Tuesday, 14 June 2016

Why Service Matters

Kingdom officers swearing fealty.
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.
Dame Asa Gormsdottir shares her thoughts on service within our Society.

When we think of the Society, we imagine brave combatants valiantly defending the honour of the Kingdom; beautiful clothes and dazzling objects made by talented artisans; glittering crowns on thrones; an arrow hitting the mark; a stately dance; sumptuous feasts; fellowship.

Yet behind each storied scene are untold acts of service, some big, many small, all essential.
Without service, there is no list bedecked with banners, no solemn Court to honour great deeds; no dainty dish to set before a king.

Without acts of service, event spaces are not found and reserved, practices can’t be run, and, more mundanely, financial and legal compliance falls apart.

Why should I serve?

Service is something that everyone can and should do, but it can be intimidating.

“I don’t know anybody.”
“I’m not on the event staff.”
“I don’t think I can do that job.”
“It’s not my problem.”

Courtesy and chivalry are two key ideals of the Society. However one chooses to define and integrate these tenets into one’s behaviour, at their heart courtesy and chivalry are about respect and obligation towards others.

Service is taking responsibility for the SCA environment we play in.

What is service?
Working as a herald or as entourage to the Royal Family
or Landed Barons and Baronesses are two ways you can serve.
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.
Service can be as simple as: holding the door; setting up chairs for Court or tables for feast; picking paper towels off the bathroom floor; making photocopies for event staff; schlepping list poles for marshals (and targets for archery).

Service is as easy as: cold water on a hot day; baby wipes; sunblock; duct tape; spare tent pegs; an extra mug; a chair in the shade.

Service can be as subtle as: a kind word; a safe space to vent; giving someone a break; holding your tongue.

Service is helping out at a demo, by remembering to bring spiffy books, armour, garb, or simply a cloth to cover the table.

Service is giving someone a ride to practice or an event, or delivering items on behalf of others.

Service is sitting at Gate, smiling and answering the same questions a hundred times. Picking up the pop and bottled water and tracking the receipts. Finishing the event report on time.

Service is seeing the rents in the fabric and mending them.

What is healthy/helpful service?
Running a list table.
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.
Good service is reliable; given when promised; executed as requested; delivered without fallout (as witness the axiom, “service rendered versus chaos engendered”.

Clear communication is essential. Ask questions. Clarify if there seems to be a gap between what is asked and what is offered. If meeting a commitment becomes impossible, give advance warning and help find a replacement.

Healthy service is that which one can accommodate without undue grief or excessive cost to oneself.

What is unhealthy/unhelpful service?

Service should not represent an unreasonable demand to the giver. Everyone needs to set their own expectations and boundaries, and to be aware of possible conflicts. For example, if getting to the event before noon is unlikely, maybe it’s better not to volunteer for gate staff, unless afternoon shifts are available upfront. If spreadsheets and reports are problematic, maybe the role of exchequer is better served by someone else.

One shouldn’t offer more than they can realistically afford – it leads to disappointment and friction on both sides. Service should not generate strife or negative competition.

Service should not cause the giver undue grief, as resentment quickly shows and can poison the well for others.

Increasing one’s service
Scribes donate time and materials to create the award
scrolls bestowed by our Royalty.
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.
Taking an officer position in one’s canton is a great way to get involved in the process of running a successful group, and there are several options depending on one’s interests and skill set.

If you enjoy meeting and helping orient new people, becoming a chatelaine may be great fun. If you like estimating and tracking the elements that go into an event, an exchequer role may be the thing. Training to become a warranted Marshal and running group practices makes many people very happy. If making neat things and teaching others is your joy, Arts and Sciences minister may be just right. Heraldic types who like to interpret blazons may want to become Pursuivants and help others develop names and their own heraldry. Those who can skillfully navigate administration and generate a well-turned report may do well as Seneschals.

Bringing off a successful event requires volunteers, many doing simple, short-term or one-off jobs that still allow the volunteer to enjoy most of the day in other pursuits. With some experienced help at hand, volunteering to autocrat a small local event or demo can be a lot of fun and open the door to larger opportunities.

That said, it’s important not to treat service like a list of ticky boxes. Someone suggested that in order to encourage and track service, we should have Service Ministers, like Arts & Sciences Ministers. While some would have a great time innocently doing “all the things”, others might well feel discouraged. Service is a highly individual act that should not be compelled to fit a graph.

The creation of a member of the Order of the Pelican.
Photo by Master Eirik Andersen.
Acts of service are not always visible or appreciated. Working away quietly without recognition, turning up for meetings, taking on the burden of offices, planning for events, making decisions that may not be easy or popular is, in fact, work.

Sometimes there’s excitement at the end of a service journey – for example, the delivery of a successful event, the completion of a term of office. But often these journeys don’t really have an end.

Awards, whether for service specifically, or martial ability or arts and science, recognize maturity not just for skill but in the level of service and commitment evidenced. They are a statement that the kingdom trusts the recipient to do the necessary work of building and supporting the Society.

Appropriately, Ealdormere’s grant level award for service, the Wain (a wheel) represents the slow rolling progress and commitment over rough terrain, around obstacles, sometimes through blinding dust and thick mud to ensure a job well done.

Service over the long haul

Every Peer started out as new and lost as the person in the borrowed garb blinking nervously at the door to the event. One never graduates from the responsibility to help and welcome others – not just the newcomers, but those who are struggling at any point in their journey.

Invisible service, given and received, is incredibly valuable. This often takes the form of one-on-one discussions with those who need help, sharing knowledge or resources or contacts for those who need them, or providing counsel on tricky matters. Kind words and encouragement in private go a long way to addressing the accidental hurts and unintentional bruises of the spirit that occur in every community, and point out options and new paths that free us to play true to our hearts.

Over time, the unbroken stream of acts of service, promises kept and hardships overcome changes a person’s perspective on what matters in the Society.

Service is not about building a massive edifice celebrating one’s abilities: it is about building up others. Service is learning to support and sustain the kingdom, not as a tourist, but as a citizen of the realm.

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