In one of my previous careers, I directed the RideShare program, which was funded to increase carpooling in southern Maine to reduce traffic congestion and vehicle emissions.

I soon found out that many people were enthusiastic about carpooling but … for their neighbor to do, rather than themselves so there would be less traffic on the roads and make their commute easier.

My career path has now taken me back to parish ministry at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church and I find a similar situation here in Waterville. Government and social service organizations frequently refer or reach out to us for assistance.

Ten different faith institutions in Waterville and Winslow have worked together to create an Interfaith Resource Fund to help those in our area who have fallen between the cracks of the municipal and state welfare systems.

There are many who do not qualify for General Assistance and yet have fallen on temporary hard times due to illness or job layoffs. In 2014 this Interfaith Resource Fund alone provided assistance totaling over $12,000 to approximately 100 individuals.

Our faith institutions are pleased to be able to do this as we clearly see it as part of following our biblical command to care for those in need and yet we stretch our resources to provide this much assistance. Similarly we have been approached recently by community social service organizations to provide mentoring to young people in our area, moving assistance for the homeless, and care for the elderly. And yet again our resources are very stretched as many in our congregations are on the older end of the age spectrum and are limited to what they can do as volunteers.

Recent statistics bear this out in that only 1 in 3 people who live in Kennebec County are members of a religious tradition, according to The Association of Religion Data Archives. These statistics are significantly lower in neighboring counties, such as Waldo and Somerset. So what’s the solution?

If the community values what faith institutions offer to a community in providing a basis for morality and people willing to do community service, then, like carpooling, we invite the community to join us and be part of the solution.

Our faith institutions are not closed-off bastions only open to members, trying to keep the general public out but rather are places looking to increase and strengthen connections to the community.

In Waterville alone we are highly invested in the community, not only through our Interfaith Resource Fund, but in providing an evening meal to the region’s hungry in the Waterville Evening Sandwich Program, in volunteering at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter, and in providing food through the Greater Waterville Food Bank.

While we are actively involved in the community, we invite the community to be part of our worship. Our faith institutions have a variety of styles of worship, music, and preaching and we welcome new members and involvement.

If you have no prior religious training or affiliation, we will provide some remedial instruction to familiarize you with our worship. If you would like to become more familiar with the faith institutions in the Waterville area, please join us for our Interfaith Progressive Supper on Sunday, May 17, at 5 PM at the Pleasant Street Methodist Church.

We look to make the Waterville area a thriving community for all its residents. Don’t go bowling alone, don’t drive alone and above all share your beliefs, your faith and your vitality with a faith institution.

The Rev. John Balicki, is rector at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Waterville. Email him at [email protected]

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