Building up the Body: Encouraging, equipping and
enabling volunteers in the Church
Church Times Bookshop £7.20 (Use
code CT195 )
MANY years ago, as a young curate, I was given a very sage piece
of advice by the verger at the church: never interfere with
flower-ladies. These devoted souls of quite firm aesthetic opinions
were, in his view, to be left alone to do what they did. The
alternative could lead to war. I have heeded this advice ever
Flower-arranging is, of course, only one example of the plethora
of jobs that need doing to make a church look beautiful, loved, and
used. Churches need churchwardens, PCC members, group leaders of
all shapes and sizes, musicians, fund-raisers, bell-ringers,
administrators. And for most churches most of the time, all these
jobs will be done by volunteers - people who do not have to be
there, but who for one reason or another choose to be.
And this is where the busy parish priest's troubles can begin.
What about the loud bass in the choir who has faithfully given
decades of service, but who can't sing any more? What about the
treasurer who hangs on to his position, but does not actually do
the job? What about the ones who say they are going to tidy up the
churchyard, and then don't?
And then there is the opposite problem: what about a situation
when keen faithful people turn up to help with something that is
disorganised and wasteful of their precious time (I am dealing with
just such a situation as I write this review)?
Richard Steel is a parish priest in Yorkshire, and has
considerable experience of working with volunteers. His focus is on
smaller churches with limited resources, and is particularly
directed to those of us who have to identify and encourage men and
women to give something of themselves to God's service in the
Church. He deals with issues to do with recruiting, training,
dealing with conflict, and so on.
What are the highlights of this book? For me, there are three.
First, it is important to understand the "psychology" of volunteers
- why people bother in the first place, and what keeps up their
interest - as this may vary greatly, often on generational
Second, it is important to ensure that your volunteers see what
they do as part of something much bigger: the mission of the
Church. Being a flower lady is about much more than just arranging
And, third, don't forget to say "Thank you."
The last book I was asked to review for these pages was, among
other things, about the importance of living the Christian life
outside the walls of church. This book is about getting things done
in church. It is a very readable and practical help for leaders who
might be tempted from time to time to think that volunteers are
more trouble than they are worth.
The Revd Peter McGeary is Vicar of St Mary's, Cable Street,
in east London, and a Priest-Vicar of Westminster Abbey.