ARC is an ecumenical Christian association. The letters ARC stand for the French words Accueil (Welcome), Rencontre (Encounter) and Communauté (Community). These words were chosen to express the ideals of ARC, an association of young volunteers founded in France in 1977 to offer an international welcome to cathedral visitors.

Each summer, ARC volunteers guide thousands of visitors around cathedrals in the UK, France, Italy, Spain, Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium. Regional branches in each of these countries recruit young people to guide in their own language. ARC UK recruits English speakers to work in cathedrals across Europe, including the UK.

Cathedrals host groups of between 3 and 10 young people of different nationalities and Christian traditions. In return for this hospitality, the volunteers spend up to 30 hours a week offering tours to visitors. Guides live and work together, sharing a spirit of community for the duration of the project.

ARC volunteers are very diverse, but there are a few basic requirements.

You will need to be:

  • A proficient English speaker
  • Aged between 18 and 30
  • Able to commit a minimum of 3 weeks
  • Familiar with basic Christian beliefs
  • Ready to share in a daily time of prayer
  • >Committed to the ideals of ARC as outlined in the ARC Charter (also on the application form).

You don’t need to be a regular churchgoer, or to identify as a Christian. We welcome volunteers with an open mind and a genuine interest in exploring Christian faith and spirituality, regardless of their background. Nor do you need to be an expert on religion, art or architecture: full training is provided by the host cathedrals.

Accommodation, food, and other essential costs are covered by the host cathedral. You are responsible for the cost of your return journey to the cathedral city and for any personal expenditure while you are there (e.g. souvenirs, ice-cream, free-time activities). You should not expect to be paid, and any tips received must be donated to the cathedral or the local ARC Board as local circumstances determine. However, your host cathedral may choose to give you “pocket money” out of these tips or other funds, to subsidise group excursions and entertainment.

Successful applicants will be asked to pay £35 for ARC UK membership. This money is used to subsidise ARC’s recruitment and training work. Your membership is valid for 3 years: if you take part in any further projects during that time, you won’t need to pay again. You will not need to pay anything unless you are allocated to a project.

No. As an ARC UK guide you will only be asked to guide in English, and English is the principal common language between volunteers.

For some projects, intermediate skills in the host country’s native language can be useful. Your language skills are taken into account during project allocation, and this process is organized so that, all other factors being equal, applicants who only speak English are not disadvantaged.

Each project has its own identity, defined by the location and the participants, but there are some common points:

  • Your hosts will provide you with accommodation, usually in close proximity to the church: this could be a school, a student residence, or a monastery/convent associated with the church. Some projects offer catered accommodation; others will provide self-catering facilities and money to purchase your own food.
  • You will live together with the other guides, sometimes sharing a room with one or two others of the same gender.
  • You should expect to share everything in a spirit of community – money, cooking, even the cleaning!

As well as sharing a time of prayer each day, you will be expected to attend some services in the host cathedral. Many cathedrals will ask the ARC group to participate in worship, perhaps by reading from scripture or saying a prayer. You will be welcomed by the local church – many host special meals and outings for their guides – and should be open to their requests. You will share daily life with other volunteers from different cultural and Christian backgrounds. Respect for those with different opinions and beliefs is essential, as is an ability to listen to others and to negotiate compromises in practical matters.

For reports on where past projects have taken place, and what they’ve been like, we encourage you to read the newsletters on the News page of our website.

As an ARC UK volunteer you will be responsible for providing a welcome to English-speaking visitors. You are likely to be asked to spend time at a welcome desk as well as giving tours. An ARC tour presents the cathedral as a building dedicated to God, a place of worship and reflection, not simply a museum or work of art. Training and information is provided, but this cannot compensate for your own enthusiasm. You should be keen to learn about and appreciate the spiritual significance of church buildings.

The number of visitors will vary. In some projects you may give only one or two intimate tours with one or two people each day; in other churches each guide may have more than 50 tourists per tour. Leisure time also varies, but you will normally be expected to spend 25–30 hours each week in the cathedral, with an average of 2 days off each week.

Projects normally take place mainly during July and August, lasting between three and six weeks, and averaging four.

The precise locations and dates of projects vary from year to year, and are not confirmed by many cathedrals until spring. For this reason, you do not apply to a particular project (though you will be invited to give your preferences if we interview you). We ask you to let us know your summer availability on the application form, and you are welcome to keep us updated if that availability changes. We aim to publish a list of project dates on our website as soon as they become available.

ARC UK accepts applications from proficient English speakers. Past participants have included volunteers from Singapore, Australia and Eastern Europe.

You must make your own visa arrangements and we may ask you to prove that you are able to travel before you are firmly allocated a place. Please note that, if all other factors are equal, preference is given to native-level speakers, and to those who are able to attend the Training Day. (Successful international applicants are expected to pay the membership fee by online transfer, and to cover any surcharges that this process involves.)

Those resident in other countries where ARC is active (see question 1 above) should apply to their local branch in the first instance.

We look for volunteers with the following motivations and interests:

    Spirituality: An interest in exploring Christianity is essential. Personal faith is not a requirement but attending services and participating in regular prayer is an important part of ARC projects so you’ll need to be interested and comfortable with this.
    Ecumenism: This means different Christian denominations working together to foster greater understanding. A commitment to this and learning about different beliefs is crucial.
    Culture: You will live in an international community with volunteers from different countries and will be immersed in the church community. You will likely encounter practices which may be different to what you are familiar with. Sharing parts of your culture and learning about others’ is a huge part of all ARC projects; we look for people who are open-minded, flexible and keen to learn.
    Education: Specialist knowledge of theology, history, architecture or art history is not essential as full training is required. However, we look for volunteers who can demonstrate an interest in some of these areas and can talk about them with enthusiasm. An eagerness to broaden your knowledge is also important.

On receipt of your application, our administrator will verify that all relevant papers have been completed and that the application satisfies the basic requirements (see question 2 above). In late March, after the application deadline, our recruitment team will meet to shortlist applications for interview using the letters of motivation. These are graded according to your motivation, suitability, articulacy and other criteria.

Those who score highly in their letter assessment will be invited to interview. If your application is not short-listed for interview, we aim to inform you by email within 10 days of that decision.

Interviews provide an opportunity for us to explore any queries that arise from your application, and to discuss in more detail the demands of an ARC project and your own strengths and weaknesses. There will also be a chance for you to ask questions.

Interviews are offered in cities across the UK. You are asked to specify two choices from a list updated every year on the new application form; interviews will normally only be offered on Skype to international applicants. You may be interviewed by a member of the ARC Board or by an assistant; you will be contacted by your allocated interviewer in advance to agree a place to meet. Interviews are informal and last 30-45 minutes.

When all the interviews are complete, members of the ARC board meet again to discuss the project allocations. The process is a complex one and depends on many factors. When allocating projects we keep in mind their character and timing, as well as the availability, preferences and skills of each applicant. This means that we can’t guarantee you your project of preference and, for example, that a French speaker can be sent to Italy. We aim to maximise opportunities for all our volunteers. Even those who are placed in an entirely different project to what they anticipated later say they would not have swapped it for anywhere else!

Once we have completed the allocations, we contact all applicants we interviewed, giving successful ones basic details of their placement. There is often a waiting-list for applicants who narrowly missed out. We aim to complete the process by mid-May.

Successful applicants will be asked to pay the membership fee, and to attend the Training Day in mid-June. The programme includes workshops on guiding, group prayer, language barriers and community life as well as information about the structure of ARC, a basic introduction to church architecture and an opportunity to meet other volunteers. You will also be given a resource pack with further details about arrangements for your project.

In the rare event that all placements are not filled during the main recruitment period, or an allocated volunteer is unable to participate, we may solicit last-minute applications. These will be announced, with their own deadlines and application criteria, on the ARC UK website and our social media platforms.

Up to one quarter of ARC projects each year are reserved for returning volunteers who have participated on a project before, and they are assessed and shortlisted separately from new applicants in the first instance: further details are given on the ‘Apply’ page of the website. You will not normally be interviewed again. We will make contact in early April to give a sense of how likely it is that you will be offered a project but, given the complexity of the allocation process, confirmed offers are only made alongside those of new applicants in mid-May.

ARC has no structural affiliation with the EU, and ARC UK will continue to work with the other European boards in a spirit of integration, sending English-speaking volunteers to projects abroad while maintaining and setting up our own to which we will welcome volunteers from Europe. In both these cases, we will support our volunteers through any changes to movement laws or the visa application process that emerge (though it is unlikely that we will be able to cover any additional financial costs).

If you have any further questions, you are welcome to email Mollie at arcukrecruit[@]gmail.com.