I’ve worked with all kinds of volunteers throughout my years of ministry. Some provided transportation for men living with HIV/AIDS, so they could make it to medical appointments on time. Some provided hours of childcare or art therapy at a shelter for families affected by domestic violence. Some sat at the bedsides of the dying, offering a comforting presence at a time of transition.
I just heard from First Congo member Mark Dougherty, who has spent countless volunteer hours transitioning our Plant-A-Row garden to its new space behind the Community Clothes Closet in Menasha. We don’t even have anything in the ground yet, but he just told me about half a dozen people or so who have already been tilling and prepping land, and building a shed to house our garden equipment.
In 2017, volunteers logged nearly 300 hours of service in the office at First Congo – but that number doesn’t include those who didn’t sign in for their hours of service, or those who help serve coffee fellowship, those who attend various meetings or sing in the choir, our Friends in Christ or Stephen Ministers, youth who deliver apple crisps to our elders, those who removed fallen tree branches after storms, or those who picked up a shovel to help clear the sidewalks on a snowy Sunday morning.
Those hours don’t include the service our members and friends provide locally or beyond, serving meals at Pillars, ministering to those in prison, interviewing candidates for financial support at LEAVEN, or helping with the Interfaith Build through Habitat for Humanity. Those aren’t our numbers to tabulate, but I would argue they benefit us as a community, even if that benefit is indirect.
No matter where I’ve encountered volunteerism, I’ve heard a similar refrain from those who give so freely of their time: “I get so much more from my volunteer work than what I give.” I believe that’s true, but I also believe there’s something more to what we give when we serve others, than we’re sometimes willing to admit. It is no small thing to serve, no matter how small the act of service may be. It’s no small thing to open our minds and hearts to someone else’s experience, whether we’re imagining who might appreciate the fleece blanket we’re tying, or what it might mean to someone who has never felt accepted by a faith community, to see rainbow colors gracing a welcome banner in our Narthex.
Sure, those of us who volunteer benefit from the feeling we get when we serve. But if you’ve ever been on the receiving end of someone’s selfless gift of time or talent (and believe, me, I speak from experience), maybe you know what it’s like to sense that glimmer of hope that the world isn’t quite as harsh, uncaring or dispassionate as it sometimes seems. Sometimes that glimmer of hope gets a person through a rough day or a painful hour in ways that can’t be quantified.
This is Service Sunday, a chance for all of us to put something good out into the world, and to strengthen the bonds of love and fellowship that make us the church we are, and the community God invites us to become. Thank you in advance, to those who will spend the morning making the world a better place one blanket, one flower pot, one song, one seed at a time! And ongoing thanks to those of you who have no idea how your selfless service brings God’s realm within reach every day.
Your friend and fellow minister, Rev. Kathryn Kuhn