An incredible thing is happening in Charlotte over the next few weeks. And, blessedly, it's not about politics, banking or gas prices.
On Saturday, hundreds of people will come together uptown for Hands On Charlotte Day. They'll fan out across the city, participating in about 30 volunteer projects ranging from sorting donated clothing to clearing neighborhood debris.
Three weeks later, on Nov. 9, an army of 350 members of Covenant Presbyterian Church will make a similar effort. They'll work on 35 projects that afternoon to help those in need. They'll move a homeless family into their first apartment. They'll plant a garden at Salvation Army. They'll sing at a retirement center.
Now this is what I call philanthropy. Dirt-under-the-nails, pain-in-the-lower-back, joy-in-the-heart philanthropy.
Charlotte is hurting. The region is hurting. America is hurting. This cratering economy is scary for all of us. But for those teetering between making it day-to-day and not, things have gotten perilous. Adults and children who have always barely managed to get by are now threatened with having their power turned off or being kicked out of their homes with nowhere to go.
You've heard it before, but hear it again: Your neighbor needs your help.
Writing a check is one thing. And it's an extremely important one. With donor distrust bubbling and the need so great, nonprofits need your financial contributions.
But that's almost a little too easy, too distant. Deliver food to an elderly person who wouldn't have it otherwise – then you feel the connection. When you give your time and talents, and see immediate results, that's impact.
Hands On Charlotte Day is all about the volunteering. Covenant's event is about that, too, but has an added element of religious faith. Faith that goes beyond sitting in the pew for an hour on Sunday mornings.
“That's the driving force in this to me: to put feet to faith, to draw a clear link between personal faith and the public expression of it through service,” said Bob Henderson, the pastor at Covenant, where I am a member.
Henderson was the driving force behind Covenant's volunteer day, which he hopes will become an annual event. He and some leading members of the church were talking this summer about how to expand members' notions of stewardship beyond a financial commitment. They wanted people to think of stewardship as an approach to life, not only an envelope in the offering plate.
Think of the payoff:
Vital help for vulnerable nonprofits;
Donors transformed by being exposed to the nonprofit's work and its level of need;
A congregation strengthened by knowing one another better.
Now think of the payoff if other congregations or non-religious organizations joined the mix.
Charlotte houses of worship have a history of living their faith by acting on it in the public sphere. Temple Beth-El has been doing this for years, holding Mitzvah Day every May. More than 500 volunteers go out to work on targeted projects. They make a tremendous impact.
This transcends denominational and political lines. This is about how one person, and one group of people, can make a difference. And there's never been a bigger need.
I'll be there for my congregation and city. I hope you will too.