Want to be Useful? Be The One

How to become a part of your parish: practical advice

Part 1

Congregational singing. Photo credit: Dmitry Kiryukhin Congregational singing. Photo credit: Dmitry Kiryukhin   

All you have to do is ask the rector—how can you be involved in the parish life?

Are you too shy to ask the priest? Ask him during the confession. Too shy to ask in person? Write a note…

I am sorry that I have to describe it in such detail but a great many people are too afraid to talk or choke up in front of clergymen. At least, at first.

However, there are different ways we can help without any special blessing. For example, we can help out with church cleaning after the Sunday service.

This doesn’t mean we don’t need help from the men! Some churches may want help at carrying out or beating the carpets, or it could be bringing water into the church or carrying it away, or moving and reshuffling things…

I must assure you that your help will come in handy even if there are plenty of others willing to stay behind and clean the church. I’ll let you in on a secret: As a rule, a charitable volunteer comes in handy no matter what!

We greatly underestimate the importance of cheerfully helping out

It seems that we greatly underestimate the importance of being good natured and cheerful as we offer help—be it to our loved ones, our co-workers, or our brothers and sisters in Christ. I will give you one example and it isn’t about the church: A well-known doctor from a famous clinic once shared a story about a young man with a mental disability who works in the clinic’s kitchen. The doctor spoke of him so lovingly! Of course, the young man wasn’t even close to being a culinary virtuoso… He simply had a peaceful and genial state of mind. That’s all. But the greater part of all conflicts in the kitchen fizzled out while he was around. And everyone knows how hard kitchen work is. But the young man always responded amiably, “Sure, I’ll do it!” to anyone speaking gruffly and he did as he was told. After that, everyone was too embarrassed to go on with their petty bickering.

Go figure—a disabled young man, obviously not the smartest of all… But he’s his coworkers’ ray of sunshine. That’s why it is highly unlikely that an amicable and good-natured offer of help inside the church, outside, or at a housekeeping area, will ever be rejected. It’s another thing is when you are assigned to do a boring or menial job.

An easy feat

Jobs can be boring and menial at the same time, but they represent two different things. Anyone who thinks of any productive work as menial simply doesn’t grasp the Christian idea of creativity as yet, full stop.

As for being bored… I think those who get bored while cleaning are unable to make sense of it. It often happens with some of us who have poor vision. I was bored when I mopped the church floors exactly for this reason. But once I scrubbed a church bathroom, I felt quite satisfied. Furthermore, it was in the 1990s, in a church located within a Moscow commuter belt and swarms of people were going in and out… So, a clean bathroom differed drastically from the dirty one. But when I was mopping the floors inside the church, I couldn’t see the results of my work—because of my weak eyesight, I didn’t notice the difference between dirty and clean floors.

Or, what if it is about a parishioner attempting to realize his creative potential? It’s possible. But it’s about time to ponder the following church paradox: Most often you will find the executives and top-ranked specialists in the first ranks of calm, modest, and obedient helpers.

The successful people don’t find it boring to sweep the church floors, polish the chandeliers or holy water containers, cart the sod for lawns, or rake the soil… They perform these jobs enthusiastically, feeling a sense of purpose. I can’t pretend to present examples from the life of our parish as one-for-all solutions, but that’s how things are here. But if someone feels “bored” performing simple obediences at church, could it possibly be some kind of a “systemic failure?” Or, what if it is a sign of a bad attitude toward creative work?

It must be said that the purpose of “any basic job” could be the starting point of getting more complex assignments in the future: Once they come to know you better, they will see what else you can do. And if they can delegate anything at all to you for that matter… I have to reiterate the main idea of the preceding article—it is often a question of a peaceful spirit rather than talents. Or, if nothing else, something as basic as knowing how to obey.

More often than not, it is more a question of peaceful spirit rather than talents. Or, if nothing else, something as basic as knowing how to obey

As is well known, willing subordinates grow up to be good bosses. If someone learns to peacefully and diligently assist someone bearing the burden of a church community leader, he will end up learning two new skills: what to do at his assignment and how to manage it. An added bonus will be the skill of coping with the fear of starting a new business.

Besides, any of those skills mentioned above can come in handy and will benefit the Church. For instance, the citizens of our town are steadily migrating to places located in other climate zones and our churches are steadily losing parishioners. Once the active former parishioners resettle elsewhere to attend smaller and often weaker church communities, they instantly become the most sought-after members.

They are in high demand due equally to their knowledge, skills, and experience of being a member of a Christian community with its tightly knit relationships, the excitement from the feeling of fulfillment and joy in ministry…

Practical advice

Even if you have some truly exciting ideas, don’t start with anything of cosmic purpose. This was mentioned before—it is necessary to reiterate because any bishop, monastery abbot, or church rector routinely deals with people bursting with amazing ideas… only to quit halfway, having stirred up a fuss by essentially demanding everyone drop what they were doing to make their vision a reality, and then failing the bunch of people who got involved.

Don’t offer large-scale projects

When a young woman returns to her hometown upon graduation from a big-city university, she can surely talk to the church rector about the capital city’s Nativity balls. However, if she decides to follow it up with еру suggestionб “How about organizing a ball in our church!” her idea will not likely be met with enthusiasm.

“What ball?”—a battle-scarred rector would likely reply, overwhelmed with a heap of problems like unpaid utility bills, demands from a local fire safety inspection service, and a leakн roof. “In what ballroom will it be held? How about costumes? But, most importantly, where will you find people who at least know how to waltz, not to mention other classical dances? You aren’t in the big city, sweetie!”

It would have served her purpose well if the young lady knew how to regroup and respond: “Yes, you’re right… But what if I teach our church school teen class a couple of simple dances that we could present during the church school’s Nativity play? As for the ballroom, we can use a school hallway, and as for playing music, I can bring my player and speakers…”

It would have played out really well for everyone involved but… It doesn’t always happen. All too often, someone will continue trying to prove that it is such a grand idea until the rector grows severely allergic to that idea, as well as to the one who came up with it. It successfully kills the chance of realizing the part of your idea that is reasonably practicable.

Or, here is another example: A parishioner offers to make a nice flowerbed in front of the church—a gorgeous flowerbed, to everyone’s delight.

“We can remove paving stones and soil here, install edging there, and then we will need a truckload of dirt and peat moss to enrich the heavy-textured soil, and also, the seeds. Yes, another thing: We will need to install a new water pipe with an outside tap for the garden hose, and then a hose with attachments, and a sprinkler.”

Are you smiling? But it’s true, that’s how these conversations often unfold!

But the most interesting fact is that they can indeed become an in-depth conversation with the rector who would sit down to listen, take notes and have everything arranged as requested! Any guess as to when that’s possible?

You guessed it right—it’s when that lady gardener has already landscaped another half of the church outdoor space. She began by first asking for a blessing to clean up a far-away corner of the front yard no one ever claimed before. It was so unkempt by then that there was simply no way to make it look worse. She toiled away cleaning it up, not asking for help or demanding attention for her work. Once everyone saw the fruit of her labor, only then she did discuss other projects with the rector.

Besides, the discussion was held in a respectful and amicable way, without forcing personal opinions on others but instead trying to accept the other person’s will, which is truly important.

If you are a newcomer, your idea of recreating the Hanging Gardens of Babylon will provoke rejection

What would you like it to be, batiuhska? Not sure what you wanted? Maybe I could show you a few photos to make it easier for you… What is your budgeted amount? Aha, I see… How about installing a watering system? No money to buy one? I’ll keep it in mind then… You’d love to plant more gillyflowers? You need to remember, batiushka, that this is a sunny spot while gillyflowers like shade… Something similar? How about these? I understand, I wrote everything down.

We have to understand the basic things about human psychology: If you are a newcomer, your idea to recreate the Hanging Gardens of Babylon will surely provoke rejection. But when you begin with a small assignment and methodically continue adding on towards doing things on a grander scale, you will become known as a doer and your large-scale projects will likely be accepted.

To cherish the neighbor’s peaceful spirit

I knew a guy who learned how to sew during his student years to help a struggling parish. Basically that’s nothing out of the ordinary if we recall that men are typically the best tailors.

It is maybe nothing out of the ordinary but surely uncommon. Besides, he was a student who could hardly afford any costly experiments. He found a tiny shop selling drapery fabric shorts and sewed sticharia for altar boys, because the priest had no funds to order them in a church supply store.

The sticharia he made were quite basic, with seams running everywhere and shabby embellishments. But they greatly beautified the service. If we think of it, in the days of old, no one bothered to notice the seams on vestments… are we any different?

Do we need to mention that a year later the young man was skilled enough to sew decent priestly vestments? Should we say how happy everyone involved has been? That’s when his rector didn’t hesitate to allocate money for the fabric and embellishments knowing that he can trust this young man.

I also know one woman, currently a sacristan, who started off by washing cassocks. We city dwellers have this running dilemma: Water left after washing church vestments can’t be simply poured down the drain, and the priests’ wives can’t wash the cassocks if they reside in apartment buildings. While matushkas typically come to their churches—even to those equipped with a drain well and suitable for washing cassocks—with their kids in tow and certainly can’t do the washing there. So, this lady took on the task of washing the cassocks and then also had to figure out the specific fabric and trim care. As she figured everything out, she took to repairing them—and yet later, to sewing the new vestments…

Next, I know a monk who learned to chant with great expression because he spent his first years as a Christian among elderly women who were hard of hearing. He could never imagine he’d be chanting at hierarchical services and have the Patriarch himself thank him for his chanting… He simply tried to be useful to his elderly ladies by reading as loudly and as distinctly as possible. As a result, his voice was trained to chant by default.

I could recall a plethora of other different ways that people hoped to become useful… and God did give them this chance. They sincerely sought to cherish the peaceful spirit of their neighbor in Christ. And it was given unto them.

To be continued

Ryassafore Nun Natalia (Kaverzneva)
Translation by Liubov Ambrose



Here you can leave your comment on the present article, not exceeding 4000 characters. All comments will be read by the editors of OrthoChristian.Com.
Enter through FaceBook
Your name:
Your e-mail:
Enter the digits, seen on picture:

Characters remaining: 4000

to our mailing list

* indicates required