Christians lead the way for volunteer hours
By Beth Hiemstra | Wednesday, July 4, 2012
Margaret Sambol remains an active volunteer in the community. Photo by Sarah Dehler.
OTTAWA, ONMargaret Sambol experienced a pivotal moment when she was 15 years old. She was volunteering at a food bank, and realized that one of the clients was a girl from her high school.
"This was eye-opening for me," says Sambol. "This experience started me on a path of becoming a more generous person, a person who has compassion."
Not a Christian at the time, Sambol found that opening her heart to others was a step towards opening her heart to God.
"The volunteering [interest] and the care for others that I saw in the church drew me to the church," says Sambol.
Now 31, Sambol averages about 10 to 15 hours per week volunteering at her local community association and her church, as well as other charities.
A major study by Statistics Canada reports that religiously active Canadians are more likely to be a volunteer and volunteer more hours. They also tend to give the majority of their time to mainstream organizations. The report, Volunteering in Canada, finds that weekly attendance at religious services is still the most notable characteristic of "top volunteers."
"These statistics are not widely known and ought to be known," says John Stackhouse, theology and culture professor at Regent College in Vancouver, B.C.,"so as to inspire religious people to greater charity, intrigue non-religious people toward greater respect for these groups, and encourage anti-religious people toward greater circumspection."
Almost half of Canadians (47 per cent), more than 13.3 million people, did some volunteer work in 2010. The volunteer rate was even higher among weekly religious service attenders, among whom almost two thirds (65 per cent) volunteered.
More than one in five Canadian "top volunteers" are those who attend weekly religious services, compared with those who attend less frequently or not at all, who make up one in 10 volunteers. Statistics Canada defines top volunteers as the 25 per cent of volunteers who account for 77 per cent of the volunteer hours, spending 161 hours or more volunteering in a year.
"People who attend religious services regularly can range across a spectrum from self-centred to other-centred, of course," says Stackhouse, "but in a culture that tells us constantly to be self-centred consumers, religious services, and Christian churches in particular, emphasize the centrality of God and the demand to care for others."
Rick Hiemstra, director of research at the Evangelical Fellowship of Canada, is not surprised by the correlation of volunteering and religious commitment.
"Giving and volunteering are learned behaviours," says Hiemstra, "Churches are places where giving and volunteering are modeled and taught, and there is accountability to do these things. Where else do you find this in a culture that encourages radical autonomy?"
"My faith motivates me to keep going when things get hard," says Sambol. "There are so many things in the Bible in terms of serving, helping widows and orphans. Hearing about that and reading that make me wonder how I can do more. I've been so blessed, and I'm able to give back."
While religiously active volunteers often give their time to religious organizations, however Statistics Canada reports that they also "provided the majority of their hours to non-religious organizations."
"Institutions of faith do more than just influence the people who walk through their doors," says Ray Pennings, director of research at Cardus, an organization dedicated to the renewal of North American social structure. "They are actually incubators of social virtue that play a vital role in our social ecology."