s a bad thing. We can focus a little too much on the “me” and not enough on the “we” in our day-to-day decision making:

  • We can be more interested in entertaining ourselves with TV and video games than in helping with chores so our household runs more smoothly and no one carries an unfair share of the workload.
  • We can sit back at our children’s games rather than volunteer when referees are late or stay in the church pew when the sacristan or lector doesn’t show up rather than step up to help the service run well.
  • We can let other people tidy up after school, community or church events and not help to make the work go faster because we want to get home.

I’m not suggesting we volunteer for every class trip, every church event, every worthy cause. It’s easy to overextend ourselves and perhaps be less than helpful if we volunteer for tasks we lack the skills to achieve. But if we lend a hand on a small scale more often when we do have the power to help—by driving our kids’ soccer teammates home after a game, lending our neighbours our tall stepladder to change some pot lights, babysitting (or puppy sitting) one night for a relative or friend, or cutting the grass for neighbours on vacation—we may do more good than we know.

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Picture it: people lining up to volunteer at their children’s school, in their parish, or with a community organization. Enough people power to get the job done. No need for anyone to be “voluntold” to take tasks on.

Now back to reality.

In the years since my son started school, I’ve noticed that it tends to be the same people who volunteer in the schools time and again. But some of these volunteers also work from home or part time outside the home, do before- and after-care for young students, or have other demands on their time.

Similarly, in parishes I’ve belonged to or visited, a number of people served on more than one committee or in various roles during worship services.

But volunteers may find their efforts go unrecognized. Or their suggestions for positive changes seem to fall on deaf ears. Or they juggle too many commitments for fear that, if they stepped down, no one would step up to take on their roles.

Galatians 6:9-10* has timely advice for volunteers, especially in parishes:

And let us not grow weary in well-doing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all men, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.

So how can we “not grow weary” and avoid volunteer burnout? Here are a few things to consider:

Where our time could best be used: My husband was serving on two committees at our church but realized he had the time and energy to serve only one committee as well as he’d like. Could we have more of an impact if we focussed our efforts on just one or two ministries?

Where our interests and talents lie: In one parish I belonged to, I served as an usher and greeter for several years, even though it wasn’t a good fit for me. I was much more comfortable serving as a lector and leading the prayers of the faithful. In which ministries could we best use our gifts and skills?

Why we’re serving in a certain role: I served on the pastoral council of a parish, in large part because I’d been asked to. But I didn’t consider and pray enough about whether that was where I should be serving. Do we pray (and ask others to pray for us) before we take on new roles?

How to form effective teams: As part of a sacramental preparation team, I saw how all the team members’ gifts, skills and character traits came into play—desktop publishing skills, a talent for calligraphy, and organizational skills, for example—but especially a willingness to serve. Do we try to do too much on our own, or do we recognize our need for help? Do we leave room for others to use their gifts?

How to encourage others in their service: I had second thoughts about my involvement with one committee after receiving some sharp e-mails, while I enjoyed serving in another ministry because we showed care and concern for one other and felt we had a voice at the table. Are we kind to one another in our e-mail and phone contact as well as in person? Are we “all business,” or do we take time to pray for our ministry and volunteers’ concerns and maybe to share a snack while we work? Do we show our appreciation for others’ commitment and efforts?

How to involve more parishioners: I’ve noticed that people may not respond to a bulletin notice or lector’s announcement calling for ministry volunteers, but they may respond to a personal invitation. Is there someone with a beautiful singing voice who might not volunteer for music ministry but would love to be asked? Someone with desktop publishing skills who wouldn’t mind preparing a worship program? Someone with accounting skills who could assist a finance committee? Do we notice and try to draw on the talents of other parishioners?

I pray that God would guide us in identifying where we could best serve in our parish ministries so that we don’t “grow weary” and that he would lead others to serve so that these ministries flourish.

Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but it is the same God who inspires them all in every one. To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. . . . All these are inspired by one and the same Spirit, who apportions to each one individually as he wills.

~ 1 Corinthians 12:4-7, 11

(*Scripture quotes taken from the Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version, Second Catholic Edition.)

Three things in human life are important: The first is to be kind. The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.

Henry James, quoted in The Book of Positive Quotations, 2nd Edition

Canadians have a reputation for being polite, and we like to think that ours is a kind and gentle society. But is it really all that kind and gentle?

We don’t have to go back to the demolition of Africville to find examples of racism. I’ve personally heard people make snide comments about members of various ethnic groups, even if they don’t use the racial slurs once so common.

And over the past couple of years, teen suicides have been in the news. Some of these kids—including a friend of my son—were victims of bullying.

These types of intolerant behaviour don’t fit our image of Canadian society. So what can we do to help bring our reality and the ideal closer together?

Here in Ottawa, we’re nearing the end of Kindness Week, which was created by Rabbi Reuven Bulka and is now in its sixth year. As the Kindness Week website points out, by being kind—giving, volunteering, saying thanks, celebrating kindness, and paying it forward—you can make a difference in someone else’s life and be happier yourself.

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The goal: for people to make kindness an everyday habit. So it becomes natural to hold the store door open for a parent with a stroller or to help someone reach an item on a high shelf at the grocery store. Simple actions such as these tell the person, “I notice you.” And when much of our human contact comes through text messages, e-mail and voice mail, isn’t that what we all need sometimes—to be noticed? Read the rest of this entry »


Food for Thought

(Y)ou do not know about tomorrow. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and we shall do this or that.” ~ James 4:14-15

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