Caring for others, whether by vocation or volunteering, is part of Clare Neufeld’s DNA. It was bred into him as a way of being, something he learned as a child and that has informed his choices throughout his life.
“I was raised in a family and community which valued, even exacted, volunteerism from its members,” he muses.
So, serving on the board of Communitas for well over a decade has been a natural progression of a lifetime of service. In his youth, Clare volunteered with his church youth group in Manitoba and at the provincial level as part of Mennonite Church Manitoba. He has served as a pastor in Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and British Columbia. He has plenty of board experience, having sat on boards of two bible schools, denominational and inter-faith ministerials, as well as with Mennonite Disaster Service. He has been a penitentiary chaplain in Saskachewan and a hospital chaplain in BC. He has served all over this province, pastoring churches in Surrey and Kelowna, and now, living on Vancouver Island, he volunteers with his local Oceanside Emergency Support Services. But Communitas has a special place in Clare’s heart.
“This has been the longest, singular volunteer role I have held and have enjoyed serving,” he reflects.
Serving with Communitas is an extension of lifelong, impacting relationships. Clare’s mother suffered a stroke during child birth, leaving her with a physical handicap that was often mistaken for a developmental disability.
“She was constantly being told that she ‘could not do that’,” he reflects.
His best friends in early school years were both considered disabled and yet Clare never thought of them that way. He’s always been drawn to people on the margins.
“I have a soft heart for the proverbial ‘underdog’, people who are least likely to have friends, or simply don’t seem to have friends,” he says. “Yet they were my best friends, not because of what they did for me, but because they had no unreasonable expectations of themselves nor of me. We simply enjoyed being.”
This theme of “being” followed him onto the board of Communitas. When he first joined, he was happily surprised that as a board member, he would spend intentional time reflecting on spiritual and relational matters as well as business conversations. Some of the trainings and practices required of Communitas staff were also included as part of his experience as a board member as they learned how to respectfully and safely interact with one another. He appreciates this holistic approach to the organization.
But there came a time when Clare had to step back from his volunteer role. When he developed his own deeply debilitating depression, it became difficult for Clare to interact with people at all. He requested a leave of absence from his responsibilities as a board member, which was granted. And then, after a period of time, he was invited to return.
“I dared to do it, one time, and while I was there, I was reassured and encouraged to just be, to sit and listen with no requirement to speak,” he says.
This affirmation of being impacted Clare in a profound way. In doing so, the board members became his “church community, healing community, the incarnation of hope.”
“They were hoping for me, when I felt like I could not hope. They prayed when I could not. They patiently, quietly, often wordlessly, ministered love and hope to me until I could recover my footing,” he says. “This was something about Communitas, which did not surprise me.”
It is this person-centred approach that infuses all that Communitas does and Clare is grateful that he was able to experience this in such a deeply meaningful way. His experience has given him utmost confidence that Communitas lives out its mission, vision, and values every day.
“It is all an integral part of the fabric which is called Communitas,” he says. “Not flawless, but perfect, in the sense that like ripening grain, it is growing toward the fullness of its purpose, with every member of the body joined together, becoming what it is meant to be.”