Give Happy – Live Happy

Notes on the Sunday address by Rev Ric Holland, 7 May 2017

Think of the “Folders” every Friday am a group of wonderful women meet to fold thousands of pages, enabling us to have our Order of Service every Sunday. Without them we would not have the hymns to sing, the quotes to consider, an understanding of where the service is going. Without what you might consider the tiniest part the morning service would, like my greenhouse, be very wobbly.

But similarly our whole church is dependent upon volunteer support the Officers of the Church Council, Chair, Secretary, Treasurer, Executive Committee, All our Deans: Household, Services, Contact and Care and Programs, all the members of our Church Council. All our Groups and Committees are dependent upon volunteers as are our Education Program and our co initiatives with The Cairnmillar Institute. Our Welcome team, the Kelpies, and those who take care of Baptisms and Holy Communion. The wonderful producers of food and those who look after the tables in the hall after church. And then of course the people who look after me (a difficult task), the Acolytes and security people.  The list goes on and on and St Michael’s honour all.

 This week sees the beginning of National Volunteer Week and our noble squad of volunteers are part of a huge army across Australia.

5 – 6 million Australians regularly volunteer, over a third of our population. This is the highest percentage in the world. And of course we lead the world in a number of volunteer areas e.g. the CFA and the SES. Ordinary people, Extra Ordinary tasks. When I was Chairman of Volunteering Australia I had the privilege of attending a number of international conferences on volunteering and people in other countries couldn’t believe in the size and tasks of CFA volunteers. Approx. 40,000 in Victoria alone. I remember being in Sydney on one occasion just after the serious NSW bushfires when hundreds and hundreds of brave CFA volunteers men and women marched through the streets and thousands and thousands of people lined the streets to say thank you. Tears rolled down my cheeks with the emotion and passion of the moment.

I worked for a while in a little north central Victorian town, Violet Town, population 980. I conducted a volunteer survey as to how many volunteers were in the town. It totalled 1300! Because many people were volunteering for more than one organisation and they were double or triple counted!

Think about it for a moment all the areas where we take volunteers for granted: Sporting and recreation clubs, Education and training, Community welfare and of course all the churches which contribute big to volunteer statistics including our own.

Then there many of our number who volunteer in the community; mentoring, teaching disadvantaged kids, administration in NFP’s, caring for people with special needs.

In total Volunteers give 800million hours per year across Australia. The contribute 0ver $75 billion to the Australian economy.

Clearly volunteering is central to the Australian way of life.  Many organisations and churches, including this one, would collapse without volunteers and that’s why it’s really important to acknowledge that all year round, but particularly today at the beginning of National Volunteer Week.

So let’s consider a couple of elements re volunteering:

  • Firstly the impact that volunteering has on individuals themselves.

Helping others kindles happiness. Many studies have demonstrated this. When researchers in the Social Science and Medicine faculty at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were. People who volunteered regularly have up to a 25% increase in their measured level of happiness. They then transposed this to income levels and compared it to a person on an income level of $20,000 receiving a pay increase up to $100,000!

So the benefits of volunteering are that it make makes you feel healthier and happier. It does this in four ways:

  • Volunteering connects you to others. This is what I would understand as relational Christianity. Traditional Christianity is more about our relationship with a distant austere God. The clergy in this type of church help you to get nearer to God through absolution, forgiveness, penance, prayer, confession and all sorts of bells and whistles to improve your connection to the almighty. Whereas all you have to do is to open your front door and connect with people around you. Nor does it have to be big and grand.

Listen to this. This was a group of elderly people in a retirement village in a small northern Victorian town. One of the care workers noticed that there was a significant and increasing number of young teenage single mothers who were suffering social isolation and a certain amount of conflict from the community in which they lived. Of course there was the dreaded guilt and financial hardship. The worker told the residents of the retirement village about the plight of the young mums, many of whom were being rejected by their own family and friends.

The response from these elderly residents was to use the skills they had been taught whilst growing up, such as knitting and crocheting to make baby clothes and shawls. The called upon their friends and family to donate the required materials. Within a short period of time they had a number of boxes of carefully crafted and beautifully made baby clothes and shawls neatly wrapped. These were then distributed to the young mothers. The young girls were overwhelmed by the kindness and generosity of these elderly people. Most of the mums wanted to visit the retirement village to personally thank their benefactors and when they met there was great celebration. The residents were thrilled that their skills had been put to good use and they took pride that they could still contribute to the wider community. The young girls were appreciative of the gifts, the skill which they displayed but more the acceptance and love that was obviously being shown to them.

An inspiring footnote to this story is that many of the young mums wanted to learn how to knit and crochet so a personal teaching program was set up, pairing the girls with the residents. From this experience many close and mutually supportive friendships developed.

This is relational Christianity revealing the hidden presence of Christ’s spirit.

It’s volunteering providing the vehicle to connect people with people for people.

  • Volunteering is good for your mind and body

Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress anger and anxiety.

 The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological wellbeing. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person. Working with pets and in the field of animal welfare can similarly improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.

Volunteering combats depression

Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which protects you from depression

Volunteering increases self confidence

You are doing good for others and the community which provides a natural sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.

Volunteering provides a sense of purpose

Older adults, especially those who have retire or who have lost a spouse, can find new meaning and direction in their lives by helping others. Whatever your age or life situation volunteering can help to take your mind of your worries , keep you mentally stimulated and add more zest to your life. This applies too to people with limited mobility. In today’s digital age many organisations need help with writing, eml. ,and other web based tasks.

  • Volunteering can open new opportunities and provide new learning experiences.

Just because the work is unpaid, doesn’t mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteer job opportunities come with training and fantastic learning possibilities.

I ran a program once linking refugees to totally isolated people with no friends or relatives. I introduced Chi a Vietnamese refugee, who couldn’t speak a word of English to Mary an isolated elderly Glaswegian woman. Chi visited Mary every week for 20 years and in the course of that period they became wonderful friends. Mary taught Chi to speak English. The only problem she then spoke with a broad Glaswegian accent and still people couldn’t understand her!!

  • Volunteering brings fun and fulfilment to your life.

Volunteering can be fun and an easy way to explore your interests and passions. You can find it meaningful, interesting, relaxing and energizing. Sometimes it can enable you to do stuff that you are normally prevented from doing. You may not be allowed to have pets in your house or your work time prevents it. So you can volunteer at an animal shelter. It can get you into places that you would not normally have access to like prisons or youth detention centres.

  • But most of all you can make one big difference in peoples lives.

You can change peoples lives by bringing life and vitality into places where there is only pain and hopelessness.

Volunteering is so so good for others. And it’s about ordinary people doing extra ordinary things:

Like Georgie who at the funeral of his partner who had died of AIDS noticed that the church in Port Melbourne was looking pretty dusty. He volunteered to keep it clean in honour of his partner and for the next 25 years he’s been doing that as a faithful volunteer.

Like Louise who spends up to 20 hours a week talking and writing to long term prisoners,

Like Jack who is a severely disabled person living in a wheelchair and who spends hours of every week in a cat shelter as a volunteer cuddler bringing love and peace to people and pets.

There is absolutely nowhere that a volunteer can’t add something to the equation.

Often volunteers can do things that burocracy often prevents the govt. even agencies from doing. I remember having this conversation with a big shot top of the town lawyer who so wanted to breakout of his pin stripe suit and cheque book legal practice. And so once a week he donned his jeans and Rolling Stones T shirt to run a free legal clinic in a tough part of town.

Volunteers can bring your own assets and skills and mould them into the need presented.

And volunteers can make new and amazing thing s happen because their rules are different.

Now when you think about it all those things can be applied to the church, this church.

WE change peoples lives and there many testimonies to that here in these pews.

WE can do things that the establishment prevents, because here at St Michaels we have an independent spirit and orthodoxy plays no part in our life.

WE can bring life and vitality into places where there is pain and hopelessness. WE do this everyday in our Mingary Centre and we are committed to developing that further and reaching out further into the community.

We can also do that as we open ourselves up more and more into city life….so that the city writes our agenda for us.

And we can commit ourselves to a new and exciting future being open to new challenges and being prepared to take risks.

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