The Bridge Between Faith and Service

Friday, Mar 8, 2019
by Benjamin Gelman '22, Pace Center student correspondent

“Service is not a project or an initiative but a lifestyle. It informs how I act on a daily basis,” said Imam Sohaib Sultan, Muslim Chaplain in the Office of Religious Life at Princeton University, when asked about his personal connection between his faith and his service. 

The question of how faith connects to and motivates service was at the center of the Pace Council for Civic Values’ Dessert & Dialogue panel discussion “Faith and Values at the Root of Service,” held on March 6. Panelists included Imam Sultan, as well as Matthew Kritz ’18, co-facilitator of the Jewish Learning Fellowship; Melissa Lane, the Class of 1943 Professor of Politics and Director of the University Center for Human Values; Susan Loughery, Director of Operations at Catholic Charities in the Diocese of Trenton; and Gabriela Rivera ’20, a member of the Religious Life Council. 

The panelists began the discussion by introducing themselves and how they perceive the link between faith and service. Professor Lane articulated how her views on this matter have been influenced by the Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam, or “perfecting the world.” She noted how there is an idea in the Jewish tradition that “it is not incumbent on you to complete the world, but neither are you able to neglect it.” 

Loughery discussed how through her charitable work at Catholic Charities, she has been able to help others as well as learn from them. “We support victims of human trafficking, addiction, and those without healthcare access,” she said. “There is a tremendous circle of knowledge, faith, and partnership there.” Rivera followed this by sharing how, as a high school student, she had been motivated by the focus on service given to her by her Catholic upbringing to work at a Head Start preschool in Boston. There, she said, she “experienced what it was like to be outside my comfort zone and relating to people. This led to building long term relationships kept going back to that Head Start.”

Kritz explained how he understands the link between faith and helping others through another idea from Judaism, that of emulating God. “In Judaism, on top of our obligations to help those in need, we also want to learn to become merciful. God is merciful, so we want to be.”

The panelists were then asked to explain more about their personal feelings concerning this topic, as well as to weigh in on the question of whether some motivations for service were better than others.

“You don't have to be so worried about that...we all act from complex motivations,” said Professor Lane. “Actions speak louder than the multitude of inner voices that may motivate service.”

Loughery agreed, saying that “Whatever motivates you to make change is the philosophical starting point, and that change can be small.”

Imam Sultan elaborated more on the Islamic views on faith and service, as he described an important aspect of the Muslim prayer service. “The final act of the Muslim prayer ritual is to turn to the front, back, left, and right, and say ‘May God’s peace be upon you'," he said. "The idea is that you have received peace and now spread it around you.”

Though they all derived their values from different religious traditions, all panelists emphasized the fact that they integrate their faith into their service, as made clear by Imam Sultan. “Every single day I wake up with intention of wanting to serve...The life and breath and time that I've been given is a gift from God, and I must take care of God's creation,” he said.

Dessert & Dialogue is held twice a semester and invites community partners and student groups working on similar issues to engage in conversation about the topic of their shared work. Learn more about the Pace Council for Civic Values