By Barb Arland-Fye
My husband Steve and I headed to church last Sunday morning to help disassemble and store the Christmas decorations. Joy was not the first thought that came to my mind because, admittedly,
cleanup is not my passion. If just a few people showed up it could take hours, I thought to myself.
What I saw entering the church transformed my attitude. Parishioners looked like worker bees swarming the sanctuary. Adults and a teen carried away gold-foil-covered pots of poinsettias, Christmas wreathes and bows, gold-colored and white linen cloths and wooden boxes. Against the wall behind the altar, men were taking down the artificial Christmas trees. Steve joined them, armed with a tube of masking tape rolls in assorted colors. He wanted to color code the trees to make easier work of the assembly process next year.
Madelyn and Roberta, intimately familiar with the church building, guided traffic so that volunteers returned every item to its appropriate storage space. We seemed to gravitate naturally toward tasks. Three of us wrapped up the large figurines from the nativity scene. One volunteer, a mom with kids in Sunday school, said she was waiting for them so it seemed like a good idea to lend a hand. A young grandson trailed his grandmother as she moved items and vacuumed.
As I walked by, two parishioners were removing a Christmas banner from a wall in the vestibule but didn’t know where to store it. I had just learned where it belonged and escorted them to the cabinet in the sacristy in which to place the banner. Likewise, I guided two men carrying a large wooden cutout of angels to a basement storage room and set in place the blocks on which to put it.
I didn’t know where to place a small bin of white linens in a walk-in closet but Lorena spotted the space and together we hoisted it onto a shelf. The camaraderie throughout this short volunteer stint was uplifting and provided an opportunity for a regular Saturday night Mass attendee like me to mingle with parishioners who attend Sunday morning Mass.
“For Christians, volunteer work is not merely an expression of good will. It is based on a personal experience of Christ. He was the first to serve humanity, he freely gave his life for the good of all. That gift was not based on our merits. From this we learn that God gives us himself,” the late Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said in an address during a conference on volunteering (Caritas, https://tinyurl.com/pr736py9).
The pope was addressing bishops and representatives of charitable organizations — not a gathering of parishioners responding to their pastor’s request after Mass. However, his address reminds me to think about volunteerism as an aspect of stewardship, the giving of time as well as talent and treasure in gratitude to God for the gift of self, the gift of salvation.
Cleanup might never become a passion for me, but the uplifting experience of working together with others is a gift in itself. I hope to view every volunteer experience in that light.
(Contact Editor Barb Arland-Fye at firstname.lastname@example.org)