Volunteer Awards 2019 – Stephen Paul

Zoe OKill
Author's position
RVA Community Journalist
Article date
31 May 2019
Primary interest
How long have you been volunteering with Sunday Assembly and what do you do for them?

I’ve been involved in Sunday Assembly from when it started 5 years ago, it wasn’t started by me I was just in the audience. I think there were about 15 people in the room, I could see what they were trying to do to build a community. There was one guy who had an acoustic guitar doing the music, I volunteered to help in the band. We built up the band and the assembly started to grow. There was a lack of organisational skills, such as publicity and finances. I slowly stepped into that role over the next year.

I’m part of the band at Sunday Assembly, music is very important because it unites people. When you get people singing together, they bond better, compared to trying to make small talk with people. Those types of conversations can often put pressure on people. Music is the core of Sunday Assembly.

What made you start volunteering?

Before I came across Sunday Assembly, I was a hard atheist, but I came to the conclusion that it wasn’t a very positive thing. It was very confrontational. I was looking for something more meaningful, and then I heard of Sunday Assembly which involved taking the best parts of religious organisations and using that to build secular communities. That sounded like fun and a much more positive thing for me to do. Sunday Assembly is not an interest-based group, it’s not centred around a certain hobby, it’s blank in that respect so you don’t need to feel like you qualify to go along. That’s what really drew me in, it means we have a much wider and diverse group of people there.

What difference do you feel your volunteering makes?

I get very involved in the admin and technical side of doing the assembly. I get there early and set up the band and help with front of house. Sometimes this role separates me from the actual community but when I look at our feedback it really surprises me sometimes how meaningful that one Sunday every month is to people. It is something they really look forward to, especially in people who are living alone, they find Sunday Assembly is a little family for them. When you hear those little stories, it turns it from being a practical exercise to something that makes you understand why you do it. We have one person who comes along, he is normally Chris, but sometimes at Sunday Assembly Chris turns into Kerris, and that’s the only space where Kerris feels that she can be. To create that sort of welcoming atmosphere for people, it’s those sorts of stories that make you feel you’re doing something worthwhile. It really means a lot to me.

What do you feel you get out of your volunteering?

When I think of Sunday Assembly, I think to myself would I go along to such a thing if I wasn’t involved in the organisation? Quite often when I’m up on the stage people think I’m comfortable with that situation. But I’m not, I find social groups really quite difficult. Personally, for me, because I have a role in Sunday Assembly it gives me a strength to be a more outgoing person than I would normally be. It gives me a sense of self-development.

What word or phrase best describes your feelings about volunteering?

I guess in some ways it’s a sense of purpose and meaning. When you’re doing volunteering and working with people you get that immediate feedback, it makes you feel like you’ve done something good for someone else.