On 5 December, we mark International Volunteer Day, an opportunity to raise awareness of the important role that volunteers play in our local communities, and to thank them for the valuable contribution they make.

David Moloney, a parishioner at St Anne’s Catholic Parish in Seaford, has been involved in volunteering initiatives throughout his life, particularly within a parish setting. Though reluctant to be in the spotlight, David shares his reflections on the importance of hearing the Gospel’s call to serve our neighbour.

While David points out he’s ‘not a CEO of a big organisation’ and says he hasn’t ‘done anything big or noteworthy’, his willingness to recognise a need within his local community and do something about it has not gone unnoticed.

For the past 20 years, he has been part of the St Anne’s community, where, ‘early on’, he met fellow parishioner Kevin Vaughan—a meeting that served as a catalyst for their work together addressing homelessness in their local community. Both men shared a common interest in and appreciation for Cardinal Joseph Cardijn, the founder of the Young Christian Workers, and his enquiry model of ‘See, Judge, Act’.

David says, ‘When Kevin twigged that I’d heard of “See, Judge, Act”, it wasn’t long before we were sitting down around a kitchen table writing an enquiry for our local community. That is, we looked at our community to see what was happening. Then we made judgments in light of our values and our Christian Gospel. And then we decided upon something that was feasible to do—we acted.

‘It’s a case of looking around us, and looking at our lives, and seeing what needs to be done, concretely, in front of us. This methodology is why I’m attracted to the Cardijn approach. It’s based in formation through action,’ he says.

As a result of that enquiry, David and Kevin began to notice the number of people sleeping rough in the local area—on the beach, in the bush, in cars and in football ground coaching boxes. The Seaford Community Committee approached the small St Anne’s parish group and in a short time were joined by other local community groups including the St Vincent de Paul Mount Eliza Conference Social Justice Group and residents of the Seaford Beach Cabin Park, who had worked with them previously in a successful campaign to save their homes. So began the Seaford Housing Action Coalition (SHAC), which has met at St Anne’s each month for the past 10 years to discuss the practical needs of people experiencing homelessness, and to provide what services and advocacy they can.

It’s a case of looking around us, and looking at our lives, and seeing what needs to be done, concretely, in front of us.

While the Cardijn enquiry method provides guidance on how to take practical action within a local context, David says the deeper inspiration for his service of those around him comes from Jesus and the Gospel message. ‘The Gospel has given us the mandate to “Love your neighbour,”’ he says, ‘so we need to ask ourselves: who is my neighbour?

‘Though our Church numbers are diminishing, the Catholic Church and other Christian churches remain a huge presence in Australia,’ he says. ‘Our parish communities are not to be underestimated. They are unique, and I see more and more the potential of parishes to do things in a concrete way to serve others. We are the lay apostolate called to be of service in our worlds of family, work, neighbourhood and beyond.’

These past two winters, David and other volunteers from St Anne’s and SHAC have been involved in the Frankston Winter Shelter program led by the Peninsula City Church, together with the Gateway Church and St Luke’s and St Paul’s Anglican churches, and supported by local community groups. Churches provide accommodation venues on different nights, and this year, St Anne’s obtained a council permit enabling its Holy Family church hall to provide accommodation and meals to guests on Friday nights. There were 140 volunteers altogether who participated this past winter.

We are the lay apostolate called to be of service in our worlds of family, work, neighbourhood and beyond.

In engaging in the program, David says, ‘It was great to meet generous parishioners, of all stripes, who volunteered for different jobs. Including a few men who put a lot of time and effort into dealing with council, and tradies to get the hall to a passable standard. It provided another opportunity for our parish community to come together, to mix, to share our skills and gifts.’

Parishioners donated homemade and packaged foods, knitted items, kitchen appliances and cash. A large donation from an anonymous source also helped to get the program ‘over the line’.

Once the shelter commenced, David volunteered as a bus driver, picking up those seeking shelter for the evening from a carpark in central Frankston. He’d take them back to the hall, where other volunteers were working in the kitchen to provide a meal for dinner and others were at work in the hall preparing warm beds. Then there were the volunteers who stayed overnight, including university student Ruairi, who is also part of St Anne’s parish. Following breakfast the next day, the guests were dropped back into Frankston city.

David says there were a range of ways to help, each playing an important part in the bigger picture of service. ‘It could have been cooking in the kitchen, or hospitality in welcoming the guests, or helping prepare the meals in the evening or morning, or washing the sheets. Every small, concrete action counts.

‘Basically, the shelter was the work of 140 non-professionals, a place for a diverse range of predispositions and talents. So many small, good things were happening there through—and despite—[us] ordinary people. Little human contacts between volunteers, between volunteers and guests, between people from different Christian traditions—all little bits of the kingdom.’

David is a firm believer in the power of action as a means of personal and communal transformation, and as a concrete expression of love and evangelisation. He says, ‘As long as there is some sort of action—despite perhaps feeling vulnerable and afraid—this is an opportunity for formation. And it’s a contagious thing. It gives hope. When people see other people doing things, then they do things themselves. They become empowered and start to see new possibilities, and then all of a sudden, the world changes.’

David is hopeful that local parish communities will continue to be inspired by the Cardijn ‘See, Judge, Act’ method and will implement this method of taking practical steps to address the needs around them. He says, ‘When I joined with the proven Cardijn method of concretely engaging with the world, it changed my life and faith.

‘And while I have had a historical interest in “justice initiatives” that I have noticed began as small initiatives in parishes over the decades, I now see so many more issues that manifest locally, [in] which parishes could make a difference—not solve—if we began to take the world seriously.’ Among these issues, David identifies gambling and other addictions, climate change, homelessness, isolation, mental health and wellbeing, family support, and prevention of family and domestic violence.

So many small, good things were happening [at the shelter] ... little human contacts between volunteers, between volunteers and guests, between people from different Christian traditions—all little bits of the kingdom.

He is also hopeful that his story will serve as an impetus for others, particularly parish communities, to act despite feeling ‘frightened’ or ‘vulnerable’.

‘To me, the simple lesson of these interactions was that activity—action—brings us together, naturally and easily. It transcends our differences and fears and unites us in common purpose. Our attempt to do something good together binds us, quite deeply actually. It’s so simple and wonderful.’

If you’re interested in volunteering for the 2024 Frankston Winter Shelter program or would like to find out more about the Cardijn method of inquiry, you can email David Moloney.