Holy Conversations: Vital Volunteerism

Poet Marge Piercy writes,

The pitcher cries for water to carry and a person for work that is real.

It’s from her poem “To Be of Use” and continues:

The work of the world is common as mud. Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust. But the thing worth doing well done has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.

This is part of my vision for a great congregation—everyone finding a way to contribute to the common good. Sometimes the volunteer work is exciting, and sometimes it is “common as mud.” But all of it is important. It’s worth doing well.

This March and April, we are entering into a season of volunteer recruitment. In March, we’ll be inviting all friends and members to take a “Strengths and Talents” survey. Because this one will be different from last year’s in several key ways, I hope everyone will take it—either online, or in worship on March 14.

How will this year’s “Strengths and Talents” survey be different? For one thing, we are adding “sustainability” to the part which focuses on skills that people have and would like to offer at UUCA. We are also including a few key survey questions that will enable the staff to have a baseline sense about how many people actually volunteer at UUCA, how many people read the monthly newsletter, and similar other things.

Finally, we are asking people what specific program areas they want to serve in. There are 12: “children’s ministries,” “music and the arts,” “faith in action/sustainability,” “our wider movement/ denominational affairs,” “our congregational home/office/ facilities,” “fellowship & community building,” “youth/ teenagers,” “adult religious education,” “pastoral care/ caring community,” “stewardship/generosity,” welcome/ membership,” and “volunteerism/gifts ministries.”

This year’s survey will also set us up for a fantastic follow- up event, scheduled for Sunday, April 11: a Volunteer Expo. The Expo will take place in the social hall between the two services and after the second service. Each of the 12 program areas mentioned above will have a table, staffed by people who represent just some of the related teams and groups. It’s a great opportunity to find out about what’s going on and how you might get involved. People who participated in the “Strengths and Talents” survey will also receive special invitations to go to the program tables they expressed interest in.

I hope we can all see the annual “Strengths and Talents” survey, together with the Volunteer Expo, as a step in the right direction of redeveloping our volunteer ministries at UUCA. Please participate and let me know how it works for you.

Why volunteerism? My quick answer is that this is one of the best ways to make friends at UUCA and feel like you are a part of the community. I hear this from volunteers again and again.

But there are other reasons as well. One is related to theology. Our historical stance of congregational polity— together with our Sixth Principle—affirms that Unitarian Universalist congregations are “a work of the people.” It’s democracy in action through volunteerism.

Another reason is this: service is a core spiritual practice. It’s a major means by which Unitarian Universalists grow personally, relationally, and spiritually. By finding significant service work through the congregation, benefiting the congregation itself or the larger world, people can discover and live out a ministry of their own.

Yet another reason to volunteer has to do with justice and fairness. As Unitarian Universalists, we can’t coherently seek to heal suffering in the larger world if the situation of the ministers, staff, and small group of existing volunteers in our home congregation is a burn-out zone. Many hands make light work—but few hands make the work very hard. It is an ironic reality of large congregations that fewer volunteers step up even as dreams get bigger—and that is simply not sustainable in the long haul.

I speak very frankly here, but only to emphasize the importance of vital volunteerism at UUCA—of everyone finding their place of service. I love this congregation, and I want it to continue aiming toward greatness. I’m committed to finding ways in which UUCA can live out the wonderful wisdom of Marge Piercy’s poem. “The pitcher cries for water to carry / and a person for work that is real.”

Rev. Anthony David, Senior Minister