Jen Veall, one of St James’s assistant Church Wardens, shares her experience of volunteering.
As is probably the case for many people, I started volunteering for a few things at St James’s as a way to give something back, but also as a way to increase my feeling of belonging to the church community. For me, this quickly centred around hospitality, and in particular, getting involved in cooking for the Winter Shelter. At first, this was something quite beyond my comfort zone. Providing a three-course meal for around 25 people was a terrifying prospect for someone with little experience beyond making pasta for one. However, month by month, I was gifted with so much support, guidance, and camaraderie that I gradually felt able to step up a little more, and now, the kitchen has become one of my happy places – both as a volunteer and at home. It helped me find a sense of place in the church community, and build friendships with other people from St James’s and beyond. It has enriched my own life in many ways.
In this, and other volunteering experiences, what was immediately obvious was a rewarding sense of purpose in being able to offer tangible help. Working together with others to help create a space of welcome, hospitality, support and exchange was a chance to enact the beliefs and values in the heart of the eucharist, and that we try to hold at the core of the community. All of the volunteer roles at St James’s offer this opportunity and it can take many forms. It can be participating in the services as a server or reader, welcoming people at the door, singing in the lay singers, being part of a prayer group, providing tea and coffee after the service, organising and attending eco church services and supporting earth justice initiatives, supporting LGBTQ+ events, helping host FEAST or Sunday Breakfast, or joining the Giving Team to help nurture the skills and talents within the community, as well as developing fundraising capacities, to name just a few. Whatever your interests and abilities, there is something on offer for you, and you will always be given a warm welcome to come and join in.
Volunteering, as so many of you will know, is not without its challenges. It can be difficult to find the time and energy to come to another event, to offer more support, to commit to another rota, when life is often so busy, demanding, uncertain or unpredictable. It would be untrue if I were to say there hadn’t been times when I’ve just wanted to stay at home and not come and do what I’ve said that I will do. However, in the end, the time I spend being a volunteer is never regretted and offers me back many unexpected rewards. It is a common refrain amongst volunteers from across the various groups that even when there have been difficulties, or things haven’t gone quite to plan, much has still been provided, and much more has been gained.
Having a committed and diverse volunteering community at St James’s is essential if we want St James’s to be the open-hearted church we envision. Volunteering is both a gift given and a gift received, offering and blessing. I will leave the last word to Lutheran Pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, who in her book Accidental Saints describes this as “…we do get to experience Jesus in that holy place where we meet others’ needs and have our own needs met.”
If you’d like to find out more about volunteering at St James’s please take a look at our volunteering page.