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.
The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869 opened the door for more religious pioneering, with Methodists, Presbyterians and Baptists all officially establishing congregations in Utah in 1870 and 1871.
Methodist sermons were actually preached in Utah before 1870, mostly by the Reverend Lewis Hartsough, who is often referred to as the father of Methodism in Utah. But it was the Reverend Gustave Pierce who actually organized the First Methodist Church of Salt Lake City in 1870. That same year Rev. Pierce also organized the Rocky Mountain Seminary, the start of a significant effort on the part of the Methodist congregation to shape education in pioneer Utah.
Utah's earliest Presbyterians were similarly focused on education. Under the direction of noted western Presbyterian pioneer the Reverend Sheldon Jackson, congregations were established in Corrine, Salt Lake City and Alta between 1870 and 1873. Educational outreach activities were conducted wherever they had a congregation. By 1884, 33 schools and two academies were open and functioning under the direction of Utah's Presbyterian community.
In 1871, George W. Dodge was appointed Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the area. A staunch Baptist, Dodge immediately began looking for other Baptists with whom he could worship. By the end of 1871 he had found 20 fellow Baptists, including James and Annie Berkley, and together they formed Utah's first Baptist congregation. Unfortunately, when Dodge was recalled to Washington in 1873, the driving force behind the congregation went with him, and that first congregation eventually disbanded until the Reverend Dewight Spencer arrived in Ogden in 1881 to revitalize Utah's Baptist community.
Utah's Catholic community officially traces its roots to 1873 and the arrival of Father Lawrence Scanlan. But Catholics were in Utah long before that — long before even Brigham Young's 1847 pioneer company. In 1776 two Franciscan priests, Francisco Atanazio Dominguez and Silvestre V. de Escalante, traveled through what is now Utah, drawing maps that helped later explorers of the area. Hunters and trappers who were Catholic also visited the area, and a cross etched in stone by Kit Carson in 1843 can still be seen on Fremont Island in the Great Salt Lake.
But it was under Father Scanlan's energetic leadership that Catholicism truly took hold in Utah. By the time he was appointed Bishop of the new Salt Lake Diocese in 1891, there were 8,000 Catholics in the area attending 15 churches ministered over by 14 priests.
Utah's earliest Jewish residents arrived in the late 1840s, choosing to stay in Utah when it became clear they were too late to stake a claim during the California gold rush. A number of them opened retail businesses in the area, including grocers (Samuel Kahn and George Bodenberg), clothiers (the Siegel brothers and Ellis brothers) and department store owners (Frederick and Samuel Aurbach). The earliest record of a Jewish observance in Salt Lake City is the celebration of Yom Kippur in 1864, the same year that the Hebrew Benevolent Society was formed. But it wasn't until 1874 that the first official Jewish congregation, B'nai Israel, was organized. Three years later a newspaper article about the celebration of Passover noted that there were 40 Jewish families in Salt Lake at that time.
As with other evangelical denominations, Utah's first Lutherans came to Salt Lake City in hopes of re-claiming former congregants who had converted to Mormonism. Many in Utah's large Scandinavian population had converted from Lutheranism, and it was hoped they had become disenchanted with Mormonism. The establishment of the Zion Swedish Lutheran Church in 1882 by the Reverend John Telleen was important to the growth of the Lutheran Church in Utah. Three years later the Reverend J.A. Krantz became pastor of the church and changed its name to the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church, which is still the name of the congregation today.
The tenth and final religious group that is memorialized within This is the Place Heritage Park's Walk of Pioneer Faiths is the Greek Orthodox Church. The Greeks were latecomers to Utah's pioneer table — the U.S. Census of 1900 indicates there were only three Greeks in the entire state. But turn of the century industrialization brought a sudden influx of Greek immigrants to work in mining and railroad-related activities. By 1904 a section in Salt Lake's west side was known as "Greek Town," and by the end of 1905 the Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church was dedicated at 439 W. 400 South as a place of worship for the growing Greek community.1 comment on this story
While it is true that many of these faith groups came to Utah seeking to draw converts away from Mormonism or to save lost Mormon souls, it is equally true that these faith groups have all, through the years, learned to "live together and prosper together in support of one another for the common good," according to the Most Reverend John C. Wester of the Salt Lake City Diocese. In dedicating the Walk of Pioneer Faiths he prayed: "May it stand as a monument to our commitment to love and support each other."
In, as Rev. Price prayed earlier, a spirit of "one-ness, not same-ness."