Last night I attended an awards ceremony unlike any I had ever seen.
Just yesterday, my local church, Aletheia (located at the Cambridge YMCA), honored their volunteers with an entertaining dinner and Oscar-esque ceremony dubbed the inaugural “Volly Awards.”
Immediately upon arriving at Central Square’s YMCA, each guest saw that this event was something out of the ordinary. There to greet at the front door was, not the normal volunteers, but the pastor who was dressed, not in his usual comfortable attire, but in a well-fitted suit and tie. (If you know Pastor Adam, something was clearly special.) Upon confirmation of invitation at a reception podium, the guests walked down a long red carpet to a photo shoot. Afterwards one would finally enter the gymnasium that had been decorated with a stage, backdrop and Christmas lights. Hors d’oeuvres were available as the guests (that is, the church’s volunteers) mingled and found their way to their reserved seats at one of fifteen or so elegantly decorated tables.
As dinner was served, the pastors emceed and entertained by way of song. First, one pastor played his guitar and sang a simple verse of thanks four times in four styles humorously appealing to various demographic of our diverse church. Next, the pastors teamed up with two worship leaders to tell the story of the founding and growth of Aletheia, as put to the music of Frozen. It was quite well done, and smiles abounded.
Later, dessert was served and the pastors individually introduced the leader of each ministry team of volunteers – such as those who greet, sing, set-up, or connect guests to the church. When introduced, dramatic music played as the leader appeared from stage left and came to the microphone to give thanks for their team and give special praise to their three nominees for each of their team’s Volly Award. The leader would recount stories of the service and praises for the nominees, who had each received a small glass paper weight engraved with their nomination at their table. And then, after a drum roll, the team leader would announce the winner of the Volly Award, who with raucous applause was called to the stage for a picture and a larger engraved glass award.
After all the awards had been presented, the pastors reiterated their thanks to all for serving the church and with well wishes and a prayer, the first-ever Volly Awards came to a close.
The whole night had been thoroughly unexpected. In my experience, volunteering at Aletheia has been its own reward. Once a month I set up signs in the area directing passersby and guests to our location and I greet all passersby and visitors with a smile and hello. Honestly, that greeting and welcoming all to the church brings me more than enough happiness to account for any pains or difficulties of service. As one church member paraphrased Psalm 84 as I welcomed her, “It is better to be a doorkeeper in the house of the Lord than to be a king anywhere else.” While some volunteers may be selflessly serving the church, I’m just out in front enjoying myself and wishing all I see a good morning. Perhaps because I enjoy volunteering so much, I was pleasantly surprised that my church would honor its volunteers, but I was downright incredulous (in a gleeful sort of way) upon seeing the Volly Awards. Our pastors and the leaders of our church really demonstrated their appreciation for the dozens – perhaps a hundred or more in total – volunteers our church relies on to function.
As mentioned at the ceremony, early each Sunday morning everything from signs to speakers and projectors to coffee pots to bathroom supplies and a collapsible stage all come out of various closets and are assembled in preparation for service. And each Sunday afternoon, everything is taken down and put back into those very same closets. All of that happens almost entirely because of volunteers. Likewise most if not all of the kids team is comprised of volunteer teachers and aides who week after week both teach and demonstrate Christ’s gospel of love and grace to the children of our young church. And that doesn’t even mention the worship leaders, offering collection or other volunteer tasks. To a large degree Aletheia happens because of volunteers.
Even so, the dinner and awards ceremony demonstrated appreciation and effort on the part of the leadership of the church that went well beyond anything expected or socially required. And because of the generous thanks, the Volly Awards were a joyful night to remember!