2015: Year of Interfaith Service

Last November, I spoke at an interfaith thanksgiving service in Grand Rapids on behalf of CFI Michigan (I’m on the board of advisers). In that talk I suggested that we all do more than just get together once a year to say nice things about getting along. Specifically, I said that we should all work together on community service projects in the area all year long. That suggestion has now become a reality as local groups declare 2015 a year of interfaith service.

The interfaith Habitat build is a prime example of what a new initiative from the West Michigan faith community wants to accomplish. It’s called the 2015 Year of Interfaith Service.

You’ve heard of the year of living dangerously? This will be the year of serving faithfully. If anyone should know how to pull such a thing off, it’s the good people of our faith-filled region.

Adherents of many faiths, as well as civic-minded secularists, will gather this Thursday, Sept. 11 to formally launch a year of working together on behalf of the larger community. Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell will officially proclaim the initiative, urging “all citizens to learn, seek understanding of the rich diversity in our community and participate in acts of service.”

Heartwell had likewise given his blessing to the 2012 Year of Interfaith Understanding, an auspicious undertaking that served as our faith community’s response to the 10th anniversary of 9/11. More than 300 events showed that many in our predominantly Christian community are sincerely interested in how people of other faiths think and live.

Two years later, we see “an increased interest in going beyond talk and moving toward action,” said Douglas Kindschi, director of the Kaufman Interfaith Institute at GVSU and the energetic lead organizer and sustainer of this effort. “The Year of Interfaith Service gives all faith communities the opportunity to put into practice what we all believe about loving our neighbors.”…

Several volunteers gathered at the Grandville site recently to hear from Habitat’s Mark Ogland-Hand and share their reasons for helping. They included people of Christian, Hindu, Muslim and Jewish faith as well as secularists.

“Community service has always been a part of Islam,” said Mohib Azeem, the GVSU student, “not just (for) specific people, but for all of us.”

“We are God’s children and his creation, so we have to do what’s best for humanity,” Sharif Sahibzada, imam of the Islamic Center of West Michigan, told me. “This is our faith.”

Standing next to him, the Rev. John Geaney, rector of the Cathedral of St. Andrew, saw the project as a golden opportunity to act out the Golden Rule.

“We may practice a different faith, but you’re a human being and you realize it’s important to help other people,” Geaney told me. “This is real grassroots social justice.”

CFI Michigan is very happy to be involved, along with leaders and congregations from Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and other faith traditions. Our Secular Service Committee will join these other groups in building Habitat for Humanity houses this weekend and in other projects all year long — and hopefully long beyond that.

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  • Sastra

    Is there any reason why the term “secularists” is used when referring to atheists, agnostics, nontheists, nonbelievers, and freethinkers?

    I mean, technically speaking there are plenty of pious, devout believing Christians who qualify as secularists because they want to keep religion out of government. While I’m sure some compromise was more or less unavoidable (“Interfaith?”) — the use of the vague term “secularists” suggests that more explicit terms would have been less welcome.

  • Michael Heath


    I agree secularists is too broad a term for the same reason you give. What more explicit terms do you recommend? I realize what matters is the non-religious groups that participate. Just wondering what you think better applies here.

    I’m not sure how I would describe CFI Michigan, humanists?

  • vereverum

    I think it’s great that people can get together, “realize it’s important to help other people” and “participate in acts of service” to the community without arguing about which labels to identify themselves with. Interestingly, with but one insignificant exception, the entire universe is made up of others.

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