In September, St James' Stanstead Abbotts was delighted to receive four visitors from the Benedictine Abbey in Tyniec, near Kraków. The group, led by Marta Sztwiertnia, the Culture Manager at the abbey, was involved in a project to develop permanent co-operation with volunteers, and was visiting CCT churches to gain an insight into how church volunteer groups operated in the UK.
Tyniec, a historic village in Poland on the Vistula, is notable for its famous Benedictine abbey founded by King Casimir the Restorer in 1044 - the oldest monastery in Poland. The name of the village comes from a Celtic language word "tyn", which means wall or fence, and which means that the history of Tyniec as a fortified settlement dates back to pre-Slavic times. Since 1973, the village has formed part of the city of nearby city of Kraków.
The focus of Marta's visit has been to look into developing permanent cooperation with volunteers because, up to now, they have been organising an annual volunteering camp which, while great for them and for volunteers, was not effective in developing the longer term relationship with volunteers needed to create an effective working relationship.
As we all know, volunteers are hard to find; the team was keen to look at a variety of initiatives undertaken in the UK to see what might work back in Poland. Issues included: recruitment of volunteers; mutual benefits between churches and volunteers; motivation and evaluation; communications processes; how volunteers work and break down responsibilities within their own teams; the relative freedoms of volunteers to act independently of the larger church body; how volunteers are trained and how the CCT acknowledges their work.
The team's visit to St James' took place on a wonderful sunny day and, despite the necessity of wearing masks inside, was highly inspirational for both parties. The group was particularly interested in the church's stained glass (one of the team had studied the processes of manufacture and shed fascinating light on colour processes) and in the mediaeval graffiti on the font - which is always a cause of joy for visitors when seeing it for the first time.
We hope one day to make a reciprocal visit to Poland to see the Abbey - it looks a truly wonderful place, as you will see on their website (link here).