When the team at Crosslight read the results of the survey our readers completed at the end of 2015, we were moved by the nature and diversity of volunteering that everyone accomplishes. Not only do people help with church and church-related activities (heaps of them!), they also put their hands up for community volunteering across a range of interests. Volunteer activities you nominated included water exercise, Red Cross, garden groups, historical societies, museums, school alumni, lifesaving, mental health, disability, Leprosy Mission, emergency relief, visiting the elderly, home tutoring, assisting new mothers with an addiction, community banking, asylum seeker support, town welcoming, hospital visiting, book clubs, sing-a-longs and help with knitting at nursing homes, band playing, CFA, palliative care visits, op shops, serving on boards and committees, Meals on Wheels, music therapy, walking groups, car driving mentorship, school breakfasts, Probus, Girl Guides and Scouts, driving older people, conservation, cooking at camps, cemetery trusts, teaching English, school and children’s programs. Wow!
Inspired by your survey answers, Crosslight talked with some Uniting Church volunteers at three churches across Victoria.
Dean Langford Williamstown Uniting Church
Dean Langford loved football. At 16 he discovered the only way to join the local church footy group was if he agreed to attend church twice a month. What started as a teenage duty turned into a life of dedication for the 86-year-old who is a regular worshipper at Williamstown Uniting Church in Melbourne’s West.
Dean is typical of the volunteers that ensure Sunday services and events run smoothly in our churches. Every week he empties the rubbish bins and returns to collect them. Each Sunday he arrives at 9 am to open and prepare the church for the 10 am service. “I always make sure to check the batteries in the microphone and the audio visual system. My hour and a quarter church service usually amounts to around three hours by the time I finish up!”
Dean also picks up one and sometime two parishioners who use walkers and are unable to drive themselves to church. The pick-ups need to be done one at a time because the walkers take up space in the car.
Williamstown Uniting Church has many historic features and boasts a grand old clock. A few years ago, when renovations were taking place, there was talk about making the clock electric, but alarm bells literally went off and tradition won with the clock retaining a wind-up system. Every eight days Dean climbs the stairs to keep the clock ticking “and I’ll do it till I’m too old to manage the climb.”
What does Dean like best about volunteering? “If you do something, you feel a part of it, a sense of ownership. It’s important to ask people to help rather than waving them goodbye straight after a service. Most people value being invited to participate. I recommend volunteering to everyone.”
Margaret Barbour Strathmore Uniting Church
The Strathmore Uniting Church Craft Group “pulled a swifty” on co-ordinator Margaret Barbour when she turned 90 last February. “I arrived and they produced a birthday cake with candles. It was part of a wonderful week of family and friends spoiling me with multiple celebratory treats,” she said.
It’s no surprise that Margaret’s birthday was a big occasion. She and her husband Des married in 1949 and moved to Strathmore where they joined the local Uniting Church. From the start they enjoyed community involvement and, in 1980, Margaret decided to form the Craft Group for the whole community to enjoy. In 2016 the group, currently numbering eight women, continue to meet every Thursday morning.
They create items that are knitted or crocheted, including tea cosies, coathangers and hand-towels. They also make cards with a focus on recycling which helps expand their creative ideas. “And sometimes we invite guest speakers who share new ways of doing things. This helps us think differently in our own craft-making,” Margaret explained.
The Craft Group has a fundraising store at the church fair and the items sold by the volunteers are among the most popular purchases.
“My greatest satisfaction is the friendship and the fun I gain from being part of the group. And of course the pride in making our craft items”
Val Williams and John McQueen, Campbellfield Uniting Church
When Rev Peter Gunn worked on establishing the first bluestone church in Campbellfield in 1855, he could never have imagined that volunteer John McQueen would be using a ride-on lawn mower to keep the four acre grounds tidy in 2016. The grass-cutting is just one of the many tasks John and partner Val Williams enjoy as part of their volunteer work for the historic church and its congregation. “We just do what needs to be done,” observed Val. “It’s a big part of our life and while we can do it, we will.”
The jobs are diverse. They range from picking up rubbish, building a fence to stop locals doing wheelies, setting up church for Sunday worship, tending the historic cemetery where Rev Gunn is buried, and maintaining the community garden established in the church grounds. Preparation on Sunday starts just after 8 am and involves checking microphones, table set-ups, laying out cups and saucers for morning tea, cleaning toilets and putting on heaters in winter. “Of course it’s not only us,” Val explained. “Everybody pitches in; that’s the nature of volunteering.”
One of John’s favourite jobs is ringing the church bell which can be heard chiming out across the district. In keeping with Rev Peter Gunn’s Scottish heritage, the bell’s mechanism is in the shape of a scotch thistle.
“Oh and did I mention we help organise a social night once a month which includes a three course meal in winter?” Val added. “It’s lovely to have opportunities to share food and conversations together.”
Do you have a volunteer story you would like to share with Crosslight? Write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org