Creating interfaith service events: Locating religious individuals and communities


Values in ActionZachary Cole is the Values in Action Fellow for the Humanist Community at Harvard. The VIA Fellowship is partially funded by a grant from Foundation Beyond Belief. The purpose of this partnership is to develop humanist service and interfaith resources for Beyond Belief Network projects, promote humanist civic engagement nationally, and develop the VIA Fellowship into a national model for humanist service.

Over the last four years, the Values in Action (VIA) program at the Humanist Community at Harvard (HCH) has mobilized thousands of volunteers through our meal packing events to fundraise more than $30,000, package more than 120,000 meals, and write hundreds of letters in support of hunger relief sent to elected officials. Our success is largely due to planning and executing these events in collaboration with local religious communities and individuals.

Not only does interfaith collaboration help achieve a greater impact by bringing together more people, but these events also increase understanding and tolerance between those with different viewpoints. Although there are certainly challenges, interfaith service can be meaningful in many ways.

Values in ActionOne of these challenges can be locating interfaith partners. The VIA program has utilized several strategies to set up successful relationships with religious individuals and communities. A great place to start looking for interfaith partners is colleges and universities. There are often student groups that organize around service, religion, philosophy, and even interfaith work. In addition to student groups, many campuses have offices dedicated to service, social justice, and religious life. Reaching out to student life administrators on campus can be a great way to engage a diverse range of students who may be interested in participating in service events. For example, at HCH we work closely with the Harvard Chaplains, who support religious and nonreligious students. We rely on their networks for volunteers and financial support. We also work with student groups at other nearby universities.

Another strategy for locating interfaith partners is reaching out to groups that organize around volunteering rather than religion or philosophy. These groups often include diverse religious backgrounds and are particularly open to working with atheist and humanist groups because their focus is on service. They can also introduce your group to additional organizations and avenues for event promotion. For example, HCH recently partnered with the Boston Volunteers, a local volunteer organization that helps connect community members with local volunteer opportunities. The Boston Volunteers sent over 30 people to our meal-packing event and also promoted HCH beyond our normal advertising channels.

If your local humanist or atheist group is interested in interfaith volunteering, join Beyond Belief Network. We’re happy to help our member groups find volunteering opportunities in their area. We welcome inexperienced groups looking for assistance setting up service activities as well as veteran groups looking for new ideas or recognition for the work they already do. Join our network by January 1, and you’ll be able to tell us about all the great work you did in 2013 and earn perks such as grants, free logo t-shirts, and awards. Questions about the Humanist Community at Harvard and VIA can be directed to Zachary Cole.