The ability for volunteers in faith communities came to an abrupt halt 11 months ago. For Christians, it was a week ahead of Holy Week and Easter—what a time to lose not only in person congregational worship, but also the volunteers that support that act of praise. The journey toward re-engagement has been a cautious one. Leadership Teams and Councils and Clergy receive and review directives from the CDC and the State, examine emerging data and trends, consult with medical professionals, and discern how a community still gathers … when they cannot physically gather.
Many faith communities are now finding ways to find space together physically, while others maintain a virtual only presence. The weight of these decisions is not taken lightly—especially when it comes to when and how to re-engage volunteers. For many, the first question starts with: can this be done well (if at all) virtually? For example, can we serve those most in need through our outreach ministries virtually. Well, yes and no. We can assist with financial need over the phone, or by a Zoom connection, but offering a sandwich or a cup of coffee needs some form of in person contact. Are we able to gather as a community in worship? Again, yes and no. The opportunity to stream has opened many doors and provided access to so many, however, access to the internet or a computer should not be a given. Those with disability might find barriers if congregations are not positioned to provide an ASL interpreter or captions or other forms of access for the entire community.
In all organizations that engage and utilize the giftedness of volunteers our inability to fully engage them has left our missions slightly less bright than they were this time last year. Our missions and our visions are borne out by the hands, feet, hearts, and passion of our dedicated volunteers—not to mention the volunteer engagement professionals who cultivated and captured this motivation, so many of our volunteer engagement colleagues furloughed or now out of work.
At The Basilica, our leadership team examines every request to re-engage volunteers though our strategic plan and our desire to pursue re-engagement. Once the activity is approved, those engaging in that volunteer opportunity must review and agree to a strong COVID code of conduct for volunteers ensuring a safe environment not only for staff and volunteers, but all that we serve onsite. Check-in protocols involve health screening, time on campus is limited, and with every experience both staff and volunteers learn a bit more, and assist in the ongoing development and discernment of gradual reopening and re-engagement.
As Christian faith communities see Easter again on the horizon, the hope of a fuller re-engagement continues and with the great work and guidance of organizations like MAVA we are strongly positioned to keep moving forward safely and wisely.