As I closed my bedroom curtains yesterday evening, ready to settle down for the night, there were groups of people walking past the Deanery, dressed up, lots wearing flashing bangles and crowns, all involved in the Shine Walk for Cancer Research. As I drew the curtains in the morning people were sill walking past, those who had opted to walk the full marathon route. Some were finding the last mile difficult, others were striding out, all were determined to get to the finishing line in the old Billingsgate Market opposite Southwark Cathedral.
I was walking to the Cathedral and chatting to some of the walkers. They were doing the walk for their nan, their dad, their mum, their friend who had or was suffering from cancer. On one corner was a group of volunteers encouraging the walkers on their way. It was great to see.
There were two other walks going along Bankside as I left the Cathedral at lunchtime one for ‘Refuge’, which looks after those who have suffered domestic abuse and a group resplendent in orange t-shirts doing a similar walk, which would end a Battersea Park, for the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Some were walking, others were being pushed in their wheelchairs – they were all up for the journey, determined to succeed in the challenge they had set for themselves. And I know that elsewhere in London other fundraising walks and volunteer events were taking place. Another friend, Laura, was running a half marathon for ‘Young Epilepsy’.
I don’t think that there was anything special about this Sunday, in fact I see people taking part in walks and runs almost every weekend. Last weekend I was sitting outside the local pub having breakfast and watched loads of people running past in gorilla costumes raising money for mountain gorillas and obviously enjoying themselves.
Yesterday afternoon, we celebrated and thanked the team of almost 500 volunteers who work with us at Southwark Cathedral. They are involved in all aspects of our life and we could never do what we do without their generous help. People are involved in the liturgy and in music making as you would expect. But most people are not doing those jobs, not engaged in those ministries, but are involved in the ministry of welcome and hospitality as Stewards, and Welcomers and Day Chaplains and Guides and coffee makers. Some are involved in the life of the Education Centre; some work in the office. Some use their skills as embroiders and tailors, some arrange flowers, some ring the bells, some choose the art that hangs in the Refectory, some work in the shop. Whatever people do, and I might have missed out some of the groups, we were delighted to thank them.
For most people it is about their Christian commitment, their response to the love they have experienced in Jesus and their love for their cathedral but not for all. We have a Muslim welcomer. He does a great job and loves welcoming people to a scared and beautiful place. When other Muslim visitors arrive they are amazed to find him there – and pleased. Lots of those walking and running today will be people of faith but many won’t be, but they are wanting to make a difference, wanting to give to the things that they really feel passionate about, the issues that have touched their lives.
This weekend of celebrating volunteers began for me with a memorial service. It was for John Trevor Williams. Those who know Southwark Cathedral will recognise his name, one of the rooms is named after him. He died recently aged 93. His sister, his only close relative, died a few years ago, but he wasn’t alone. His whole life was about generous giving and that was why the choir of the Cathedral was packed to capacity with people from all the organisations his life touched, people of all generations and backgrounds. He had worked for the Children’s Society, he had been a Scout leader for years, he had worked for looked after children in lots of places and in different ways. He was generous with his time, with his professional skills (he was an accountant) and with his money.
For 23 years he was the Comptroller at the Cathedral, so our accountant and financial controller. He did this full time, unpaid for all these years and I know that in some of the more choppy financial times he put his hand in his own pocket so that we could pay the staff and the bills (but that has only become known to me after his death). I worked it out; if we had had to pay for his services at todays prices it would have cost us over £1 million. He gave us this, in his life.
John did it out of a very firm commitment to Christ and his church. He gave because he had received.
Volunteers, whatever they do, oil the wheels of our communities, keep so many of our institutions functioning, raise the money that provides the essential services that Government no longer provides, give for people they know and people they will never meet. This needs celebrating, not on one day or one week in the year, but every day and every week. They are a community of charity, a community of love and whether or not they do it out of love for God as well as their neighbour, God loves them.
This famous prayer of St Ignatius of Loyola expresses so much of what volunteers are doing.
Teach us, good Lord, to serve you as you deserve; to give and not to count the cost; to fight and not to heed the wounds; to toil and not to seek for rest; to labour and not to ask for any reward, save that of knowing that we do your will. Amen.