Four women were spending a Sunday afternoon in their church living out their faith by filling out paperwork. It’s a sacred act that goes back thousands of years. Not the paperwork part, but the faith part.

FAITH. Now there’s a word that will likely evoke 10 negative reactions for every good one – maybe even worse. That word is in pretty rough shape, particularly when it’s linked with church. So much so that there are days when I wonder if it can ever be rehabilitated.

But there is a major part of me that believes that it MUST be rehabilitated.

Why? Because I think that a big part of the quality of life we enjoy in this country depends on it.

That’s biblical even.

The book of Matthew lays out this story where Jesus is reported to say to people that they must learn to be personally active in addressing society’s ills. To not sit back in apathy or complacency. To not see “government” as something that we have no connection to, but are called to engage in. It finishes with those famous words from Jesus, “Where two or three are gathered, there I will be also”. In modern language it means, “Make everything you do count, especially the so-called little things”.

I am inspired by a conversation I had last year with her excellency the former governor general Adrienne Clarkson. She said that the most important thing a church can do is to cultivate volunteerism. That’s because to her mind and in her words, volunteers are the “backbone of Canada.” We are, according to her, among the world’s societies that produces the most volunteers. Great news! But not quite. She said it’s only 1 in 4 people, or 25%, that volunteer in Canada.

Churches do much better than the national average. In my church and most United Churches that I know, it’s close to 100% of our membership that volunteers in some way – with time and money. Many will volunteer their time at their church and then volunteer somewhere else also. Regardless of where they volunteer, their volunteerism is not about the “navel gazing” that I think many churches are unfairly stereotyped for.

Their volunteerism is about the most human kind if faith.

The next time someone invites you to their United Church (I can only speak confidently about our approach – but we are not the only progressive choice), try not to see it as something weird. See it instead for what it is – An invitation to actively work to make the world a better place. Faith in action, not in fiction.
The four women you see in the picture above are from Southminster United Church. (shameless plug – the minister there is awesome. Some of you will recognize her as someone very dear to me.) They are donating their time to support the refugee claims of people whose lives are in jeopardy. This involves a mountain of paperwork that must be diligently followed up on for two years.

How much faith does it take to sit in anonymity and fill out the paperwork, knowing you have someone’s life in your hands but not really knowing if it will work? More than once, the women expressed stressful concern that they didn’t want to make any mistake that would stall the process or cause it to fail. Canada, for all its faults, still can remain proud of its legacy of building a tolerant society that respects the power of a diverse world.

It takes volunteers to save lives. It takes faith to volunteer.
That’s a sensational example for sure. But there are more examples closer to home that are less sensational but equally important to making our country what it is. Southminster United estimates their building receives 70,000 turnstile turns annually for all kinds of community activities – almost all unrelated to central church activities.
They are not alone in this kind of volunteerism. Churches right across this country lend their support in so many ways to non-profit organizations and community groups, almost always at nominal rates. It amounts to a voluntary subsidy that your taxes don’t cover. Then there are the other volunteer organizations that churches open their doors to, many times for even less than a nominal fee – as in free – never really asking anything in return. Imagine what would happen if all those groups were asked to pay “the going rate” for the space they use and the administrative support they receive?
A lot of what we have in Canada that you and I would identify as making our country such a great place to live would disappear. Because those organizations, non-profit and volunteer, would crumble under the burden.
It takes volunteers to make our society strong. It takes faith to volunteer.

Did you know that the word “volunteer” is tied to the word “benevolent”? And did you know that it is also tied to the word “will” – as in “having the will to do something”? Think of faith then as cultivating “benevolent will”. It’s what we do at Carleton Memorial United Church. It’s what we mean when we say Peace, Courage, Confidence.
Where two or three are gathered…
The payback you get through volunteering might not be much. The payback may not be visible even. But by faith – the whole thing is divinely human.
Be blessed. Be a blessing.
Rev. Eric Lukacs