Looking at the Juneau Empire earlier this week, I was moved by the photograph of an 8-year old girl playing her violin downtown. Next to her open violin case was a large sign that said: “All proceeds are going to the local family who lost their home to the fire on Friday.”
She is just one of many people in our community who have spontaneously reached out to the Schneider family during the past week with generous donations of food, clothes, furniture, toys and school supplies to help make up for their loss.
One of things I have come to appreciate about Juneau is the way in which people in our community pitch-in to help when they learn that someone is in need. The high value that our friends and neighbors in this community and throughout Southeast Alaska place on service is inspiring. Generous service, such as that little girl doing her part to help her neighbors in need, makes this city a better and more humane place to live and helps to grow in the virtues of solidarity and charity.
We see great examples of this all around us. I think of the good work of the Glory Hole soup kitchen and homeless shelter and the Front Street Clinic, which in addition to grants and paid staff, rely on individual and group financial support and a variety of community volunteers from the faith community, civic groups and caring families and individuals.
I am also reminded of the young people who come to Southeast Alaska and to Juneau to serve as volunteers with SAGA, AmeriCorps and VISTA and with the Jesuit Volunteer Corps (JVC). All of these young people do public service work that benefits the community. While they are paid a modest stipend for their work, they are motivated by the desire to serve others and to make a difference in the world.
The JVC began almost 60 years ago in Alaska, and JV’s presently serve in Bethel, Anchorage, Sitka and Juneau. They make a commitment to live simply and in community, to grow spiritually and to work for justice. This year in Juneau, their volunteer placements include serving at the AWARE shelter as advocates for women and children victimized by domestic violence; at the Canvas Art Studio supporting artists who are REACH clients; at the Zach Gordan Youth Center and Catholic Community Services ,working with youth and young parents; and at Yaakoosge Daakahidi Alternative High School.
Like many other faith communities, in our own Catholic diocese we have been blessed by a group of college students who have been coming to Southeast Alaska to volunteer for the summer. A group of young men and women from St. Vincent’s College, a Benedictine college in western Pennsylvania, came to help out in Juneau last summer.
This summer, they have been in Ketchikan and on Prince of Wales Island. In the spirit of the Benedictine model, ‘ora et labora’ (prayer and work), they have volunteered to do manual work and to lead Bible study with children and young people.
I admire their commitment to serve in our community and to volunteer their time, expertise and labor on behalf of the common good. Authentic power is found not in being served but in serving others with one’s gifts, talents and hard work. In the gospel, Jesus describes himself as one who came, “not to be served, but to serve.” (Mk 10:45) Speaking to his followers, he told them that anyone aspiring to lead must seek to be servant of all.
In my own Catholic tradition, service and charity are understood to be so important that we have a special ministry for this – we ordain not only bishops and priests but deacons. These ordained ministers in the Church take their title from the Greek word “diakonia,” which means “service,” and our deacons are commissioned by their ordination to be leaders in service with a special care for the poor and those in every kind of need.
This coming Friday, Aug. 8 at 7 p.m. at St. Paul’s Catholic Church, I will be ordaining two men, Ron Mathews from Sitka and Mike Monagle from Juneau, as deacons for our Diocese. Taking this step to become public ministers of service and charity is a bold and generous undertaking on their part, but they have already shown many times over their commitment to be of service to others and to the Church.
Service on behalf of others is a value that we all hold in common. I am grateful and edified by the example of so many adults and young people who serve to make Juneau and Southeast Alaska a more just, compassionate and loving place.