Area faith groups work together on community-service projects
RICHMOND, Va., May 21, 2012 (Menafn - Richmond Times-Dispatch - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) --Linda Mitchell and Darrell Lundy cleared weeds from a headstone that had become hidden in the overgrowth.
They, along with about 15 other volunteers, did their part Sunday to spruce up Woodland Cemetery in eastern Henrico County, where Richmond-born tennis champion Arthur Ashe is buried.
Some raked debris, some cut the grass and others removed fallen sticks. Though the volunteers came from different faiths, different races and different churches, they worked as a team to beautify the mostly overgrown burial ground.
"We're coming together for a common cause," said Lundy, a member of Temple of Judah Ministries.
Coming together was the larger theme of the day as Christians, Jews and Muslims -- the world's three largest religions -- joined forces Sunday to take part in 75 community-service projects in the Richmond region.
Nearly 800 volunteers participated in the effort called I.O.U. Richmond, which stands for interfaith, outreach and united.
"We are missionaries, and we're out here to do God's work," said Mitchell, a member of Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church in Richmond's historic Jackson Ward. "I'm glad to see it is happening."
Other faith-based organizations represented in the effort included Congregation Or Ami, Church of the Redeemer Roman Catholic Church and Faith Community Baptist Church.
Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, said the show of unity disproves perceptions people may have on faith relations.
"They tell us that Muslim, Christians and Jews can't get along," he said. "We need to tell them that in Richmond ... we're making history today."
Before tackling projects that ranged from planting flowers at local elementary schools to delivering food to fire stations to paying GRTC Transit System riders' bus fares, a standing room-only crowd filled Sixth Mount Zion.
The six different faith groups were represented by different colored T-shirts with I.O.U. Richmond emblazoned on the front and verses from the Qur'an, the Torah and the Bible quoted on the back.
"We look like a big ole bag of Skittles this morning," said the Rev. Tyrone Nelson, pastor at Sixth Mount Zion, as he looked on the sanctuary filled with the multi-colored shirts, drawing laughs from those gathered.
"All of us are service- and community-minded faith assemblies. It makes sense for us to get together and do the work."
It was about more than performing acts of kindness throughout the community; it was about working together despite differences.
"All of us, colors united, faiths united, a sea of color realizing that regardless of our specific faith community, we share so much more than what we disagree upon," said Rabbi Ben Romer.
This was no more obvious than in the 100 block of East Marshall Street, where the volunteers painted a mural on the west side of the Metropolitan Business League building.
The group stenciled "Historic Jackson Ward" on the wall and painted a large peace sign filled with handprints from the artists. The mural also included flowers and hands -- two were intertwined and one held up two fingers for peace.
"It's a great joy this day, to come together and see all the things that make us so similar," said the Rev. Jim Begley, pastor of Church of the Redeemer. "Not what divides us, but the great things that bring us together."
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