Community payback is the current name in England for a scheme where offenders work on community schemes to repay the community for the crimes they have committed. It used to be known as ‘community service’ and is run by the Probation Service. Typical types of project include graffiti removal, street clean ups, rubbish removal, gardening and repair projects, and even recycling projects.
The aims of the scheme are two fold. “As well as being a means to punish offenders for their crimes against community without serving a prison term, Community Payback literally forces offenders to pay the community back for the crimes they have committed. As a local community member you have the opportunity to decide on the projects that would most benefit from a hard working, supervised, unpaid labour force.” (http://www.communitypayback.com/)
When volunteers were clearing the outside of St Mark’s and getting rid of all the rubble, weeds and other junk that had been deposited there, two ladies passing by commented to each other, ‘Look at those two doing community payback.’
We had to laugh at the comment, since both men working at the time were not criminals or ‘offenders’ being forced to do community work, but willing volunteers, giving up their spare time to serve the church. That concept seems largely to have disappeared in people’s thinking in England, alas: it was obvious to the two women that young men doing that kind of hard physical work must be being forced to do so!
And yet the spirit of community service is still alive and well. People are still more than willing to get involved in something ‘for the greater good’ as they perceive it. We have had no shortage of volunteers since we started work on St Mark’s, some of whom don’t even attend church regularly. There is a lot of community spirit around.
Why do people volunteer? I’ve spent most of my adult life in various volunteer roles, some of which involved great responsibility, none of which involved monetary reward. Volunteering England defines volunteering as ‘any activity that involves spending time, unpaid, doing something that aims to benefit the environment or someone (individuals or groups) other than, or in addition to, close relatives. Central to this definition is the fact that volunteering must be a choice freely made by each individual. This can include formal activity undertaken through public, private and voluntary organisations as well as informal community participation.’ (http://www.volunteering.org.uk/WhoWeAre/Who+we+are/aboutve.htm)
Christians have always been at the forefront of those volunteering, not because they are any better than anyone else, but perhaps because they have a strong sense of how much God has done for them and so they want to show their gratitude in practical ways. John says that our love for God is demonstrated by our obedience to Him and that we should demonstrate our love through actions and in truth (1 Jn 3:17-18). For the Christian, then, we should all be involved in ‘community payback’, giving something back to our communities because that is a tangible way that our communities will see what God means to us and how much He has done for us. It is also, hopefully, a way that we can serve our communities and thus give them a glimpse into how much God loves them.