Interfaith Month provides opportunities to share faith traditions

Published: Saturday, Feb. 1 2014 5:00 a.m. MST

Sri Ganesha Hindu Temple and India Cultural Center of Utah Children's Choir perform at the annual Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable Interfaith Musical Tribute Sunday, March 10, 2013, in the Tabernacle on Temple Square.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

Father Elias Koucos has a suggestion for getting through the wintry days of February: Get out, meet your neighbors, tear down some walls and erase some misconceptions.

Or in other words: Act a little more like Jesus Christ.

“Christ did break down all barriers and walls and interacted with everyone,” said Father Koucos, priest of Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church in Holladay. “With our lives being so involved and busy, sometimes, unfortunately, it doesn’t allow us to take the time to get to know each other, to listen and learn from each other.”

Listening and learning is what February’s Interfaith Month is all about, says Father Koucos. The constellation of nearly two dozen events is designed to open the doors to houses of worship from all traditions to increase understanding between faiths, foster respect and build collaborations that strengthen the community.

“It helps us in getting to know our diverse population and find some common ground and respect in our differences,” said Father Koucos, who notes that even as a priest, he had a lot to learn.

“It’s amazing we do have so much common ground,” he said. “We all have some form of the ‘Golden Rule,' and we all work to provide benefit to those in need.”

A legacy of the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, the event is sponsored by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, and this year marks the 12th year of interfaith work along the Wasatch Front. Born in 1999, the Roundtable brought together Utah’s faith communities to fulfill a requirement to provide religious support for athletes and their families. Faith leaders met for more than two years to plan events and design services for the games.

Along the way, something magical happened, said Elaine Emmi, a member of the Interfaith Roundtable.

“There was such an incredible camaraderie,” said Emmi, a Quaker. “We didn’t want to stop. There was a sense that much had been gained by the interaction, and we didn’t want to lose that, and we wanted to continue the momentum.”

Driven by those close relationships and trust, the Salt Lake City Interfaith Roundtable was born, and its purpose focused on furthering cross-denominational harmony and understanding. It was the first time in memory that interfaith work was being done without being tied to a specific outcome or agenda, Emmi said.

“For the first time we had an interfaith effort for no particular purpose, like stopping the MX missile or peacemaking,” she said. “There had been other ecumenical things, but those involved just Christians. We realized it was important to reach out to the community."

Over time, what began as a few interfaith events and a small speaker’s bureau became an organized Interfaith Week and then, three years ago, Interfaith Month, which officially begins on Saturday and bleeds over into the first few weeks of March. All events are free and open to the public. Membership in a church or a faith tradition is not required.

“There is so much interest. People laugh and tell me it will soon be Interfaith Year,” said Josie Stone, chair of the events committee. “We could easily fill another month with events.”

Among the nearly two dozen events are films; lectures and panel discussions; church tours; and opportunities for spiritual growth through movement, music and cultural dining experiences.

The month kicks off Saturday with the daylong Buddhist Temple Film Festival “Dharma in Cinema” in downtown Salt Lake City and culminates March 22 with the Universal Unitarian Church event, “Man from Magdalena.”

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