Faith and Service, an Inseparable Pair

26 October 2011, 1:25 PM

Many Religions, Spiritual Expressions and Indigenous Traditions deliver clear imperatives to their followers to engage in the service of others. There are rich philosophies, concepts and doctrines that tie serving others to being a follower of the Divine. Tikkun Olam in Judaism upholds the sacred responsibility to repair the world and while this has most recently been used to argue the case for active environmental work, it also extends beyond that to caring for those in need in the world. In the Quran, followers of Islam are said to have been “raised to serve others” (3:111).

In Christian Scripture there are a wealth of references to something called “Servant Leadership”, that is, making oneself last, not first and serving others in order to be considered a leader in the Christian Church. I am a student of social justice and there is a rich vein of thought in my own Catholic faith that deals with serving others. Catholic Social Teaching informs much of the service work performed by Catholics and its concepts of solidarity and a preferential option for the poor and vulnerable are what most inspire me to get involved in good causes and service work. It follows from the idea that every person in need is God inviting us to serve Him by helping them. In Jesus’ parable of the Last Judgement, it is made clear that when a person refuses aid to someone in need, they refuse God (Matthew 25:31-46). This story always has a profound effect on me and it makes me so frustrated to see others claiming to be Christian but vehemently opposing social welfare programs and bemoaning taxes that go towards them. I am not, however, here to judge. That’s not my job. I’m here to act. I do my best to be involved in service projects and I am blessed to be in a job that allows me to deliver training to young people from different faiths on planning and implementing service projects and working together.

The most recent URI Young Leaders Program in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, focused on service and how it could be a form of leadership. Participants from different faiths and countries in South East Asia and the Pacific shared their own faiths’ perspectives on service and we all joined together to repaint parts of the Hindu school that was hosting our gathering. The young people were able to live out the value of service they had been discussing and it was a joy to see. It really embodied the sacred mandate I believe we all have to serve others and the world we live in and it reminded me of the reason I am involved in interfaith work. Social justice cannot be achieved without solidarity. True solidarity means standing with our neighbours of all faiths and none, seeking them out to build broad and meaningful coalitions for peace, justice and healing in our world. My aim is for the URI Young Leaders Program to bring more and more young people into this work.

- Matthew

Written By

Associate Director of Global Programs for Youth Leadership Development