YDS Day of Service: connecting the dots, from faith to community engagement

By Casey Cep ’13 M.Div.

On one Friday early in November, 85 Yale Divinity School students and staff devoted their afternoons to serving their neighbors in New Haven. The second annual Day of Service began with a Eucharist in Marquand Chapel and a community meal in the Common Room, spilled out into eight different sites around the city, and then finished with a Community Dinner back on campus.

Day of ServiceOne group of students assembled toiletry kits for the Columbus House homeless shelter; one played games and shared conversation at Fellowship Place, which provides support services for adults with mental illness; another served music and ice cream at the Mary Wade Home elderly care facility, while others painted, baked brownies, cleaned apartments, or made cards for seniors.

Organized by the YDS Committee on Community Engagement (YCCE), the Day of Service was a splendid opportunity for students and staff to leave Prospect Hill and engage neighborhoods and neighbors around New Haven. Volunteers committed one afternoon to building partnerships with local nonprofits and service organizations, though organizers hope this one day inspires deeper, long-term relationships.

“We’re really hoping to transform the culture of YDS into one concerned about its immediate neighbors in New Haven,” said Lisa Levy ’12 M.Div. As volunteer coordinator for the Divinity School, Levy hopes to facilitate continued opportunities for her fellow students to volunteer with local organizations. “People come to New Haven with a perception of it being dangerous or crime-ridden, and I don’t mean to deny that, but I think once you get off the Hill and meet people and hear their stories, it’s transformative.”

Levy added that her work with volunteerism has everything to do with faith: “I don’t think I would have made it through YDS if I hadn’t found ways to live my theology.”

Living one’s faith was certainly the theme of the chapel service that opened the Day of Service. In the call to worship, Kyle Brooks ’12 M.Div. led the assembly in affirming God’s command “to do justice and to love kindness and to walk humbly with our God.”

Rebecca Floyd ’12 M.Div. preached a sermon on Amos 5 calling those gathered to “an embodied love “ that is engaged in the world. Reflecting on the motto of YDS—“Faith and Intellect: Preparing Leaders for Church and World”—she said, “Loving God cannot happen only here in this chapel.”

Day of Service 2Faculty Adviser to the YCCE and Assistant Dean of Students for Pastoral ConcernsJulie Kelsey then presided over the Eucharist. Moving from one table to another, participants left Marquand for the Common Room, where Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes offered a blessing of the lunch meal and then a sending of participants from the campus into the community.

At the Episcopal Church of St. Paul & St. James, one of the volunteer teams provided food and companionship to persons experiencing homelessness.  Vincent Stokes ’12 M.Div. said, “I love doing this stuff. Service is the rent we pay for our room here on earth.”

Stokes said that afternoons like the Day of Service are integral to his studies and his faith. “Religion without responsibility is ridiculous,” he declared, describing how this kind of work is integral to his understanding of the Gospel. Joined with a half dozen other students, Stokes shared an hour with homeless men and women by playing music, board games, and talking about their lives.

Stokes’s volunteer team and several of the other groups already plan for subsequent visits to their sites, which makes Volunteer Coordinator Lisa Levy more than pleased with the second annual Day of Service. “What I hope,” she said, “is that YDS students will be transformed through the Day of Service and enter into a sustained life of service. Eighty-five students did that this year and will hopefully do it again in the spring.”

Posted: 12/02/2011