Heather Burke is a regular with London Jesuit Volunteers and shares her thoughts and experiences.
My interest in volunteer work started while attending the Jesuit Georgetown University in Washington DC, where the Ignatian ethos of "men and women for others" was ingrained in me. I tutored primary school students and tried to share my love of reading. When I moved to London with work in 2011, I wanted to get outside my comfort zone and find an opportunity to continue giving back to the community. I felt a sense of gratitude at my ability to live in London.
I've been an London Jesuit Volunteers member for over four years - first in Wapping and then at Mount Street Jesuit Centre, which is also my parish. As part of LJV, I commit to a few hours of volunteering a week. I've read with children at a primary school, been a hospital chaplain and currently go on a soup run Monday nights with the Farm Street chapter of St Vincent de Paul. I learn something every week and it continually surprises me the amount of homelessness in such a wealthy part of London. LJV and volunteering has brought me out of my comfort zone and challenged my perception of the world and challenged some of my beliefs.
LJV is just more than a community of volunteers. Some of the people I have met through it have become close friends. The monthly meetings with other volunteers are as important as the volunteer work itself. It offers more than an opportunity to serve others; for me, it's time each month in a busy world to reflect on my life and faith and how volunteering ties in. My favorite part is listening to the experiences of other volunteers, who go on early morning soup runs, visit detainees and minister to prisoners, to name a few. I continuously learn from and marvel at their dedication and appreciate their support. They're a diverse group with incredible experiences.
Ignatian spirituality is a core part of LJV and taking time to reflect on how my volunteering ties in to my faith and other aspects of my life truly captures the Jesuit ideas of finding God in all things and educating the whole person. Past group meetings have involved praying the Examen, looking at art or focusing on a Scripture passage in depth. One of my favorite recent meetings focused on gratitiude and how that plays into our lives and volunteering. The LJV chapter also holds mini-retreats for Advent and Lent that's a great way to prepare for the seasons.
I have found I have gained more than I could ever give back and volunteering has become a core part of my life. With LJV I find myself surrounded by people of faith, spirituality and similar interests in social justice where I can learn more and talk freely about so many other things.
London Jesuit Volunteers was launched in 2007 to respond to the increasing needs and struggles of people living in poverty in London. With Ignatian reflection at the heart of the London Jesuit Volunteer service, it is inspiring to see the diverse and growing group of busy adults who are ready to dedicate themselves to part-time volunteering throughout London.
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As one of the people responsible for growing the London Jesuit Volunteer community for five years. Andrea tells of some of her experience with a Jesuit initiative that seeks to combine service to people on the margins of society, with the opportunity for reflection on that experience within a community of volunteers.