A recent tweet, it may still be hanging around, asked the question, 'Why is the church hopeless at looking after its volunteers?'
Now my initial reaction was to be sad. That sort of question normally means, 'Why haven't you looked after me?'
I suspect that is not the case here. Firstly I know the person, who will probably be one of the first people to read this, and he is not a moaner. Secondly he is, although a volunteer himself (after a number of years on the other side of the fence as a paid church employee) more a looker-afterer than a look-after-me sort of person. So the question, I'm guessing, has an element of self-criticism. Morning Dennis by the way. Let's not pretend that anonymity stuff is going to work here. If you don't want people to know you asked the question you shouldn't tweet it.
So, to the question with haste, and first the assumption. Is the church hopeless? And do we mean the universal, catholic church or our church?
A friend walks into your home nursing bruises and asking to borrow some money to get home because he's just been mugged for his wallet and phone. What do you reckon will be his reaction to the news that violent crime is down? Thought not. Two of you with black eyes now.
I have worked in churches as a volunteer and as an ordained member of staff for thirty five years now. As a volunteer I never felt neglected, although if I had I knew I could pick up the phone and have a chat to, or call and see, the clergy or my line-manager.
Since ordination I can count, on the fingers of one hand, the number of people who have stood down because they said they felt uncared for. Fewer than twenty ever picked up the phone and asked for an appointment to discuss the task for which they were currently volunteering. I did the chasing. Maybe there was a small army of the silently-seething out there who I missed. By and large I have been told over the years that I am good at getting the best out of volunteers and supporting them although I appreciate that one angel doesn't mean we are over-run with spiritual support. No, I wasn't calling myself an angel there, just moved from the particular to the general without stopping the flow.
If you feel unsupported you will probably jump to the conclusion that everyone does. Steady now.
My point, for the moment, is no more than this. Clergy are not mind-readers. No-one ever moaned that the doctor didn't visit when they were ill if an appointment hadn't been sought. If you are a volunteer and you are feeling pissed off and uncared for please tell. I am not good at 'hearing the vibe' as it were so I use a pastoral group of three people who tell me what is going on and advise me if a visit or intervention from me would help. Tell us if you want help. We would like, to quote the only management question worth asking, to find out how to help you do your job better.
Of course we can't wave wands (although prayer is good and works). Listening to you may not mean we will be able to do what you want. I am currently over-working my children's volunteers because no-one will come forward to help. I care for the over-worked. Desperately. I have thought long, hard and even creatively about how to help solve the problem and still am. The lack of a solution does not mean I don't care.
Recently, in a church near mine, a volunteer who ran a major ministry, resigned retrospectively with a week to go before the start of a new term's programme. I wonder who cares for the carer who has that done to them?
As a representative of the church I pledge to try and do better in future. One way might be to hold volunteers to account more thoroughly, to discipline if performance is sub-standard and to require that all volunteers tell their line manager how they are doing, by appointment, on a monthly basis. In return we will give nothing but love. Will that cause a steady rise in the number of volunteers? Is a volunteer any less than an employee without a salary?
You may not know that I often start conversations by stating things a bit more bluntly than they actually are. Let's talk, not fight.