If there’s one thing that makes me the envy of my local clergy colleagues it’s that my parish has a very well supported and well organised good neighbour scheme, meaning that a lot more people get visited and helped than I could possibly visit and help on my own.
A large part of the remit of ‘Friends in Deed’ is listening. Listening to people who are housebound and have stories to tell and nobody else to whom to tell them; listening to people whose burdens in life are more than anyone should have to bear; listening to people whose stories have never been told before, not to anyone.
But tonight all the volunteers came together to listen to each other – we set aside an evening to talk about what we do, and to listen to what we ourselves were saying. We dared to voice which parts of our work are most satisfying, which bits feel draining and which bits we wish we didn’t feel duty-bound to do. And because we were joined by some new volunteers, we were also able to listen to their ideas, and their reflections on what they’d heard.
It was a really good opportunity to ask ourselves some important questions, and to listen to our own answers, and each other’s answers, and to leave some questions unanswered. It was a chance to grow and evolve, rather than simply perpetuate what we’ve always been.
If we’re never given an opportunity to listen to ourselves, we may never reach the point of learning from our experiences. Having someone listening to us as a witness, or as a mirror, reflecting back our own words, enables us to hear clearly the thoughts of our hearts; and the way that our articulation of those thoughts gives us more clues as to what’s really going on. And just sometimes, we might be the only people who give that same opportunity to others. When we listen, we don’t need to judge, but we do need to give people a chance to hear themselves, and to know that their words, and their thoughts are being witnessed and valued, perhaps for the first time.
So thank you, Friends in Deed, for giving that chance to so many people in my village. And thank you too for all the people who’ve listened to me over the years, and for the way that that listening has helped me to grow into the person I’ve become. And thank you, too, to everyone who has honoured me by telling me their stories, and trusted me to hear and honour those words.