Wisdom Workout: Where Faith and Community Meet



By Susan McNeal Velasquez
By Susan McNeal Velasquez

When I was growing up, skipping church services wasn’t an option. I went to Catholic schools and my mother was particularly adamant about our religious training in the home as well as insisting on our full participation in all church related activities.

I am grateful for my upbringing and at the same time have to admit that as an adult I’m not a card-carrying member of any formal religion.

Therefore, for me to show up at the Laguna Beach Interfaith Council meeting, hosted this time at the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints, was a bit out of the norm for me. A friend who is a board member of the Community Services Council invited me because she thought I might find it interesting to know what the Interfaith Council is about.

The members made it easy to walk in cold turkey. I was warmly invited to grab a plate, choose from a display of homemade food and desserts, and jump into the mix by taking any empty seat available.

Introductions were started throughout the room, with each attendee introducing themselves and the church they represent. The bishop and his wife were there from The Church of the Latter-day Saints that was hosing the meeting, Rev. Beth from St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, the new minister from the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, and representatives from the Neighborhood Congregational Church, to name just a few of the nine churches that were generously represented.

Though I didn’t have a church affiliation to share, I didn’t feel in jeopardy of anyone judging me or wanting to recruit me, so I was free to relax into learning about this productive and charismatic group of high-level contributors to our community.

The purpose of the council is to maximize communication and cooperation among the various churches and other faith-based and philosophical organizations around Laguna Beach.

A prominent focus is on serving the homeless and disenfranchised. Monthly food drives are generated to help keep Laguna’s Free Pantry stocked. These food drives are created and maintained by each congregation taking a month and having their members donate non-perishable items.

That was just the first item on the agenda.

Next came the ASL Homeless Shelter nightly dinners. This organization takes full responsibility, 365 days a year, for feeding 60 to 80 persons nightly. They have been doing this for four years with no sign of backing away from it.

I have to stop here and comment since I felt pretty proud of raising my family with four kids and making sure that they were fed, most of the time anyway. Still, I can’t claim credit for creating a home cooked meal 365 days of any year and they were my flesh and blood!

The meeting went on to include the community Thanksgiving dinner held yearly at the Neighborhood Congregational Church, the AIDS Day remembrance on Dec. 1, the National Day of Prayer, the Big Sunday community service project held in May where boxes are put out at the markets to collect food for those that are in need, the baccalaureate service that the churches sponsor for our LBHS grads, and there is even a music festival and community Christmas party that is coordinated with the city holiday celebrations.

Interfaith is defined as involving people of different religions. Council is distinguished as an executive body whose members are equal in power and authority.  Compassion is synonymous with empathy, concern, kindness, consideration, care, kindheartedness and benevolence.

I’ve only lightly touched on this built from the ground up, grass-roots effort that gives just a peek into the foundational character of so many of our neighbors who go about quietly and consistently making miraculous things happen through their unwavering commitment.

Faith is synonymous with trust, reliance, conviction and the assurance that, as Margaret Mead stated: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”


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