Comments from a volunteer

By Rev Heather Kennedy, First Presbyterian Church, Invercargill

Having recently attended the bi-ennial Volunteering Conference held in Wellington as one of a group of ten Presbyterians from throughout New Zealand, and then 10 days later the Forum on the Volunteer and Community Sector, I have come away with a summary of impressions that help me to try and understand the question

What is a volunteer?

What was historically thought of as a volunteer was predominately someone of the fairer sex doing good works in order to fill in their otherwise under-employed days. These good ladies were usually the wives and daughters of up-right, churchgoing gentlemen in business who could afford to have their womenfolk raise funds for the poor and needy.

During the intervening time, the face of the volunteer has changed considerably. People who do not go to church are doing good works, in the name of community, philanthropy and altruism. Those in the church are still raising funds as best as possible in order to keep the church afloat, to cover crippling debts, maintain buildings and keep them insured. But the church is not seen as poor or needy, so does not usually benefit from the community, corporations, philanthropists or altruists. However, people no longer spend years, even decades, committed to a cause. They shop around, commit for a while, then move on.

Volunteers at the conference and forum were often fully employed and paid full-time by their organisation. These organisations are made up of many volunteers, providing services, meeting needs and addressing the concerns of society. There is now a well-established career pathway in volunteerism. Many of these organisations, especially in the health, sport and recreation sector are well-funded and have many keen and eager volunteers.

The Church and Christian organisations like Girls’ and Boys’ Brigades, however continue to honour their members response to God’s call to service, as Jesus Christ instructed all disciples to do. We continue to follow Christ’s example by serving in the Church and the community, to be committed and loyal, to provide for the poor and needy.