By Amy Guckeen Tolson, Staff Writer Redstone RocketSeptember 7, 2011
REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.--They will come as strangers with their own stereotypes and preconceived notions, but will leave as one -- with a little bit more understanding, respect and honor for the person standing next to them.
Individuals from all walks of life, faiths, races, heritages and neighborhoods will unite this weekend for the Interfaith Mission Service's Weekend of Service and Unity, a time dedicated to tearing down walls and barriers, and coming together for one common cause: the community.
Around a dozen worksites in Huntsville, such as First Stop, the National Children's Advocacy Center and CASA, will welcome volunteers Saturday, where they will unite for the same mission, whether it be picking up litter, assembling meal kits or cleaning. While volunteers will begin the day as strangers, relationships will be formed as conversations open up to questions and answers that help dispel the myths and stereotypes associated with each volunteer's background.
"This brings us together so we can live without fearing one another," said Tom Lovell, pastor of Faith Presbyterian Church in Huntsville, where all volunteers begin Saturday morning for breakfast and community building. "A lot of faith based media on all sides have created stereotypes that we need to correct."
What is now a Weekend of Service and Unity began as a day of service and unity on the one-year anniversary of Sept. 11. The Interfaith Mission Service, a 42-year-old cooperative of congregations from a variety of religious backgrounds, including Christian, Islam and Jewish from across the Huntsville area, began the event to bring people together to improve the community and connect to different faith backgrounds through service projects. While the physical work of the day concludes by 12:30 p.m., the dialogue that is begun remains for years to come.
"It's not just a matter of tolerance. It's a step beyond tolerance," said Frank Broyles, senior program specialist for IMS. "This is honor and respect. You can't do that without understanding."
Participants are also invited to tour the Huntsville Islamic Center, 1645 Sparkman Drive, from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday, to better their understanding of the religion that has come under fire since the 9/11 attacks.
"There is a continued misunderstanding about Islam," Broyles said. "This year we need to give extra attention to fighting those stereotypes."
A 45-minute candlelight service, "Remembrance, Courage and Hope: We The People Dedicating a Decade of Building Lasting Bridges," coordinated by the IMS will conclude the weekend at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at the National Children's Advocacy Center, 210 Pratt Ave. Music, litanies, readings and stories of those who served in the Weekend of Service and Unity will be included in the service, as well as a call to continued action.
"The focus on this service is on dedicating ourselves to a better world for the children of tomorrow," Broyles said.
Attendees will be invited to sign a pledge and commit to an action to help ensure future generations live in a world of understanding, respect and peace.
"We are trying not to emphasize the tragedy, but the hope and unity that has risen out of that," Lovell said. "We remember the tragedy and the lives that were lost. We hope for unity and a better understanding and respect for each other and our differences. We rededicate ourselves to that unity and understanding so that our children will not have to deal with division and violence."
The Interfaith Mission Service's Service and Unity Weekend is open to the entire community. To register for the event, visit www.interfaithmissionservice.org/ministries/faith-and-spirituality/wsu/. The day will begin with breakfast at Faith Presbyterian Church, 5003 Whitesburg Drive. Service projects will conclude at 12:30 p.m. Both inside and outdoor work is available; those planning on working outside should bring their own yard tools if available. For those that observe the Sabbath on Saturday, call 881-4811 to coordinate a service project for Sunday.