Faith in harmony: Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable celebrates 10 years with many faiths, one family

Published: Friday, Feb. 3 2012 12:14 p.m. MST

Tribute 2010: Salt Lake Sikhs

Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable

It is completely appropriate that the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable will cap off its monthlong 10-year anniversary celebration with a 90-minute Interfaith Musical Tribute at the Salt Lake LDS Tabernacle on Feb. 26 at 6 p.m.

If SLIR is about nothing else, it is about harmony.

"We're not interested in putting all of the area faith groups in some kind of ecumenical blender and creating something new out of all of them mixed together," said Alan Scott Bachman, assistant state attorney general and current SLIR chair.

"We want to harmonize one with another, with each note independently strong and true.

"I've heard it said that one note cannot harmonize with another if it loses its identity," added Bachman, himself an acclaimed musician. "So that's what we're trying to do: Bring all of these religious groups together in harmony, without losing our independent identities."

At present there are a lot of independent identities to maintain within the SLIR organization.

"To be honest, I'm not really sure how many different faith groups are currently participating in Interfaith Roundtable functions," Bachman said. "We don't count them. I just know there are a lot of them, representing a lot of different faith groups."

A lot of different faith groups? In Utah?

"I know," Bachman says, smiling, "the prevailing Utah stereotype is that we're not very diverse here. But we are an excellent example of just how diverse Utah really is."

It was that diversity that inspired the creation of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable as part of the community outreach effort associated with the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"We were the 'God Squad,' " said Elaine Emmi, one of the original 45 faith leaders who formed the first Interfaith Roundtable in fulfillment of the Olympic Charter requirement to provide religious support for athletes and families participating in the Olympics.

When Emmi was invited to participate in the planning and organization of the Olympic SLIR, she admits that she was skeptical.

"I'm a Quaker," she said. "There are, like, 100 of us in the whole state. I couldn't understand why they would invite me."

But her apprehension melted away as she worked and planned and organized shoulder-to-shoulder with Catholics, Unitarians, Jews, Muslims, Christian Scientists, Buddhists and Mormons, among others.

"We all had a place at the table," Emmi said. "No one faith group was any more prominent than the others."

And that was sort of surprising, given that the Olympics were being held in the city that serves as world headquarters of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

"At the time, there was a strong general feeling that these were going to be the Mormon Games," Emmi acknowledged. "And it could have been if they had wanted it to be. At the first meeting I went to, I noticed that everyone kept looking at the LDS people when it came time to make decisions. But they refused to take the reins. They said, 'You set the agenda, we'll provide whatever resources or support you need.' And that's the way it was. I never felt directed by them. I always felt that the direction came from the entire group."

The group was so successful and shared so many outstanding experiences during the course of their shared Olympic ministry that when it came time to disband, they were reluctant to do so.

"We had a final wrap-up meeting — we had been formed to be the Olympic faith outreach, and now that work was done," Emmi said. "But none of us wanted our interfaith work to be over. There was so much good that came from our working together, we felt there had to be a way to keep those good things going."