A Year of Interfaith Service

Reposted from IFYC Alumni Blog | Feb. 23, 2015

Grand Valley State University and the city of Grand Rapids, Michigan have embarked on a community-wide effort: the 2015 Year of Interfaith Service, organized by the Kaufman Interfaith Institute. As a staff, we sought to build on existing programming, which included years of living room dialogues and conferences, as well as the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding which consisted of over 300 events and impacted an estimated 30,000 participants. After programs like that, the question was, where do we go from here?

Since most of our previous programming focused on education and discussion, we decided to move from dialogue to action. The goal of the year is to not only deepen the relationships between religious and non-religious communities, but also to deepen our shared commitment to the city of Grand Rapids. We were excited to realize that our community was ready to expand interfaith beyond the conference room and into the streets.

This year-long interfaith service effort was announced last fall by the Mayor of Grand Rapids in front of community members ranging from students to clergy and non-profit employees to corporate CEOs. Then, at the start of 2015, the Kaufman Interfaith Institute started convening a committee of those community members and more, representing different traditions and organizations, all planning interfaith service projects together. The committee already has over a dozen events planned, including:

  • Better Together @ GVSU, an interfaith student group partnering with a local Masjid’s Food Pantry
  • Calvin College coordinating an interfaith clean-up for a local river
  • Salvation Army Congregational Partnership Program will add an interfaith element to their training sessions, educating partners on alleviating homelessness
  • Interfaith Interwoven: Knitting for Healing, Peace and Justice, creating relationships between people from different backgrounds while making blankets to donate
  • Catholic Charities’ God’s Kitchen hosting and educating about culturally inclusive meals for those experiences homelessness
  • Habitat for Humanity establishing an Interfaith Service Fund and coordinating ten interfaith build days, to coincide with diverse traditions’ holidays

Even after only a month, interfaith service has proven to bring our community together in incredible ways – engaging campuses with the broader city, helping organizations become more inclusive of our growing diverse community, and deepening the meaningful conversation around why we are called to serve alongside our neighbors.

At a time when national and international headlines showcase hatred, division, and violence, these local efforts toward understanding, service for others, and peace are becoming more vital than ever. It proves that religion can be used to unify community while embracing our differences. It shows the potential compassion of communities working together. Mostly importantly, it provides an inclusive solution to the problems that often separate us from one another, inspired by our unique traditions and our shared values.

Just as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis dubbed state governments as laboratories of democracy, it seems that communities and universities can serve as laboratories of pluralism. Just one interfaith service project, one campus, or one city can have a profound ripple effect felt throughout the community and its members; a ripple effect that could reach around the globe and help us realize a more peaceful and just world.