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Faith Matters: Generous Spirits Breathe Life into Island Churches

Volunteers staff the soup kitchen at Our Lady of Mount Carmel. (Photo provided by the Rev. Anthony Abraham)Like many other churches in the territory, the Midland Wesleyan Holiness Church on St. Croix would be hard-pressed to function as well as it does without the scores of members who donate their services to it.

“Those who offer their time do so because they have a love of what they do,” said the Rev. Alsender Williams. “We appreciate them very much, and they know that.”

Williams is not only pastor of the parish in Calquohoun, he is also district superintendent for the Methodist Congregations throughout the U.S. Virgin Islands and Tortola.

Volunteers, he says “are important for the survival of the ministry” especially in hard, economic times. But volunteering is not only good for the congregation, it’s good for the person who gives of himself or herself.

Services provided by church members run the gambit. Williams said they include everything from providing custodial service to serving as ushers at worship services, running after-school programs and other activities for youth, serving on finance and other committees, and providing transportation for members who need a ride to and from church services.

There is also a pulpit ministry.

“We provide opportunities for those who have a gift of preaching” to speak at parish functions, he said. They can receive grounding in their local assembly. “We’ve had quite a few” who have become such proficient preachers “we recommend them to others.”

At Our Lady of Mount Carmel Catholic parish on St. John, the Rev. Anthony Abraham says there are a lot of volunteers.

“It’s a good sign for the church when people give their time and talent,” he said.

Some people need to be asked, he said, because they don’t realize what they can contribute or they are shy about offering.

“We really have to invite people into the ministry,” Abraham said. “We help them to recognize their giftedness … and you work with them, especially at the initial stage. That’s very important.”

One of the most important ministries at Mount Carmel is religious instruction for children and youth. Currently about 15 adults teach the classes, divided into various levels from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade. At each level, there are at least two instructors “so no class will be unattended” if one teacher has to skip a class, Abraham said.

“We have to equip people” with both training and guidance, he said. And in the case of the religious instructors, there are also some materials, specifically a teacher’s manual. Before the classes start, the volunteer teachers go on a retreat. As the courses progress, there are periodic follow-up meetings for the volunteers and opportunities for them to get help with any problems that arise.

There are a host of other people donating their time at the parish, Abraham said. There are four groups who take turns cleaning the church; there’s the Altar Guild which makes sure there are flowers and fresh linens on the altar each week; there’s the fundraising committee, the finance committee, and others.

“They offer their time and their talent for the building of God’s Kingdom,” he said, adding that he has been touched by such volunteers.

One man, a pianist, played for all three Masses each weekend for two years until he moved away, and he would not even take a stipend in return.

“He did it joyfully … It is one of the testimonies that has spoken to me in my priesthood,” Abraham said.

There’s not a formal volunteer program at the Nazareth Lutheran Church on St. John, but pastor Carlyle Sampson said people step up to the plate “as needed.” Volunteers include parish members but also people from outside the faith, including members of the AA group that meets at the church. They handle much of the yard work and other maintenance.

At the Faith Christian Fellowship Church Alive in Christ, in Anna’s Retreat on St. Thomas, “The church is basically made up of volunteers,” said Alger Warren.

They are responsible for “everything from cleaning the bathroom to music,” he said. Some reach out to youth, some are in the prison ministry and/or the street ministry; some work in the food pantry for the needy, some conduct family seminars or financial management seminars.

“The church is the call by Christ to do those things,” he said.

There are between 400 and 500 people in the congregation, Warren said, and “probably in the neighborhood of about 200” are active volunteers in one or more area of service.

Service is its own reward, the churchmen concurred.

“It’s only what’s done for Christ that will last,” Williams said.

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