Students Unite Across Faiths

This year’s “Belief in Action” sees unprecedented participation

Jessica E. Schumer

Harvard University Chaplain Dorothy A. Austin, CSA Chaplain Father Bill Murphy, Jonathan V. Brewer ‘07, and Rachel Nearnberg ‘07 gather for dinner in Loker Commons after Belief in Action, a day devoted to service projects. Cambridge.

Students of diverse faiths united to perform public service and discuss the role of service within religion at the “Belief in Action” event hosted by the Harvard College Interfaith Council (HCIC) Monday.

Forty students representing at least five religious organizations on campus participated in the afternoon’s events, volunteering three hours at one of five service projects in Cambridge and Boston and convening afterwards to share their experiences.

“Belief in Action” is the semester’s main event for HCIC—a multi-faith organization aimed at removing barriers between religious organizations, exposing people to other faiths, increasing networking, and coordinating joint service projects, according to HCIC Co-Chair Om L. Lala ’06.

The event was co-sponsored by the Baha’i Association, Catholic Students Association (CSA), Dharma, Hillel, and Harvard Islamic Society.

As part of their volunteer work, one group of four students worked at the Community Servings soup kitchen making meals for home-bound AIDS patients.

Another team lead activities with the elderly at the Jeanne Jugan Nursing home.

CSA member Jonathan V. Brewer ’07, who volunteered at the nursing home, said that the elderly residents that did not get a chance to visit their families on Mother’s Day were especially welcoming of the volunteers’ efforts.

Students also offered their services to the Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative, the Cambridge Community Center, and Families First Parenting Center.

Those who weren’t able to make the off-campus projects were given the option of helping prepare peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to be given to the homeless.

Leah H. Pillsbury ’07, treasurer of HCIC and a member of Hillel, said that volunteering together encouraged dialogue and gave students the opportunity to confront each other with questions about their different faiths.

The event kicked off in Loker, where Director of Phillips Brooks House Gene A. Corbin spoke to participants about how service is an ideal that resonates with all faiths.

“He mentioned how service could serve to unite and bring out the common elements of all our religions and also challenge us to embrace differences in our multi-faith society,” Lala said.

Reconvening in Loker for a communal pizza dinner upon finishing their projects, students reflected upon the role service plays in each of their faiths and the extent to which the government should be involved in faith-based initiatives.

Professor of Comparative Religion and Indian Studies and HCIC faculty adviser Diana L. Eck helped to facilitate the discussion along with Sedgwick Associate Minister and Chaplain to the University Dorothy A. Austin.

“What makes this event unique is that it’s accompanied with reflection,” Lala said, “[It illustrates] the power of faith in uniting people of different backgrounds and power of service in doing the same.”

Lala said that this year’s “Belief in Action” saw greater participation than years before, and HCIC is considering making it a more frequent event.

­—Staff writer Ying Wang can be reached at yingwang@fas.harvard.edu.