What do I bring to my community?

My wife and I are having a debate today. We are looking out the window at around 10cm of snow in the churchyard. She says “it’s beautiful”. I say “it’s a pain”.

I know I’m being a grump. I always am when it comes to snow. Maybe it’s because of that sledging accident as a kid which broke my nose. But my concerns are more pragmatic. As a Vicar, I’m very conscious that there were three funerals to do this week, one of which was a burial. I need to get to the Crematorium for the others and it really won’t do if I’m late or, perish the thought, can’t make it at all.

But I’m also very conscious in this role of those who are housebound or fragile. For them, the snow and the perils it may introduce into their weekly procurement of supplies is no laughing matter. It is why our church pastoral team, along with me, have been making a whole bunch of phone calls today and yesterday – checking in on the elderly members of our church community (and those who are not ‘elderly’ but may have other challenges) and ensuring that they have bread, milk, water food, toilet roll or whatever essentials of life they might need. What we want to avoid is an unnecessary and treacherous walk on ice for someone who can ill-afford to slip and fall.

It’s all got me thinking about volunteering. The strength of a real “community” lies in its ability to think about others and look beyond your own interests to the needs of others. What a place it would be to live when any potential ‘weak link’ in the chain is helped and strengthened and enabled.

It leaves me wondering whether I can challenge all of us this Lent to ponder “what is it that I can do for my local community”?

There’s certainly opportunities in our churches – pastoral care, visiting the sick or elderly, prayer support, children, the buildings, our churchyard wall volunteer project in Offham, the churchyard maintenance crew in West Malling.

But there are plenty of opportunities for those of us who feel we have a loose or even no affiliation with the Christian faith. Even in the pages of this month’s magazine, West Malling is looking to raise money to repair the War Memorial and our friends in Ryarsh are rising up to fight proposals for a new quarry in the village.

Some of us might not feel we have much to offer, but I would want to challenge that wholeheartedly. I look at young mums and then see the wisdom and experience of elderly women and I’m thinking “how can I help this group of people to learn from and be supported by this other group of people”? Just because you are old (or young) shouldn’t mean there’s nothing you can do.

And all of this public-spirited assistance is good for your career too. The World Economic Forum recently wrote about the importance of ‘skills-based volunteering’ or SBV.

In a world where nearly half of jobs could be potentially automated, either now or in the future, it’s important to stand out from the crowd and keep gaining skills that may be useful in the labour market.

All this is nothing new. Whether you call these activities ‘pro-bono’, ‘skill-sharing’ or ‘civic entrepreneurship’, the challenge before us is to give of our time and our talents to improve society on a voluntary basis, and with no financial gain.

It’s about more than just signing a petition or making a donation. Sometimes you may well contribute your skills and your time to something already going on. I’ve already mentioned a few things going on locally that you could take part in.

But I would love to think I live in and serve two communities where there is such a groundswell for this kind of thing that people are empowered to team up with other neighbours, share their talents and entrepreneurially find their own new ways to benefit ‘the common good’.

It might be public health, climate change, education, accountability of local government, the church, local services, care of the elderly, mental health, the local ecology and wildlife.

And don’t tell me you don’t have the time. If you have time to sit in front of the telly for more than four hours a week, you have time to take an hour or a couple of hours each week to make a difference!

So instead of giving something up for Lent this year, could you take something on? Make West Malling, Offham or Kings Hill an even better place to live, and gain some useful experience and skills in the process?

Rev David Green

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