Interfaith Month: Activities to promote understanding of 'many faiths, one family' kick off Feb. 1

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2013 5:00 a.m. MST

Lacee Harris of First Nations, shown here during last year's Musical Tribute at the Salt Lake Mormon Tabernacle, will present a special "blessing ceremony" at the Utah State Capitol on the first day of Interfaith Month.

John Jelte, Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable

A Quaker, an Episcopalian, a Mormon and a "none" (spiritually motivated but not religiously affiliated) were sitting around a table.

No, really. They were.

It wasn’t a joke awaiting a punch line, but a gathering of some of the hard-working believers who have key assignments in association with the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable’s annual Interfaith Month, which will fill the February calendar — and part of March — with events that celebrate the theme “Many Faiths — One Family.”

“As a culture, we’re very good at misconceptions,” said Elaine Emmi, the Quaker at the table. “Interfaith Month is an opportunity to correct misconceptions and learn the truth about different religions from the people who live them.

“This goes beyond tolerance. We’re not gritting our teeth and putting up with something,” Emmi continued. “We’re learning to love what someone else loves about their faith. We’re looking at faith through their eyes and learning to appreciate it in a different way.”

And all of the different faith groups involved in Interfaith Month activities are anxious to provide this opportunity for public scrutiny and exposure, according to Episcopalian Josie Stone, Interfaith Month chair.

“They want people to know and understand them better, and they want to understand other faith groups better,” Stone said. “That’s really the essence of what we’re trying to do with Interfaith Month. We’re not just trying to inform. We’re trying to increase respect and understanding through real, meaningful experience.”

Judy Wright, who is LDS, recalls seeing a BYU professor bring his rather large family to the Interfaith Month event at the Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple in South Jordan last year.

“It was so fun to see the faces of the kids as they were introduced to a culture that is completely different from what they are used to. They were eating it up,” Wright said. “We would love it if people would look at this as a way to introduce their children to new things. This is a great place for understanding and acceptance to start.”

What Interfaith Month is not, says Alan Bachman, chairman of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable — who would have added a Jewish element to the table had he been able to attend the gathering — is an attempt at ecumenism.

“We’re not trying to create a religious melting pot here,” he said during an earlier interview. “We acknowledge our differences even while we celebrate our similarities. And the end result, I believe, is you come away edified and strengthened in your own beliefs and culture even while you gain greater appreciation for others.”

This year’s Interfaith Month calendar of events officially begins on Friday, Feb. 1, with a special “Blessing Ceremony” at the Utah State Capitol Rotunda at 9 a.m. Gov. Gary R. Herbert will be in attendance to launch Interfaith Month with an opening statement, and Salt Lake Interfaith Rountable board member Lacee Harris of First Nations will conduct the blessing ceremony with a peace pipe and sage.

“The blessing ceremony will be a first for us,” Stone said. “Lacee does such a wonderful job representing his Native American beliefs. This should be a remarkable experience for everyone who comes.”

Another first among Interfaith Month activities will be a Feb. 6 guided bus tour of four places of worship in downtown Salt Lake City, with stops at the Salt Lake Buddhist Temple, the Holy Trinity Cathedral of the Greek Orthodox Church, the Catholic Church’s Cathedral of the Madeleine and one of the historic downtown LDS meetinghouses.

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