Serving humanity is at the heart of many of the world's religions. For three weeks in September, a regional community service initiative, Day to Serve, brought together diverse faith groups throughout Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and Washington, D.C., to do just that — unite in service.
Day to Serve was instituted in 2012 as a collaboration of the governors of Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the Mayor of Washington, D.C., to set aside potential differences and work to feed the hungry and improve communities. Faith groups and communities were invited "to meet the needs in their own backyards," according to daytoserve.org. The response to this call to serve has resulted in hundreds of service events across the region from thousands of volunteers.
“It may not make the nightly news, but good things are happening,” said President Jon E. Dionne of the Centerville Virginia Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “People of faith are coming together to make a difference for good and to serve."
President Dionne worked with George Mason University Catholic Campus Ministry, Lord of Life Lutheran Church and George Mason University honor students through the Fairfax County Clergy and Leadership Council to assemble “power packs” for an organization called Food for Others to help provide weekend food packs for elementary students who have very little or nothing to eat between the lunch they receive at school on Fridays and the breakfast that is served on Mondays.
“The beautiful thing about this interfaith effort is that we’re coming together to try to make better the lives of those around us,” said Teresa Kolf, Catholic campus minister of GMU Campus Ministry. “And by doing so we learn about what we have in common with each other despite our differing religious beliefs.”
“We believe our Lord calls us to serve one another,” said Dorothy Sorrell, member of the Lord of Life Lutheran Church congregation in Fairfax. “And what a great example it has been to others of how we can work together to help those who rely on us to carry out his word.”
“Last September, more than 5,000 West Virginians came to serve their community in a variety of projects,” said Jeff Allen, executive director of the West Virginia Council of Churches. “These efforts accounted for more than 16,000 hours served in West Virginia alone. We want to make this year’s Day to Serve even bigger."
Region-wide, 40,000 volunteers completed 140,000 hours of service last year, participating in 1,300 events, and donating more than 950,000 pounds of food — roughly 800,000 meals — to food banks, kitchens and pantries. Volunteers also collected 12,000 bags of trash and planted 1,600 trees.
Under the leadership of the Fairfax County Clergy and Leadership Council, volunteers from Dar Al Hijrah Islamic Center, John Calvin Presbyterian Church, the Baha’i Faith, Ravensworth Baptist Church and the Annandale Virginia Stake of the LDS Church worked together to collect food items to benefit food pantries administered by Dar Al Hijrah and Annandale Christian Community for Action, known as ACCA.
"The John Calvin Presbyterian faith community believes that, through service to God, we bridge the gap that exists between people," said the Rev. Lisa Rzepka, John Calvin Presbyterian Church pastor.
“We are honored to participate in this effort with our co-religionists in fulfillment of the verse: ‘Nearness to God is made possible through service to humanity (and) through the unity of all peoples and religions,’” read a statement from the Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of Fairfax.
For more information, go to daytoserve.org.
Laurie Snow Turner is a public affairs director for the LDS Church. You can read her blog at lauriesnowturner.com.