Generosity. Charity. Thoughtfulness. Altruism. Helpfulness. Selflessness.
There are many words in the English language to describe kindness. And St. John's Episcopal Church is embarking on a mission to spread it throughout Dubuque.
The church's first ever Kindness Campaign will launch in September. The campaign will incorporate both spiritual and secular components to reach as many people as possible with programming that includes music, sermons, community outreach, forums and random acts of kindness.
The campaign was sparked by a University of Dubuque student who is the church's social media and marketing intern.
"When I heard it, I recognized it as a really good idea," John Stewart, a retired UD administrator and the Kindness Campaign project director, said. "(The student) already had some ideas about bus wraps and Post-It notes on people's windshields and a piece of music, and it just blossomed from there as a really cool idea. It was inspiring, and the kind of idea that people could get on board with and get involved."
But rather than just dropping random acts of kindness, the campaign will also focus on kindness from several different angles: religious, secular, cultural, social and philosophical.
Father Kevin Goodrich, the pastor at St. John's, will present a three-week sermon series on the power of kindness. The church's Christian education classes for adults, called forum, will follow services and will explore spiritual and biblical meanings.
"We see kindness as coming from the heart of God," Goodrich said. "No matter where people are in their spiritual journey, they're experiencing the love of God. Kindness is a nice gesture, but even those little gestures come from God, we like to think."
Mother Susan Forshey, associate rector and a UD seminary professor, is researching kindness and creating materials for the forum sessions.
"My role was really just to dig into the Scriptures and look and explore what kindness means and how it's brought into our Anglican tradition," she said.
"Kindness teams" will go out into the community and spread kindness with coupons for free coffee and groceries at local stores, hanging door hangers in the St. John's neighborhood, distributing homemade bread and partnering with local organizations such as St. Mark's Youth Enrichment and the Multi-Cultural Family Center for special projects.
"We'll be providing lists of things that people can do," Goodrich said. "We're sending kindness crews out into the community to do intentional acts of kindness each day in September."
Steve Van Vleck, a local artist, will work with children at St. Mark Youth Enrichment to create art with a kindness theme.
"Steve brought to the conversation that kindness varies from culture to culture," Stewart said. "He's very interested in adapting and advancing the diversity of what he's seeing at St. Mark's."
Kate Meyrick, a UD graduate student and choral scholar, has added an additional artistic component with a song written specifically for the campaign.
Forshey discovered during her research that the word "kindness" has been used by humans for centuries, although not always in that exact form.
"I learned that the English word for kindness was actually created because Myles Coverdale was translating the Old Testament into English from Hebrew," she said. "There was a (Hebrew) word that was very difficult to translate, so he creating the word "lovingkindness". It appears over 240 times in the Old Testament."
Stewart said the goal of the campaign isn't just to spread kindness, but to create something long-lasting.
"Acts of kindness are done without expectation. It's altruistic and selfless," he said. "But acts of kindness are also life-enhancing and community-enhancing. What enhances people quality of life? It's the plus in the soup of human life. You're making a positive contribution within your own sphere of influence."
Stewart also believes it's the perfect time to talk about and spread kindness.
"The polarization we're experiencing right now makes this campaign really important," he said. "Focusing on kindness, rewarding kindness and celebrating kindness -- those things are unifying."
Forshey said an act of kindness, whether small or large, can have a ripple effect.
"There is often a sense of joy and gratitude (for the giver and the receiver)," she said. People will have a memory of a kind act they received or that they did. My hope is that whatever that definition of kindness is for them, they'll follow through and express that to someone else."
Goodrich hopes the results of the Kindness Campaign will be felt community-wide.
"One little drop of rain doesn't seem very refreshing," he said. "But when it starts to storm, that makes a big difference. Our whole hope is that it will shower kindness and generosity and respect."