Alabama community ‘Responds to the Call’ (9/20/07)
By Beckie Supiano, DisciplesWorld contributing writer
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (9/20/07) — Early this September, people of many faiths gathered in Huntsville to improve their community. They provided care packages for the homeless, made quilts for babies in the hospital’s neo-natal intensive care unit, and repaired a group home. Along the way, they learned about each other’s beliefs.
These activities were part of the community’s “Day of Service and Unity,” which takes place each year near the anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
The day is Huntsville’s expression of the Christian Church’s (Disciples of Christ) program “Respond to the Call,” which encourages commemorating Sept. 11 by doing community work.
“The Christian Church witnesses by turning a day of tragedy and division into a day of unity,” said Paul Koch, coordinator of the Day of Service and Unity.
Huntsville is a diverse community, Koch said. “It is vital that we as a community understand each other and work together,” he said.
Although the goal of facilitating understanding among religious groups stems from a response to Sept. 11, the event has become something larger, Koch said.
“At least here in the South, the anniversary slowly evolved into a commemoration of [Hurricane] Katrina,” he said. “Local projects involved evacuees and response to Katrina. The first week in September is the perfect time to get the community together.”
Koch also noted the event coincides with children going back to school and falls at a time when the weather is good in Alabama.
Even so, it’s hard to find a good time for everyone to participate in an interfaith event.
The Day of Service and Unity takes place on a Saturday, which Koch noted prevents many in the Jewish community from participating. Related events are held other days in an effort to work around this problem.
Now in its fifth year, the Day of Service and Unity drew more than 500 participants, mainly from the Muslim, Hindu, Protestant, Latter-Day Saints, and Catholic communities. The participants worked on 14 different projects, and gathered for a celebration service the following night at Huntsville’s new Multicultural Center.
Organizing the quilting project took on new meaning for Laurie Horrocks, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, after her own daughter had a baby born prematurely. “I didn’t realize how important blankets were or how important this was to other women,” she said.
The quilting project, which resulted in 340 quilts and blankets for the hospital, also provided a way to contribute for those who couldn’t participate in the heavy lifting involved in some of the other projects, she said.
Aladin Beshir, the community-at-large outreach chair at the Islamic Center, headed up the project preparing food and hygiene packs for the homeless. This project brought youth from the Catholic High school to the Islamic Center. Beshir recognized some of the students from a trip they made to the center as eighth or ninth graders.
“This continuity is what will change the future,” Beshir said. “When people do service together, they form a spiritual and social bond.”
Beshir said the Day of Service and Unity helps turn a negative into a positive.
“Building these bridges of understanding among people of different faiths will enable us to build bridges to a more peaceful tomorrow for all people to walk on,” Beshir said.