The parish ministry volunteer is a precious treasure. Despite occasional recognition, often done in late spring, the value of those willing to serve far exceeds the practical rewards. Yet, many organizations, which depend on volunteers as their life blood, have at times felt that they had to resort to subtle forms of guilt for matching a 'warm body' with needed roles.
In the Church, we need to continually remind ourselves to help people identify gifts for ministry. The volunteer fills a needed role. The one who ministers responds to a Spirit-inspired sense of calling or vocation to energize those gifts for building up God's kingdom. It is an extremely important shift in focus. Vatican II's document on the Church puts these things beautifully: "The Holy Spirit distributes special graces among the faithful of every state of life ... By means of these special gifts he equips them and makes them eager for various activities and responsibilities that benefit the Church in its renewal." Giftedness and eagerness- what an amazing combination!
Every month, more parishes are experiencing the benefits of the diocese's commitment to safer environments for children and a slow rebuilding of trust by the larger community. The question "why do we have to do this?" is slowly being replaced with a real shift in our thinking. As safety and caring become second nature, we are also empowering the "Spirit's breath" in our volunteers. They plan for safety, then minister with all of the gifts given to them by the Spirit, with a new freedom.
In the new culture, the old questions, about how to get enough people, become conversations about how to develop new ways to recruit and respect and invigorate ministries. For example, if there are not enough volunteers (often the case) we can go to the congregation with honesty, then invite the Spirit into our deliberations. Many parishes have found entirely new ways to carry out certain ministries. They have moved from feeling handcuffed by new procedures to feeling empowered to invite participation in something wonderful.
The Pastor, Parish Pastoral Council member, Volunteer Coordinator or any of the Ministry Coordinators in your parish may already be thinking about what they will do to ensure that there are adequate numbers of screened and trained people in place to carry out those ministries which are essential parts of the life of the parish.
What can you do? The diocesan website, under the banner of Strengthening Our Parish Communities, has an increasing number of resources to support your efforts. Check out information on:
- Standardized ministry descriptions which you can use as is, or adapt to your parish,
- Step by step procedures for interviewing and reference checking,
- Running a ministry sign up or Police Information Check blitz,
- How to follow up with participants so you know whether your ministry is meeting needs,
- How to do a self evaluation of your various ministries. and
- What to ask your Parish Volunteer Screening Coordinator to help you with.
St Basil tells us that the Spirit is "Like the sunshine, enjoyed by each person as though it were for him alone." In the new culture of Strengthening Our Parish Communities through safer environments, the sunshine has only begun to warm the souls of those to whom we minister, but also those who offer their gifts as service to Love itself.
This article appeared on the October 2013 issue of the Carillon