The Healing Hands of Strangers
When Beliefnet user ernestine70 lost her son-in-law to suicide, she turned to the site's Prayer Circle community for strength.
"I ask for prayers to make [my daughter] stronger and to continue with her life," she posted on the website. "I ask for strength for her to be able to take care of her baby and to overcome the guilt she feels."
In response, dozens of strangers offered words of compassion, support and love. In addition, many posted additional online resources and shared personal stories of their own. Such instant connection, says Rebecca Phillips, vice president of social networking for Beliefnet, has been the cornerstone of the website since it began in 1999.
"Posting at Prayer Circle automatically gives people a community of support," she says. "They know that someone is thinking about them in their time of need, especially when a lot of people don't know where else to turn."
Beliefnet is a multifaith inspiration and spirituality site that provides community, information and service on a variety of topics. Though religion is a popular subject at Beliefnet, Phillips says concerns surrounding weight loss, quitting smoking and health are also discussed. "We provide support on a wide variety of things," she says. "We want people to be able to find happiness in all areas of their lives."
Since the recession hit, Phillips says Beliefnet has become an outlet for those struggling to find hope while juggling financial difficulties. In response, the site created a regular blog—called Your Daily Spiritual Stimulus—to address these needs in a practical way. "We needed something that told people how exactly to find inspiration in their daily lives," she says.
Since then, stories have poured in from members who were laid off and who have since found jobs. The anonymity, Phillips says, has contributed to the abundance of real-life stories.
"People can be more open online and tell their stories more fully," she says. "By being as anonymous as they want, it allows people to control how much they reveal, and often that leads people to open up even more."