Ven Martin Gorick
Archdeacon of Oxford

I’VE just seen a story about George Clooney doing some volunteering.

He was helping out in a charity café in Scotland called ‘Social Bite’. Social Bite employs former homeless people and operates a “suspended” coffee and food programme where customers can pay for a hot drink or food for someone who needs it more than them.

Its customers must have been quite surprised to find themselves being served by ‘Gorgeous George’ himself! OK, it’s a stunt and he gets publicity for himself as well. But he’s rich and famous enough already not to have to worry about that.

He didn’t have to get on board with a charity in his spare time but, like hundreds and thousands of people up and down our country, he did – following the age-old commandment perhaps “to love our neighbour as we love ourselves”, or “to treat others as we would like to be treated”.

Or, perhaps, simply to do our little bit to make this world a better place. To help a sometimes hard world be a little bit kinder, a cold world a little bit warmer.

As Archdeacon of Oxford I get to meet people all the time who work as volunteers, giving of themselves, their money and their time to help others.

Whether it’s in my local Oxfam shop, or in the Student Hub. Whether it’s in Emmaus or Gatehouse projects with the homeless, foodbanks, community cupboard, Low Carbon Hub, Asylum Welcome, Refugee Resource, the list goes on and on.

Often I meet people I know from our churches giving of their time in this way, alongside people of all faiths and none.

Volunteering can be a great way to meet people and to gain experience, as well as to feel that you’re giving something back and doing something constructive with your time.

The Church Urban Fund has been supporting people in the poorest parts of our cities for the last 30 years.

I used to be the vicar in a very poor part of Birmingham, among great people who had few opportunities, and little in the way of amenities.

We had a run-down old church hall, cold and damp but very well used. We hosted parent and toddler groups, a playgroup, old people’s lunch clubs, youth groups and dance groups.

The place was always busy, but I wished it could be better. Standards of health and education locally were really bad and the council wanted to improve them.

So did the health authority, but no-one wanted to go to their health centre – two bus rides away in an area where people didn’t feel safe.

I wanted us to work together. We could provide the people with a and the safe place to meet. They health authority could help provide appropriate health and education opportunities working with us in a re-modelled hall, a healthy living centre.

We needed money to get us started, and some good advice, and found both through the Church Urban Fund, then and now a well respected charity giving grants and advice to church-based projects working in the most deprived parts of our country.

All their funds are raised by volunteers like you and me. You can find more details on their website, with good advice for any voluntary group or local project starting out. You will also see news of the Great Advent Sleepout taking place all over the country on December 2.

Somehow, despite my advancing age, I have been foolish enough to volunteer myself to sleep out overnight to help to raise money for this great charity that once helped me.

‘Team Christ Church’ students and cathedral staff alike getting together as rather chilly volunteers for a common cause. Brrr!