“We’re short of catechists/wardens/singers, can you help out?” How often have we responded to urgent appeals for manpower, and how often has this left us unfulfilled and exhausted?
Perhaps we volunteer for catechism even though we dislike teaching, or for warden duty even though we are soft-spoken… And then we quit, feeling guilty for letting others down.

It is true that the Church has only us to rely upon to keep its ministries and outreach groups running. But the good news is that we don’t do it alone: we work hand in hand with the Holy Spirit, whom Jesus promised would be with us always. And the Holy Spirit “distributes special graces among the faithful of every rank for the building up of the Church… to each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (CCC 951)

Does “volunteering in church” mean saying yes to whatever is asked, regardless of how suited it is to our personal abilities and interests? Or should we first discern our talents and charisms before offering our services where they might do the most good?

Clearly, the first option is far more likely to lead to “volunteer burnout”. No doubt we would still have done some good; and indeed, there may be times when we have no choice but to step up to the plate. But when we consciously exercise our charisms – the supernatural gifts that God gives each of us to build up His Church – we tend to feel “in sync” with our community, more joyful, and effective in a way that surpasses our mere human capabilities. We still need to work hard – since a charism does not replace the need for knowledge or effort. But those whom we serve feel touched by God in an intensely personal way.

According to St. Paul, God’s “gifts were that some should be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.” (Eph 4:11-12). Although most people think only of spectacular charisms like healing, prophecy, or the discernment of spirits, there are many more “mundane” ones such as hospitality, administration, music and encouragement. Each one is a gift of the Holy Spirit for the common good. We cannot hoard these charisms or use them to benefit only ourselves: they are for the Church.

These questions could help you discern your natural talents and charisms:
– What activities do I enjoy doing, and do well?
– What do friends and family compliment me for?
– What types of ministry do I find the most refreshing or rewarding?
– What areas of ministry interests me the most?

And do keep an open mind: a charism can provide a supernatural “boost” in areas which might not come naturally to you. Some catechists who are quite shy and introverted in daily life, come alive while delivering their presentations, conveying God’s love to the group with clarity and humour.

So, why not give it a go? Identifying your charism(s) helps you avoid the burnout that can result when you volunteer just to fill a gap in a ministry. It will embolden you to say “no” in order to say “yes” elsewhere. It will also help you to deepen your appreciation for God’s outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon His Church.

We learn to trust that God will send the right people to do the job – the onus is on us, like Mary, to say “Yes”.

A (non-exhaustive) list of charisms developed by the Siena Institute of Colorado, USA:
– Administration
– Craftsmanship
– Discernment of Spirits
– Encouragement
– Evangelism
– Faith
– Giving
– Healing
– Helps
– Hospitality
– Intercessory Prayer
– Knowledge
– Leadership
– Mercy
– Missionary Work
– Music
– Pastoring
– Prophecy
– Service
– Teaching
– Wisdom
– Writing

Estella Young

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