Faith Communities Come Together to Serve God and Neighbor

By Rick Wolcott*

First Serve brings together hundreds of people from different faiths and backgrounds for a day of worship, celebration, and volunteering in the city of Akron. This year’s mission outreach on Sunday, September 9 marked the eighth year of the day of service.

“I think it’s a great idea that changes lives,” said the Rev. Clark Stein of Hudson United Methodist Church (Canal District), one of the 10 faith communities whose members began the day worshipping together at the Akron Civic Theatre.

“The First Serve concept was started by the First Congregational Church of Hudson, which last year invited all other churches in Hudson to join in the effort, and we accepted the invitation,” said Hudson UMC Mission Committee Chairperson Paul Brown, who took on the additional role of coordinating some of the projects. “We had 54 members of HUMC participate in 2018 including youth, adults, seniors, and families.”

Kayli Rego, a high school freshman, was one of dozens from Hudson UMC to return again this year to volunteer for First Serve.

“It feels good to give back to other people,” she said.

“It’s good to help other people and to serve God in a way that I think is important,” said Steve Hannah, another second-year volunteer from Hudson UMC.

During the sending service at the Civic that kicked off the day of service, Rabbi Michael Ross of Temple Beth Shalom encouraged volunteers to get to know the people they were serving in the community as well as those with whom they were about to serve.

“Truly having loving kindness is to enter into relationship with people. Find ways to hear the story of the other, the person you do not know. Find ways to honor divinity in that person and in every person you encounter,” he said.

“What God wants from us is to translate the faith in Him into actions in this life in serving the others,” said Imam Nader Taha of the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent.

First Serve volunteers this year completed projects at the Patterson Community Center, Sammis Park, the Akron Metropolitan Housing Authority, non-profit organizations, business and residential properties, and in neighborhood parks in the North Hill community of Akron. The neighborhood north of downtown Akron is home to a thriving and growing community of immigrants from Bhutan, Burma, and Nepal.

Planning for First Serve projects began in February and funding was provided by lead sponsor Huntington Akron Foundation and by the Knight Foundation of Akron, the GAR Foundation, and the Akron Community Foundation.

“We are all the family of God, children of God,” said the Rev. Dr. Peter Wiley, senior pastor of First Congregational Church of Hudson. “What you create is one of the best images of the beauty that God wishes for you and for me.”

The sending service ended in song, with participants enthusiastically clapping and singing the words of Steve Angrisano’s song “Go Make a Difference” – words we should live by every day.

“Go make a difference. We can make a difference. Go make a difference in the world.”

If you have a story of how God is using your local church to transform the community, please contact us at The East Ohio Conference Communications team wants to tell your story.

*Rick Wolcott is director of Communications for the East Ohio Conference of The United Methodist Church.