I didn’t go to Church yesterday morning. I can’t remember a time I’ve voluntarily stayed at home rather than gone, expect for the brief time cricket occupied my Sunday mornings. But last week I finally out my foot down and said ‘no’ to the Church. Or more specifically, I said no to my role as an altar server at my beloved church in Kensington. And I didn’t have to be there yesterday (we have a shortage of servers so if you go to church, you are serving).
The call to serve, the call to aid the worship and ministry of others, is a big one. And it’s one I can’t fill at the moment. My faith is very very shaky and no longer do I feel comfortable standing in view of others mouthing my way through the creeds and the canticles and receiving communion. So I stepped back. But it took me about three months to work up to saying ‘no’. Because I’d forgotten that it is a voluntary role, had forgotten that I have that right to step back without having to apologise profusely and feel guilty.
How do we as a church, as any social institution, relate to our volunteers? For some churches, day to day life would be impossible, projects wouldn’t happen, welcomes wouldn’t be given, mission would be nonexistent. But how often do we make sure that volunteers are still happy in the role that they are doing? How often do we thank them for giving their time, but remind them that it isn’t an obligation? That pattern of thought is a dangerous one, that panicked ‘if I don’t go it’ll all fall apart’ mentality which sets in in regular volunteers needs to be addressed. We need to allow people that space, and let them know that it is okay for them to take it, because volunteers are remarkable and valuable people for our church and society. I’m grateful for the chance to step back, to know that I can choose to return and be welcomed back, but that it’s going to be my call. I still struggle to shake the guilt of landing the clergy team with a lack of a serving team, but if I can’t give my best, if I can t be comfortable in that place and that role, how am I of any use?
Volunteers are precious and needed, but we need to check that they don’t feel obligated to turn in if they don’t want to, if they feel tied to it. Let’s work to ensure that volunteers continue to grow and flourish, and learn to appreciate their ministry, whilst giving the space for stepping back if needed. Burnout is not a pretty thing, and something that can be avoided by just checking in with volunteers to see where they are.