Effie Caldarola

Nothing speaks so beautifully to the heart of ministry as “The Servant Song” by Richard Gillard.

“Will you let me be your servant. … Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”

After a year of isolating because of the COVID-19 pandemic and staying away from many volunteer activities, people are beginning to get back to normal routines and one thing they’re evaluating is how they will once again serve others in more person-to-person ministries.

My friend Sean works at a Catholic hospital as the director of mission integration. He guides the hospital in maintaining Catholic identity in ethics, spiritual and pastoral care.

Sean told me about the dramatic changes the pandemic brought to his hospital and mentioned that as everything changed in March 2020, all the hospital volunteers were sent home.

That’s a huge loss, not just for Sean’s hospital. You could hear doors slamming shut across the U.S. as volunteers were let go, both because facilities were closing to outsiders or because of liability and concern for volunteers’ personal safety.

This especially affected that army of senior citizen volunteers.

Now vaccinations are picking up, and we move timidly forth into this brave new post-pandemic world. A return to servant ministry beckons.

In what seems like the distant past to me, in March 2020, I offered my last First Friday Communion service in the absence of a priest at an assisted living facility. The facility closed to all visitors, and I couldn’t come any longer. Neither could the priest who offered Mass on Sunday in the recreation room, or the scores of volunteers who took the Eucharist to nursing homes and facilities all over town and all over the country.

Now many of these facilities are welcoming volunteers again.

At our parish, volunteer lectors and extraordinary ministers of the Eucharist are still not used at Masses. The staff handles all those things. That will probably change soon, and has probably already changed slowly at many parishes.

Previously, our library had a weekly book sale. People would bring in bags of books to donate, and volunteers would sort them and serve as cashiers for purchases. Everyone I saw working at these sales was a senior citizen. Now we haven’t had a sale in over a year.

Did those volunteers make it through COVID-19? Are they still healthy and eager to return, or have their interests and intentions shifted during this crazy year?

I think it’s one aspect of the pandemic we haven’t really considered, this huge forced exodus of volunteers, many retired citizens, from the good work of service to others.

COVID-19 did present some new opportunities. My 83-year-old friend in Ireland still helps with her beloved St. Vincent de Paul Society ministry, but now she makes phone calls for them. My parish asked for people to phone those who needed a friend through the pandemic, so I did some regular calling.

And many younger people picked up the slack, including my friend Lisa, who volunteered to drive a van to bring lunches to low-income citizens, a job formerly done by a senior.

But now, fully vaccinated, millions of people are venturing back into the realm of service, allowing those they serve to be Christ for them, all in a more personal way.

Have our priorities changed? Do we want to try something new? Do we look forward eagerly to getting out, or has isolation appealed to the introvert in some of us? How should we serve now?

Those are the questions we ponder this Easter season.