At the end of this year a very fine west Durham voluntary and community sector body closes. Yesterday a party was held to celebrate its achievements. Those involved kindly remembered my early contribution (as its first Chair) and asked me for a few words of my own. I was only too glad to respond. For I am immensely grateful to have been part of the 2D journey in the early days. Indeed it was the very best thing I ever did in my native county Durham, not least because of so many truly canny people who were involved. So, though it is sad to talk about closure, I know that the spirit behind 2D will never fail. It reminds me of a local story. For, back in the 18th century, a Queen of England once asked what had happened to a particular clergyman. ‘Is he dead?” she asked. ‘No’, came back the answer, ‘he is just the Rector of Stanhope – he is not dead, just buried.’ ‘Not dead, just buried’: those might also be appropriate words for 2D at this time. For 2D’s secret has always been the love and life which have been poured into the people and places of the Durham Dales – so many seeds of encouragement, commitment and inspiration, which have borne such great fruit, accompanied by so many typical moments of humour and solidarity against the odds. Such things won’t just be memories but will continue to blossom. For they are buried in the hearts and lives of all of us who have had the joy and privilege of walking together with 2D: whether for a short while, or for all, or most, of its existence. I am thrilled by what 2D has gone on to achieve. May God continue to bless everyone in the next steps of new life.
A, supposedly Christian, body which I know of was recently challenged as to why its leadership group needed paying when other leadership groups on similar bodies were not paid (even basic attendance expenses). The answer came back: 'no one works for nothing these days'. That, in my view shameful, response says more about the people who made it than the reality of volunteering in our society. Sure, the pace of contemporary life has put great stresses upon volunteering and the spirit of voluntarism itself. Church groups in particular are often very stretched today, due not least to changing patterns of family life, most parents at work, age, and other changing demands. Understandable legislative requirements and compliance can also make volunteering and the practice of the wider voluntary sector more onerous. Yet neither volunteering, nor the professional voluntary sector, is dead. On the contrary, without them, our society would quickly grind to a halt. Nor are they about amateurism in the negative sense.
So today, as we celebrate the spirit of voluntarism in our parish with an office and volunteers party, I am giving thanks for volunteers - many of them deeply conscientious, immensely able and full of very professional gifts. I hope that the group of people who made their dismissive comment will reconsider. I know that they have a particularly challenging job to do at this time. Yet there is much much more to what they do than numbers, money and good organisation. Where the Christian spirit is weak, the flesh will also ultimately fail.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian and justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice and sustainable creation.