Volunteers from the churches and other faith groups who help those in need are like the Games Makers who contributed to the success of the London Olympics and Paralympics, the Archbishop of Canterbury said today.
In his final New Year Message, Dr Rowan Williams said: "If you have the good fortune to live in a community where things seem to be working well, the chances are that if you slip backstage you'll find an army of cheerful people making the wheels go round - and don't forget just what a huge percentage of them come from the churches and other faith groups."
Dr Williams, who left office yesterday, said the "extraordinary events" of the Olympics and Paralympics provided an unforgettable spectacle.
"But everyone who visited the Olympic site or watched the broadcasts will have been made aware of the army of volunteers who cheerfully gave up their free time and worked away, without complaint, all hours of the day and night to make these great events happen. They were the key people who translated the Olympic vision into reality for the rest of us.
"It ought to make us think a bit harder about all the other folk who quietly, often invisibly, turn vision into reality and just make things happen - especially volunteers."
Dr Williams referred to the "Robes" project, where more than 20 local churches combine to offer food and shelter to homeless people in London.
He said: "Religion here isn't a social problem or an old-fashioned embarrassment, it's a wellspring of energy and a source of life-giving vision for how people should be regarded and treated.
"So let's recognise this steady current of generosity that underlies so much of our life together in this country and indeed worldwide.
"It's all based on one vision - to make our society, our whole world, work for everyone, not just the comfortable and well off.
"And it's a vision that sometimes seems to need Olympic levels of patient hard work and dedication."
He said people should be prompted to ask themselves - "what can I do to join this silent conspiracy of generous dedication?"
Dr Williams is standing down as Archbishop after a decade in office. He will take up a new post as Master of Magdalene College, Cambridge and will also serve as chairman of the board of trustees at Christian Aid, the international development agency.
The Rt Rev Justin Welby, Bishop of Durham, will be consecrated as Dr Williams' successor at Canterbury Cathedral in March.