The volunteering landscape in Canada is evolving. In your parish, you may have noticed this. For instance, the way people volunteer is changing. A trend in volunteerism is micro-volunteerism which centers around a short-time commitment, quick projects, and primarily done on one’s own. These volunteers contribute defined pieces to a larger project. What makes micro-volunteering innovative is the time commitment. Organizations know people are busy; these opportunities capitalize on the limited free time someone has.
Some roles are undefined. Like Migrant Farmworker Project volunteers who sort bulk grocery deliveries to fill grocery bags, or organize clothing, or deliver items for Migrant Farmworkers. As Antonio Illas, missioner of the Migrant Farmworkers Project shares, “Without the forty plus volunteers this ministry would not be possible. I could not do on my own what we accomplish. It is their commitment and dedication that makes this project a success.”
Volunteering can be formal or informal. Informal volunteers are like my neighbours Jeffrey and Richard who clear snowy sidewalks of much of our street and several driveways. Formal volunteers fill a specific ongoing role, like that of a warden. In reflecting on wardens, Dan Bennett, rector of three Anglican parishes in greater Fort Erie and regional dean of Brock, says, “Wardens are invaluable. I would be lost without the teams of wardens I’ve been blessed to work with. It’s a special ministry that wardens undertake. Apart from the practical matters they oversee, I’ve watched them become cheerleaders, confidants, managers, and disciples.”
Volunteer engagement in Canada has been affected by the continuing pandemic. While financial support is the number one need of organizations, they also require in-kind support of specialized skills. Skilled roles such as finance, strategic planning, and grant writing continue to be the most sought-after volunteer skills with technology skills – specifically website and communication and an understanding of technology tools and hardware is increasing.
At St. Aidan’s, Oakville, the new technology role was filled by grade nine student Cherry Wang. When Wang heard through a friend a volunteer was needed, she jumped at the chance saying, “I knew how to fill the role. I’m proud that I can use my skills to help.” Fran Wallace, the incumbent at St. Aidan’s reflects, “This young volunteer wasn’t a parishioner, but what a wonderful way to bring a community member in by providing a meaningful role. We’re grateful Cherry could lead us in this way.”
Alex Urquhart of St. John the Evangelist, Hamilton, has become their technical coordinator. Urquhart shares, “People need to connect with God during the pandemic. I’m handy and available on Sunday. I’m a gamer and Archdeacon Anderson knew that I used a fair amount of this equipment at home, so he asked me to consult, which turned into a regular volunteer role.” Urquhart noted too that, “Archdeacon Anderson understands the equipment and its good quality. I’m well supported.”
The support Urquhart references is key. According to a Canadian report released by Volunteer Canada entitled The Volunteering Lens of COVID-19: Fall Survey, “Volunteering, both informal and formal, flourishes when supports are in place to keep people safe and benefit most from people’s time and talents. Those supports not only include volunteer management practices, but also the skills and knowledge of an experienced leader of volunteers.”
Attention to diversity, equity, and inclusion has also grown during the pandemic. This focus led to the creation of the diocesan Anti-Racism Working Group. Mary Gordon, a youth volunteer with Church of the Resurrection, Hamilton, as well as with diocesan children, youth, and family initiatives is a volunteer with this group. Gordon shares, “Working with youth who have been willing to address issues of diversity, particularly around the inclusion of LGBTQ2 and my passion to create a safe community that is accepting of all, I was glad to join.” Gordon, who also works full-time and has a family reflected that “Volunteering fulfills my passions, so it’s important to me to find the time. It helps others, but it also feeds my soul.”
Whatever the reason people give of their time and talent or whatever the role they take on, volunteers are immensely important for parishes to thrive. As Bishop Susan Bell says, “volunteers are worth more than rubies.”
National Volunteer Week is April 18 to 21. This year’s theme reflects on the awe-inspiring acts of kindness by millions of people and the magic that happens when we work together towards a common purpose. Each year, hundreds of thousands of hours are offered by the people of the Diocese of Niagara in support of our many ministries. Thank-you each and every one of our thousands of volunteers who support the work of their parish and beyond and giving so generously of your time and skills to further God’s mission.