Giving Beyond the Pews

Written by FASPE Seminary Fellows: Cornelia DaltonFr. Andrew J. De Silva, and Alissa Oleson

Last January, during a month-long time of spiritual and material fasting, Alfred Street Baptist Church in Alexandria, VA raised $150,000 by eliminating frivolous spending. At the end of the fast, church members were asked to donate the money to the church. They were not told where the money would go, just that it would go back into the community. Two HBCU (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) received the funds: Howard University and Bennett College.

Alfred Street Baptist Church’s donation prompts the question of the responsibility that communities of faith have in helping those struggling in the community. While houses of worship often give firstly to those inside their faith family, Alfred Street chose to use the material result of their spiritual fast to assist the needy not necessarily in their community or even known personally to the community. Instead, as the assistant minister Marc Lavarin explained, it was an opportunity to both “support HBCU’s and ease a burden borne by individual students.” The worshipers’ generosity showcased their understanding that as a church, ethical responsibility extends beyond the recognizable faces in their pews. It also raises awareness to the rising cost of higher education followed by the rising student debt in the country. In raising awareness, it begins a discussion in and beyond the immediate faith community of why college education is climbing so drastically, as well as how to help ease the burden this places on so many.

The responsibility to give to the needy—espoused in all major religions—is particularly lived out in this case by addressing communities in which high cost of education limits access to education. Alfred Street Baptist Church partnered directly with HBCUs, but each faith community could work with partners or justice allies to address material needs beyond their spiritual community, raising awareness in the process.

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