From 2001 to 2005, I coordinated the activities of ARC UK, a small volunteer organisation supporting communities of guides in cathedrals around Europe.
When I inherited the coordinator mantle,* the local organisation was still known as ARC England, but this was misleading because although we handled arrangements for communities based at four English cathedrals, we also had responsibility for recruiting English-speaking volunteers to act as welcomers and tour guides at cathedrals elsewhere and we were open to volunteers from beyond England’s borders.
During my time at the helm, the organisation’s structure was formalised. We had partners in France (ARC France), the Low Countries (ARC Netherlands-Flanders), Germany (ARC Germany), Italy (ARC Italia, and sometimes Ars et Fides) and Spain. The name ARC reflects the character of the communities, which began as with young Francophones in London in the 1980s: Accueil (Welcome), Rencontre (Encounter), and Communauté (Community). In formalising the local structure, we sought to emulate practices we admired in our partners, instituting a proper recruitment process (including publicity, briefing, etc.) and providing a pre-placement training day to ensure our volunteers knew what to expect and had at least some idea how to resolve common problems.
ARC continues to operate, with an ever changing set of cathedrals and churches acting as hosts. It embodies the best of any “European project”, asking that the volunteers arrive with the requisite hope and good will to revel in the experience of a temporary community, negotiate the best spending for their limited common budget, and find ways to communicate across any cultural, linguistic, or religious barriers.
My most enduring memory, however, is from my own spell as an ARC volunteer: In the Utrecht Domkerk (once a cathedral, now part of the national Dutch Reformed Church), I was videoed talking about the iconoclasm. When I think back, I can see myself animatedly slicing my own throat (in mime, of course) as I explained to visitors why so many statues were missing their heads!
*My successor preferred the title “President”, following French influence.