Communities Secretary Eric Pickles MP joined faith leaders at the National Bahá’í Centre on 28 February 2012 to mark the launch of A Year of Service, a government initiative to promote collaborative social action. More than fifty individuals, including government officials and representatives from different religious communities, came to the National Centre to join hands in wrapping gifts and decorating cakes for homeless people in the area.
The event coincided with the Bahá’í festival of Ayyám-i-Há, and was tied to its theme of charity, gift-giving and hospitality.
A Year of Serviceis a programme in which each of the major faith communities undertake a number of projects throughout the year in connection with particular holy or festive periods. People from other faiths or none are invited to come together to participate in each project with a view to improving their local neighbourhoods. It is co-ordinated by the Department for Communities and Local Government and Laura Marks from Mitzvah Day, in collaboration with Interfaith Network UK, the Faith-based Regeneration Network, the Coexist Foundation, Business in the Community, the Church of England, and representatives from various religious communities.
Speaking ahead of the launch event, Mr Pickles said, “A Year of Service is a wonderful celebration of the practical contribution that faith groups make to enrich their neighbourhoods and improve the lives of those around them. We would be poorer by far without their contribution…”
A Year of Service is a wonderful celebration of the practical contribution that faith groups make to enrich their neighbourhoods and improve the lives of those around them.
At the launch, religion’s vital role in society was repeatedly emphasised. “Faith communities have so much to offer our sorely-tried society”, said Dr Kishan Manocha, a representative of the National Spiritual Assembly of the UK. ”Sadly, many in our society are unaware of the unique power that religious faith represents, of its ability to reach to the roots of motivation … Faith should be a source of joy, of bringing people together in common purpose. We hope that [the] launch will give vivid expression to these special fruits of faith and inspire us all in our efforts to improve our neighbourhoods.”
Following a Bahá’í prayer for the success of the initiative, comedian and actor Omid Djalili joined a number of children in leading the activities. Well over a hundred gifts, including clothes and toiletries donated by the guests themselves – were wrapped. Some of the wrapping paper was created by local youth who were moved to contribute to the initiative. Those attending were also able to express their artistic side in decorating around a hundred cupcakes.
To be of service in itself is also a source of profound joy.
Addressing the whole gathering, Mr Djalili observed that “the desire to serve – to alleviate suffering and bring happiness to others – is an inherent part of what it is to be human. To be of service in itself is also a source of profound joy.”
We look forward to working further with Bahá’ís and others to help build a better world.
“The launch at the Bahá’í Centre got A Year of Service off to a flying start,” said Arup Ganguly, a participant from the Hindu social action organisation Sewa Day. ”There was a real spirit of fellowship, as people from all backgrounds were able to collaborate in doing something both purposeful and fun. We look forward to working further with Bahá’ís and others to help build a better world.”
Later that evening, the gifts and cakes were taken to St Dionis Church in Parsons Green. St Dionis is one of a number of churches that provide facilities for homeless people as part of West London Churches Homeless Concern. Representatives from the Bahá’í community were joined by Communities Minister Andrew Stunnell and Warwick Hawkins from the Department for Communities and Local Government to offer the gifts and cakes to around fifty homeless people at St Dionis.