It is a steadily growing, worldwide organisation enabling people to gather weekly, drawn by a sense of community and the promise of well-being. It is facilitated primarily by enthusiastic volunteers who work for more than a million hours each year. It is open to everyone, inclusive and involves all ages. Most people who join in find themselves encouraging their friends and families to come along too, as they love it so much – they quickly become ‘evangelists’ for this remarkable movement.
Sounds familiar? Is it church I am describing? I wish it were so, especially the last sentence! In fact, the phenomenon in question has been described as “the new church”, and in a recent newspaper article, a volunteer was quoted saying, “The idea of the community has broken down. People don’t go to church any more. But here, you come together with a load of people – and you feel embedded in the local area.”
The obvious ingredient missing in this description is faith. This volunteer-led new community of which I and millions of others are a part on a Saturday morning is Parkrun, a timed, 5k run taking place in parks all over the world. It’s great for building a sense of belonging in a healthy way, but of course, it isn’t church. Yet perhaps we as church, have things to learn from how it’s growing. Especially about the affirmation of volunteers. The first thing that happens in every pre-run briefing is a big shout-out and cheer for that week’s volunteers. As we run the course, most runners (if they are not too breathless!), call out “thank you marshal!” to each and every one, and they always get listed and thanked in the Facebook run report.
On one Saturday in May members of Top Church in Dudley took on all the volunteer roles at the Dudley Parkrun to serve and become more embedded in their local community and demonstrate that many people do still go to church (and some run too!).
Much ministry in our churches is undertaken by committed volunteers, faithful lay people similarly putting in millions of hours week by week. Sadly, many of you do this unnoticed, and all too often, unthanked. God, of course, sees what it is done and why, but fostering a culture of gratitude whereby we take a moment to thank anyone who we know has served the church can strengthen relationships and encourage fellow church members no end. Why not make the month of June a ‘volunteer thank-you month’, where we all try to consciously show our appreciation to those we see carrying out tasks to enable our churches to function? It would certainly boost morale!
I made a point of thanking our church wardens during the May visitations – they put in huge amounts of work. But can I take this opportunity to thank anyone reading this who volunteers in church or community in any way – you are appreciated very much.
The Venerable Nikki Groarke
Archdeacon of Dudley