Aged 18-30? Looking for a way in the wilderness? For a light in the dark? Or just a new experience and some transferable skills? The Columban Faith in Action programme provides an opportunity like no other to delve deeper into your faith through action and opportunities for encounter. Based around justice, peace, care for creation and inter-religious dialogue, this year has it all! From practical social and campaign skills to knowledge on the asylum process, inter-religious dialogue and the environment, the year is jam-packed with opportunities to help you discover your own path.
St. Columban once said “A life unlike your own can be your best teacher.” (St. Columban), over half way through my year as a Faith in Action volunteer I can now see much clearer what St Columban was talking about. Growing up in Dorset, coming to the second largest city in the UK, with the youngest and most urban population in Europe and the most diverse population in England, wasn’t the first place I would have pictured myself when I was younger, but now I wouldn’t have it any other way and I’m proud to call it home at least for this year! In fact, this year so far has taught me the best lessons come when you are least prepared and furthest from your comfort zone. It has guided me and confirmed the direction I want to travel in, helped me to identify the paths it’s time to leave behind and opened my eyes and ears to new roads yet undiscovered.
Let’s start at the very beginning, I hear it’s a great place to start!
Starting in mid-September, myself and fellow volunteer Tobi were first introduced to the programme and the Columban world through an induction filled with information and action paired with sometime for peace and personal reflection. From technical elements such as discovering ministry placements, to Columban spirituality, diversity and time for personal reflection, the month provided a wonderful deep dive into the community, faith and forming friendships to carry you through the rest of the year. Since then we have been taken on a journey of training, practical lessons and opportunities to truly put our faith into action.
For the majority of the year ministry revolves around a semi-regular pattern of two and a half days placements in the local community and the other two and half working alongside the education coordinator running workshops for students, schools and educators. Semi-regular because within this routine there’s still time for flexibility, to explore, discover and experience other opportunities that arise throughout the year. Placements are hand picked from relationships formed over many years and are places of warmth, challenge and joy. This year I found myself using my teaching experience to teach local mothers English at the Open Door Friendship Centre in Small Heath, whilst Tobi has been helping out in the kitchen and serving the local community at Brushstrokes in Smethwick. Other placements have included St Chad’s Sanctuary, English Martyrs Primary School and Restore. Whether you are looking for specific experiences or want to build on skills you already have in a diverse context there’s something for everyone.
Interlaced throughout the practical experience are key spaces for training and formation that continue to inform you in your current role but also times to expand knowledge and uncover other forums you wouldn’t have found otherwise. On an international, online and in person levels over the past year I have been fortunate to receive in-depth sessions on the asylum process, the environment and even child trafficking and modern slavery which I would never have considered otherwise.
Besides your practical encounter and experiences, training and formation, there’s also once in a year opportunities, which for us included COP26 and running ’24 Hours for the Climate’ a 24 hour livestream collecting stories from around the world, and then taking part in the biggest march across Glasgow. It has been a year where I have gained so much experience, skills and support to really achieve all that I have wanted to. There have also been moments of collaboration with other organisations, it has been a wonderful year for networking and sets you up with great contacts for the future. This year we have worked both locally and nationally with groups such as Assumption Sisters, Pax Christi, Restore, Stories of Hope and Home, the Laudato Si’ Movement CAFOD and Justice and Peace Scotland amongst many others!
Talking of her experience of the programme, Volunteer Tobi explains, “The year so far has been a very insightful. I’ve learnt a lot about caring for creation and how this Earth is our common home which does not just belong to humans but other non-human animals. I have also learnt about the concept of IRD which aims to promote positive relations between groups of different faiths and there has been opportunities to do this throughout the year. For example, we attended an inter-religious programme which focused on the topic of Life after death from the perspective of different scripture. The panel consisted of religious leaders from the Jewish faith, Islam, Hinduism Christianity. It was a great chance to hear what each belief states about life after death. We also attended an Iftar during Ramadan and for me it was my first ever Iftar. I was glad to experience it and see the importance of it in the Islamic faith.”
I guess what’s most special for me about this year is the humanity you get to experience, the exposure to people’s stories, lives, religion and culture. It has provided spaces for growth in everyday conversation and a deeper appreciation for the people you encounter even for moments. And for that, and the friendships I have gained I will forever be grateful.
If this sounds like something you or a young person you know might be interested in next year’s programme runs from the 19th September 2022 – 31st August 2023. The closing date for applications is noon on Friday 1st July 2022.
Should you have any further questions or queries, or wish to speak to a previous volunteer, please email firstname.lastname@example.org