Reflections on MLK Jr. Day – PMC Multifaith Day of Service

March 6, 2018

Contributed by Kyoko Sato, Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple, Redwood City, CA

Peninsula Multifaith Coalition’s (PMC) 2018 MLK Jr. Day of Service was represented by 25 congregations, totaling over 430 volunteers who took on 21 projects across the Northern Peninsula area. About two thirds of the participants were returning volunteers from past MLK Jr. Day of Service events organized by PMC.

At the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Foster City, one of the breakfast locations for the Multifaith Day of Service, Dick Heiman, a PMC board member from Peninsula Temple Beth El who also played an advisory role to the MLK Jr. Day of Service Chair, Dana Izenson, welcomed all volunteers before the volunteer members spread out to their respective sites. In his welcoming remarks, Dick stated that six years ago, at the inauguration of this event, there were only eight congregations and 120 volunteers. Since then, he estimated that a total of 2,000 volunteers have participated, engaging in over 100 projects. This special Multifaith Day of Service has grown steadily and significantly due to the hours of work that all of the planning chairs, advisors, site and/or project captains, and congregational liaisons have devoted. Dick was overwhelmed as he cited the collective achievements which left tangible impacts in the lives of our local community members.

Rev. Kristi Denham, the co-founder and current president of PMC and the pastor of Congregational Church of Belmont, added that by working together, we were building the relationships across religious divides and offering service in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Under the current social climate, she remarked that these divides could leave the deepest and most damaging impact on human relationships.

What makes this event special to me is that it brings out in each of us the selfless spirit of serving others, an essential value as humans, taught across all authentic religious traditions. From the planning stages, which take up almost an entire year, the representatives from various faith houses tirelessly work together to make this event meaningful for all volunteers and impactful for their community. In that single-minded effort, religious differences take a back-seat, or perhaps no seat. This year, we also incorporated the “pre-flection” and “reflection” discussions at each project site before and after engaging in service projects respectively. These brief project-based discussions were implemented this year with hopes that they would help create a harmonious camaraderie among the volunteers as they learn about each other, their religious affiliation, and how they could meet the needs of their community on MLK Jr. Day. Partly due to the accumulated know-hows from the previous five years and partly due to this new element added, this year’s volunteer satisfaction increased to 95%; the highest rate in the last six years.

Another valuable point about PMC’s MLK Jr. Day of Service is that many volunteers join these interfaith efforts as a family. It is amazing to witness younger than formal school aged children learning about the importance of serving others in their community from their early ages. They also see first-hand their parents working together with members of other faith traditions. It must leave a strong impression in their minds on how our world around us is so diverse and yet is all inter-related.

In Shinnyo-en, the selfless act in service for others is called, “Gohoshi,” and it is one of the important practices for the congregation member’s individual growth and spiritual awakening. Gohoshi is said to “engage the body rather than the mind, balancing the tendency to think and theorize instead of practice. By channeling your energy into acts of service, Gohoshi transforms the ideal into the real.” (Starting Out, Pages 44-45)

Due to the schedule conflict with an important service at the Shinnyo-en USA Head Temple on January 15, regretfully only one other temple staff and a member family was able to participate in the MLK Jr. Day, Multifaith Day of Service this year. I hope that more practitioners will have a chance to take part in this event in the coming years, as we are a part that makes up the diverse faith fabric of the San Francisco Peninsula area. I also believe that participating in this event is a small yet concrete way to share the awakening and loving compassion of “Shinnyo” through our actions in the spirit of friendship.

To view photos of this event, please follow this link.