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10 - xCNS-VATICAN-CHRISTMAS-DECORATIONS

Decking the halls with faithful acts of service

As armies of volunteers prepare, clean and decorate our churches for Advent, it’s time to say thanks to all those who silently serve us, writes Fr Michael Kane.

At this time of year, it’s all hands on deck at the parish. As people are readying their homes for Christmas, so too the Church is getting prepared for a great season of celebration with all the practical work this entails.

At my parish of St Augustine’s, a team of volunteers, young and not so young, are getting ready to put together our giant Christmas trees with their thousands of lights. Putting the stars on top of these enormous firs is always a nerve-wracking affair!

A group will carefully unwrap our antique nativity set from its dusty hibernation, to display it majestically in our sanctuary. Our handymen will assemble the over-sized rabbit hutch to house our outdoor crib which overlooks the main road, and someone will visit the local pet shop to buy up all the hay to complete the scene.

 

Parish support

Some will arrange the flowers and prepare the sacristy and altar so that our church looks its very best. Other parishioners will befriend the mop and bucket to give the church a deep clean.

Men will spend a few days renewing broken stoppers on kneelers and fixing odd jobs around the building.

Likewise our music ministry is hard at work preparing for the solemn liturgies with the choirs and musicians busy rehearsing their repertoire. Readers are practising and altar servers are being put through their paces.

All this activity, great and mundane, reflects the pride people have for their church. They do all these things for one simple reason: to give glory to God. Every small act of service is offered as a gift to the Lord and His Church; it reflects the generosity and charity of God’s people.

 

Hidden heroes

In truth, what happens in our parish is nothing extraordinary. The same stream of volunteers exists in every parish, and the Church leans heavily on them every day. They are the hidden heroes of every parish community; the ones who are happy to work in the background away from the glare of the spotlight. They are the backbone of every parish; men and women who never look for thanks for all they do.

Every priest will know who these people are: dependable people who are more than happy to pop round to the church if Fr phones in need of an extra pair of hands. Parishes simply would not function without their willingness to help.

For a priest, the example of our parish volunteers is very humbling. People make themselves available despite their own busy lives and amid other family priorities. Many personal sacrifices are made to give time and energy to the Church.

 

Sacrifices

Some volunteers need to make childcare arrangements or sacrifice precious time with their grandchildren in order to volunteer at the parish. Some arrive at the church after a long and stressful week at work, still eager to help and still willing to spend themselves further. In fact, it is often the busiest people who give most generously of their time.

Yet, so often it is the priest who receives all the praise and adulation for the smooth running of a parish. “Fr, I don’t know how you manage to do everything you do,” is a phrase I hear regularly.

This is surely a great injustice to our people. Sometimes we are too ready to accept this praise without seeing the hand of others in our work. We priests need to resist this temptation and remind others that parish work is teamwork.

 

Appreciation

Advent, a season of preparation, is a moment to shine a light on the extraordinary work of all our parish volunteers. It’s a time to say thank you for all that they do so faithfully for our benefit. It’s a time to express our loving appreciation for all those who give without counting the cost, and who sacrifice without seeking thanks.

Finally, Advent is also an opportunity to consider our own role in the parish and to ask the obvious question about how we serve the Church we so love.

Could we give more time in the service of others in the parish? Could we offer our talents in some small way? Whether great or small it is all part of building the Kingdom of God.

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