by Father Mark Goldasich
“I was really disappointed at the low turnout for the parish cleaning day.”
This statement at a recent meeting started a whole discussion about volunteering, and brought to mind a familiar old parable:
Sally Somebody, Elvis Everybody, Albert Anybody, and Nancy Nobody were neighbors, but not like you, I’m sure. They were odd people and difficult to understand.
All four belonged to the same parish, but you wouldn’t have enjoyed worshiping with them. Everybody went golfing on Sunday or stayed home to sleep in. Anybody wanted to worship but was afraid that Somebody wouldn’t speak to him. So, guess who went to church? Yep, that’s right: Nobody.
Really, Nobody was the only decent one of the group. Nobody did parish visitations. Nobody worked on the parish’s committees.
Once they needed a teacher for religious education. Everybody thought that Anybody would do it, while Anybody thought that Somebody would do it. And you know who actually did apply for the position? You guessed it again: Nobody. (Adapt-
ed from “Sower’s Seeds of Encouragement,” by Brian Cavanaugh, TOR.)
Isn’t it sad that our parishes are filled with such lazy, uncaring people? If we’d just whip them into shape or shame them, then we’d have volunteers coming out of our ears.
Oh, if only things were so simple and clear-cut! I went home after that meeting and pulled out the newest parish picture directory. What I saw there was definitely not a collection of lazy, uncaring people.
I looked at the many volunteers from our turkey dinner and bazaar last Sunday: from kitchen helpers to tray carriers and table setters. I saw folks who ran the children’s games, called bingo numbers, and staffed the country store. And I came across the many parishioners — young and old, veteran and new — who set up and cleaned up the parish center.
As I leafed through the directory, I saw our parish ministers — ushers, lectors, greeters, and eucharistic ministers. I noticed the Mass servers, especially those good souls who are always willing to fill in when someone doesn’t show. Staring at me from those pages were our religious ed and confirmation teachers and our ever-faithful music ministers, who donate countless hours of preparation as well as service. There were the Knights of Columbus and members of the Altar Society, who contribute in so many ways — from shoveling snow to coordinating funeral dinners.
But volunteering isn’t limited to the parish. Some parishioners are caregivers in the home, and others are adjusting to all the duties that come from being new parents or actively involved in their children’s schools. Our parishioners help with Scouts or coach sports teams. Some serve in local government, at the thrift store or on the school board. And, honestly, the list could go on and on.
It was good to be reminded that just because people weren’t volunteering in large numbers at this or that parish project, didn’t mean they weren’t volunteering somewhere, somehow. They were, in fact, taking the Gospel to the streets and putting their faith into practice.
Perhaps the lack of volunteers comes partly from how we ask for help. While posted sign-up sheets are fine, they can get overlooked. Nothing beats a sincere, face-to-face invite.
Embarrassment, too, keeps some people from stepping forward to volunteer the first time. A person might not know anyone at the parish, believe they have nothing to offer, or — rightly or wrongly — feel that the volunteer group is a clique. Veteran volunteers can go out of their way to welcome newcomers, encourage their talents and find ways to ease their discomfort. Those involved in various groups could also stagger their involvement: working for a time with one group and then for a time with another.
When it comes right down to it, who can say honestly they couldn’t do a bit more to help in the church or the community? Yup, the answer is: Nobody.