At the end of May, the churches in Hunsdon, Widford and Wareside all had their annual meetings, with a report on the previous year’s activity and financial situation and the elections of new trustees for the coming year. It was strange and not quite satisfactory to be holding the meetings via Zoom instead of on site somewhere, but like many people over the course of the last 15 months, we have been pleased that the internet has at least made it possible to meet in some measure whilst complying with social distancing legislation.
I am very grateful to those who have been willing to stand for office again, and to those who have volunteered for new roles. Like so many institutions and organisations, the church cannot function without volunteers, each bringing their own unique talents and energy to fulfil a particular task that helps others. Our villages, too, are blessed with people who give freely of their time to do all sorts of things from running the village halls to picking up litter, from cutting public areas of grass to producing and distributing the village magazines, from serving on our parish councils and school governing bodies to providing tea and cake and conversation, coordinating clubs and cleaning or florally decorating our church buildings. The villages would be very much the poorer without them.
Sadly, the national picture appears to be one of dwindling numbers of volunteers in the community. I note that the Carpet Bowls club in Hunsdon is urgently looking for help and the Over Three Score Club had to close for lack of support, leaving some elderly folk in both villages without a much-loved opportunity for social interaction. The Parent and Toddler Group in Hunsdon is now run by the Hunsdon Ducklings Pre-School rather than volunteers. Our churchyards are maintained by contractors.
It is difficult to find statistics that are right up to date, not least because the pandemic has produced changes that are yet to be properly analysed, but in 2017, the Office of National Statistics reported that volunteering in the UK had decreased by 15% between 2005 and 2015 (in terms of hours given). In fact, because the population grew by 7.8% during that same period, the hours volunteered per person actually fell by 21.5%. There are undoubtedly many reasons for this decline, including the increasing frailty of some of our erstwhile most-active volunteers, the cultural shift towards individualism and the expanding bureaucracy involved with some roles. However, as I was reading about it for this article, I was struck by the following suggestion – better education since the 1950s has led to a better-educated community of volunteers who wish to use their skills and knowledge in their volunteering, but who are finding those opportunities hard to find. The suggestion is that they would like to volunteer, but not doing something that they find unsatisfying. They would rather give money to ensure these tasks are done than get their own hands dirty.
I understand this. However, just like meeting on Zoom is not as satisfactory as meeting in person, detaching ourselves from the tasks which directly bless others cuts us off from some of the joy of working with others in a common cause. Is it time to be less picky?
May God who gave himself to death move your own hearts to generous action.