Two Faces of Volunteerism Yesterday,


Two Faces of Volunteerism

Yesterday, while leading my small class on the Catholic Novel (for those interested the next book will be The Lonely Passion of Judith Hearne) I ran into some member of the parish's St. Vincent de Paul Society, as well as some of the people they serve. We both meet in a smallish outbuilding, originally designed to hold the Parish Offices. As I came in through the foyer, there were about four people crowded in, waiting in chairs for something. I realized this was a service day.

It occurred to me that I could likely join this group of men and help in service of the poor. And for a moment the idea sparkled and then faded.

That afternoon, I went to a board meeting of a group dedicated to starting a new publication for the local historical society. They want to start publishing a small journal dedicated to our region's History. (Very frankly, I didn't realize it had any, which is one of the reasons I volunteered to help with this endeavor). Anyway, they need peer reviewers, editors, selectors--you name it, they need it. They even need submissions. They want to publish the first edition in February (given that there is nothing in place yet, it seems ambitious, but it is doable). As I left, I told the woman in charge that she could feel free to call me for anything she needed--advise, editor, writer, etc.

Now I look back on these two opportunities--after all, the possibility of working with the St. Vincent De Paul society has not slipped away, and I wonder at my reactions. Why was one so immediately appealing and the other so appealing, and then unappealing. I find several factors:

(1) Familiarity--I know a great deal about the editorial process and publishing. This is the environment in which I thrive. There is an intellectual stimulation in that I will learn something about the local area, and history is utterly fascinating to me--that way that it leaves nearly invisible and yet profound imprints on things all around me. St. Vincent de Paul is not familiar, nor is it comfortable. And everyone in the society appears to be thirty to forty years older than me. In this church, at least, it's a whole bunch of ex-New York, hale-fellow-well-met, possibly beer-drinking buddies from way-back. That's perception. But let me define how many things I dislike about the perception: don't like anything that smacks of "fraternities" (won't join Emmaus or Knights of Columbus or any such organization). Don't drink beer, wine, or any alcohol. I am not now nor ever will be a "hale-fellow-well-met." At best I'm an extremely cautious, "Pleasant sort of day isn't it." No back-slapping please! New York is a wonderful place, but I passed a set of exceedingly difficult years there and unfortunately my feelings about the place are tainted by the years. (In other words, couldn't share any fond reminiscences.)

(2) The fear factor--in encountering those less-well-off that I am, I am nearly overcome with dread. It has nothing to do with fear for my person or goods, it is more a "there but for the grace of God go I" fear. I suppose some deep, dark, superstitious pocket of my soul identifies poverty with the flu and wonders if it is catching (particularly in the present economy).

(3)Showy vs. silent--My involvement with the historical center can and will be done without fanfare, with anyone other than the few on the council and the person who helped me to get involved knowing anything about it. In the St. Vincent de Paul society, every volunteer action is know by a bazillion people--the entire society and their entire network of friends. The friendly, but much to be avoided, eye of the pastor would pass over me noting my presence in this group (along with the five million other groups). He does frown on multiple participation, but sometimes laments that the entire mission of the parish seems to revolve around a core of about 50 people, even though we have 10,000 enrolled.

(4) The tenor of the two groups. I'm sorry, I'm just not a good joiner for boisterous, enthusiastic, loud groups. Chamber music over marching band any day of the week.

So what is the point of all this? I wanted to share some of my imperfection in a confessional sort of way. But I also wanted to talk myself into seeing this opportunity in a better light. I know that I am being called more and more to service--and while I do a great deal, much of my work is "preaching to the converted." I run the formation for my group of Carmelites, am, at least ostensibly in charge of coordinating the regional formation. I give lecture on spiritual journaling, prayer, and just about any other topic the church happens to need talk on. I work with RCIA in both supporting the Catechumens and in giving some of the teachings. One might say I live a fair life of the mind. But perhaps the time has come to move from that to more substantive work, work more meaningful to those with less firm connection to the Church. And the Vincent de Paul society may be a leg up. Many of the things I could do are precluded by being weekday things--Soup Kitchen, Volunteer Health Center, Crisis (Domestic Abuse) center, etc.

I suppose the time has come to stop merely buying my way out of these activities and finding a way to truly support them. But rather than leaping into them, I will be praying about this a while. I ask all of you who read this to pray for me for discernment. I don't want to start and stop in this walk, as it would be too easy not to bother starting again.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on October 20, 2002 8:32 AM.

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