Out of the tragedy of 9/11, a small group of clergy leaders in Arlington and Alexandria began to meet regularly for breakfast, to talk about how they could build an interfaith collaboration to respond to community needs and crises. For several years their numbers grew as more and more leaders joined in exploring possibilities.
By 2005, organizers from local organizing groups WIN (Washington Interfaith Network) and AIM (Action in Montgomery) had joined in helping create house meetings among more and more clergy, and the next year, at a gathering of some 40 clergy leaders in the basement of Macedonia Baptist Church, a vote was taken to formally begin the work of starting a new organization in Northern Virginia, intentionally multi-faith, multi-racial, and multi-ethnic. Money was committed, and with WIN’s financial support, a Senior Organizer was hired part-time to lead the group towards its launch.
Early leaders in those conversations included Imam Johari of Dar Al-Hijrah, Father Gerry Creedon of St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church, Rabbi Brett Isserow of Beth El Hebrew Congregation, Rev. Dr. Linda Olson Peebles of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, Rev. Leonard Hamlin of Macedonia Baptist, and Fr. Andrew Merrow of St. Mary’s Episcopal.
The decision was made to expand the areas the organization would cover to include Arlington County, Fairfax County, Prince William County, and the city of Alexandria. This was affirmed at a major Internal Action held in 2007 at Macedonia Baptist Church. Clergy leaders were sent to intensive organizing training, lay leaders were trained, and more and more institutions were brought into the exploratory phase of organizing and educating. At a July 2008 Internal Action at Bethlehem Baptist Church, a historic Black congregation in the Gum Springs community of southern Fairfax County, the vote was taken to formally found the new organization, and to name this organization VOICE—Virginians Organized for Interfaith Community Engagement.
VOICE’s founding assembly took place on October 5, 2008, at First Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Prince William County. Close to 3,000 people were in attendance, including members and clergy from the more than 40 faith groups who joined leaders from some 20 interested institutions, and scores of state and local elected leaders. VOICE has been hard at work ever since!