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Pioneering Faith: 'One-ness,' not 'same-ness'

LDS Religion is not only faith to help shape local landscape

Published: Saturday, July 23 2011 3:40 p.m. MDT

The Walk of Pioneer Faiths monuments at This Is The Place Park in Salt Lake City on Wednesday, June 29, 2011.

Mike Terry, Deseret News

As several hundred people listened intently in This is the Place Heritage Park's new Garden Place event center, the Reverend Curtis Price of the First Baptist Church thanked God for diversity.

And indeed, it was a diverse group that had gathered for the June 29 event, during which the Garden Place and the park's new Walk of Pioneer Faiths was dedicated. Leaders from 10 of Utah's predominant faith groups were seated on the podium, and others were seated in the audience representing a broad cross-section of Utah's religious, political and business leadership. Heads were bowed and eyes were closed as Rev. Price prayed that all assembled there "remember those who, inspired by faith, came here to settle in this valley."

"And may we also remember," Rev. Price continued, "that one-ness is not same-ness."

While "one-ness" was clearly in evidence during the course of the dedicatory meeting and afterward, as the respective clergy mixed and mingled in a familial spirit of loving kindness, their lack of "same-ness" was also enthusiastically embraced. The Walk of Pioneer Faiths is a monument — or rather, a series of 10 monuments — to the wondrous variety of religious devotion that made its way to the Salt Lake Valley between 1847 and 1905, imbuing the Wasatch Front with spirit, passion, purpose and belief.

The arrival of the Mormon pioneers in the Salt Lake Valley on July 24, 1847, is well-documented. They were religious pilgrims, driven from their homes in the eastern United States by government-sanctioned mobs, immigrating en masse to the unsettled west in search of their Zion. Under the leadership of Brigham Young and other inspired leaders, they cooperatively worked to make these desert valleys "blossom as a rose," extending their settlement efforts as far south as northern Mexico, as far west as the Pacific Ocean and as far north as southern Canada.

As powerful as LDS influence was in the religious history of Utah, it was not by any means the only faith to help shape the local landscape of believers. The first non-LDS services held in the Salt Lake Valley were conducted in 1865 by the Reverend Norman McLeod, a Congregationalist minister sent by the American Home Missionary Society to evangelize Utah.

Gordon and Mary Paulson Harrington's Utah History Encyclopedia article, "Congregationalism in Utah," refers to McLeod as "a spellbinding anti-Mormon preacher" who drew "as many as 150 attendees at a time."

Under McLeod's supervision, the first Congregational services were held in November 1865 in what was called Independence Hall just west of Salt Lake City's Main Street on 300 South. Other religions also used the Hall: "Roman Catholic services began June 4, 1866, and Episcopal services in 1867. Masonic Lodge, Odd Fellows and political groups were also organized there," the Harringtons noted.

The next religious group to become officially established in Utah was the Episcopal Church. The Right Reverend Daniel S. Tuttle was sent by his church to be the "missionary bishop" of the territories of Montana, Idaho and Utah. Rev. Tuttle enlisted several clerical friends — including George W. Foote and T.W. Haskins — to help in this effort. They arrived in Salt Lake City on July 4, 1867, determined to take a different, non-confrontational approach to their work among the Mormons. "Efforts were made to have a good relationship by not directly assaulting Mormon theology or practice, and not speaking against the Mormons," wrote Mary Peach and Kathryn L. Miller in their Utah History Encyclopedia article on Episcopalians in Utah. "They wanted to win respect by showing the faith and practice of the Episcopal Church."

This early effort at achieving "one-ness" without "same-ness" resulted in the establishment of not only an Episcopal congregation in the valley but also a number of schools, including the early predecessors to what is now the Rowland Hall-St. Mark's school.

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