“Like good stewards of the manifold grace of God, serve one another with whatever gift each of you has received.” –1 Peter 4:10

Volunteering. Lots of us do it, whether in our congregations, in our communities or in distant lands. We Lutherans believe that we are meant to be God’s hands and feet in the world—not because God requires this for salvation but because the God who loves and has already saved us deserves a thank-you from our hearts. What’s more, God commands us to love our neighbors.

For the past 18 years, I’ve led summer servant trips with our high school and college youth from my congregation, Christ’s Lutheran Church, Oreland, Pa. We have traveled as far as Guatemala and Alaska, and as close to home as New York City and Philadelphia. Many come back year after year to volunteer with us.

Why? Probably not because they look forward to sleeping on hard church floors or eating less-than-gourmet meals. More likely, they serve because it feels good to connect with those in need. It feels good to learn from them and make their days a little brighter. Maybe our volunteers look at their neighbors and see the face of God. This is the heart and soul of volunteering.

Older folks can also be dedicated volunteers, doing jobs big and small. Some swing a hammer at a Habitat for Humanity site or work in a soup kitchen. Others prefer to help in the church office or on the ground—and these are often unsung, little-noticed tasks. These people aren’t in it for the recognition. With age comes the perspective needed to observe our troubled world, give thanks for our blessings and share them with those less fortunate.

Maybe our volunteers look at their neighbors and see the face of God. This is the heart and soul of volunteering.

But what of our littlest ones? Most volunteer projects demand grown-up skills—cooking and baking, doing construction work, etc. One might easily assume that children are too young to contribute much.

At Christ’s, we offer volunteering and service for members of all ages. At our weekly Family Table—a cross-generational Sunday school—a three-year-old stuffs a teddy bear while working alongside an 80-year-old grandma. On our annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service, over 100 people of all ages worked on service projects in our parish hall.

Even the youngest among us have something of value to contribute, whether it’s a crayon drawing for a veteran or a homemade pull toy for an abandoned dog in an animal shelter. These children are born with the generous, loving spirits God gave them—it just takes a little nurturing to make those spirits blossom.

In these trying times, with so much attention given to bad behavior and selfishness, we need to remember the words of Anne Frank: “In spite of everything, I still believe that most people are good at heart.” Even amid the horror of the Holocaust, she understood that most of us do our best to be loving and giving—reflections of our ever-loving and -giving God. How will you love and serve your neighbors this year?

Elise Seyfried
Elise Seyfried is a freelance writer whose work has been published in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Guideposts and many other publications. She is author of three books of humorous spiritual essays and director of spiritual formation for an ELCA congregation in Oreland, Pa.

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