The servant community

volunteers at harrison unitingcareDEB BENNETT

Last month we spoke with four Uniting Church volunteers who devote countless hours to serving their congregations and communities. Their stories reflect the experiences of the thousands of volunteers who are often described as the ‘backbone’ of the Uniting Church.

The importance of volunteers to the work of the church cannot be underestimated. This is particularly so in relation the synod’s UnitingCare Vic/Tas (UCVT) network, where volunteers work in a variety of settings to ensure the smooth operation of service delivery. In an attempt to gain a better understanding of volunteers, UCVT recently conducted a detailed Volunteer Strategy Project report which will be released during National Volunteer Week 9-15 May.

Bessy Andriotis is a project officer with UCVT. She said the report highlights that, for some people, volunteering is seen as a natural extension of their faith.

“The most common reasons people volunteer is the sense of purpose and meaning it gives them and the difference they make in the community as a result of their volunteering,” Ms Andriotis said.

“Unlike secular agencies, the Uniting Church involves volunteers in its congregations and other institutions because ‘we are the body of Christ and we are all part of the servant community’. Volunteers contribute to their mission and support the  programs of agencies.”

She said it was important to develop a profile of volunteering throughout the agency network, not only to ensure the needs of volunteers are being met, but to best use the skills and experience of those who donate their time. The impact of volunteers is vital for the work of the church, so it is important agencies continue to attract and support this much-needed resource.

“In some circumstances volunteers play a critical role in service delivery and care. For example, Lifeline relies on volunteers to answer the phones and out-of-home care relies on foster carers to care for children.”

More than 4000 volunteers support UCVT agencies and Wesley Mission Victoria, while 600 people volunteer for Uniting AgeWell and many more donate their time throughout UC schools. The report was compiled from information gathered through surveys, forums, focus groups and interviews.

Ms Andriotis said issues facing agencies in the future are very similar to those facing congregations.

“The two most common factors which make it difficult to attract volunteers is the ageing of the prospective pool of volunteers and the emergence of people who are looking for different ways to volunteer,” Ms Andriotis said.

“Volunteers’ expectations and needs are changing, they are more highly skilled, baby boomers may be less likely to slot into historical volunteer roles and make a regular firm commitment, and many of today’s volunteers like to do things that are of interest, more so than simply ‘helping’.

“Agencies need to provide volunteer opportunities that are innovative and outside traditional models for each of these demographic groups.”

The findings of the report have prompted UCVT to recommend a number of new initiatives. These include establishing a volunteer coordinators network, development of new ways of  engaging volunteers, greater use of the online space for recruitment and engagement and promotion of successful volunteering strategies throughout the network.

Ms Andriotis said the report also identified areas where the changing nature of church reflected different expectations of volunteering.

“One presbytery in particular is engaged in a strategy to regenerate the church,” she said. “It is encouraging members to connect with people in the community in new ways, so it is anticipated that new kinds of church will bring about new kinds of volunteering.”


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