Wait, I Can Say No?

This past Sunday, Rev. Amanda Poppei of the UU Church of Arlington preached “…But Is It Fun?” about the power of saying Yes…As long as it’s fun. Say yes to getting ice cream in the summer, say yes to swimming, say yes to being present and available – if it works for YOU. Your health, mental and physical, is important, valuable, and should be cared for as thoroughly as the rest of our congregation.

It’s okay to say no! There is no stigma in turning down requests on your time and energy.  It’s healthy to take an honest look at what you’re currently capable of offering (and reevaluating periodically). If you just can’t bear the thought of doing One. More. Thing…then don’t.  Set that boundary! Put yourself first when you need to. Our collective job as a congregation is to lift our members up, to put the health of our community first by supporting and nurturing one another.

Yes, much of that supporting and nurturing comes from people who are currently able to offer their time and talents to help others. It’s cyclical; the people who are energized and able are not the same people every year, or month, or week, or even the same day. People rotate in and out, as they are able. Healthy boundaries help those not in the cycle recognize when a break or change is needed. This is part of what creates the interconnected web we often hear preached about.

Volunteerism is a spiritual practice – and the work needs to support the volunteer as much as it supports those being aided. We have a large congregation. We have a strong staff of capable people who work well together and with others. We have ministers who actively support our internal and external efforts. We have strong ties within our church community, and with our sister congregations and the greater community. We have the capacity and capability to graciously accept the No’s.

It’s also okay to say, ‘not right now.’ Or, suggest other people who might have more capacity; they can say yes or no as they feel able.

For those looking to find help, finding people to fill volunteer roles can be daunting, especially when the pool of people looking to fill roles has shrunk considerably thanks to a worldwide pandemic. Our ready supply of volunteers seems to have dried up as exhaustion and stress from the last two and a half years has built up. It’s hard to find anyone willing to do ‘one more thing,’ even if it’s virtual or from home. Some of our requested time commitments feel daunting or too long. D.C. could be considered a transient location, given the high rate of people coming and going from the area, making it hard to find people willing to take lengthy volunteerism roles.

Finding ways to meet the needs of the congregation and its work feels like it falls to one small core group of people who volunteer over and over for a wide variety of needs. Nor should it fall entirely on the staff to carry out projects or ministries that have been asked for by the congregation.

What it should be is an accounting of what our actual needs are. The questions we should be asking are:

Do we really need this, right now?

Who are we actually serving/helping? What are their current needs?

We did it this way in the past; is it still effective to do it this way? What changes could we apply to make it easier? Do we need to still do this? How do we move forward from here?

Could we scale back without causing harm? Does not scaling back cause harm?

Could this opportunity be virtual?

Does the time commitment need to be as long?

Does this effort still serve the population or purpose it was intended for?

Who else could we work with? Is there another ministry/committee/lay group doing similar work?

How many people do we actually need to do this work well? What skillsets/gifts do we want our help to bring to the table? If we can’t get those skills/gifts, will our work still be effective?

At the end of the day, do I feel good about the efforts I’ve put in?

It is worthwhile to reevaluate the efforts we are putting in to ensure our service areas, ministries, committees, lay groups, and personal efforts are still serving the purpose we wanted of them, and for ourselves. Thanks to the pandemic, several of our ministries have been inactive or gone defunct because it was recognized that the need for them had evolved into other areas, that it isn’t safe to carry out those efforts currently, or that there simply isn’t the energy behind them to continue on at this time.

Introspection may show a whole new path forward and bring with it new ways of service and support. New methods may bring in new volunteers who are excited and ready to take on new challenges because the time was taken to conscientiously evaluate what was working and what wasn’t.

Sometimes, by saying no, we enable ourselves to find ways to say yes, and invite others on the journey.

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