SALT LAKE CITY — Josie Stone once took a class on world religions and was hooked on learning more.
The vice-chairwoman of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable said faith and how different people practice it is "fascinating" to her.
"It opens your eyes, exposing everybody for what they believe," said Stone, a Herriman resident who hails from England and attends St. Mark's Episcopal Church. "I don't feel that different from everyone else here. We're all trying to build compassion, love and understanding."
Bringing together religious views and subcultures is one idea fostered by the Interfaith Roundtable, which was formed in 1999 to provide religious support for Olympic athletes and other visitors to Utah during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games. The group's officers, each from different local congregations, meet monthly, mostly working up to February's "Interfaith Month," during which numerous events provide opportunities for Utahns to come together for meaningful discussion, "to get people talking about their faith," Stone said Saturday, during an event at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
"As long as people don't know, there's always an element of fear," she said.
Topics, such as Saturday's interactive discussion on compassion led by Carla Kelley, and upcoming church facility tours throughout the valley, youth luncheons, ceremonial prayers, a novel "speed faithing" event for young adults, and more, center on providing a broader understanding for all of Utah's subcultures.
"We have to talk to each other," said Kelley, founder of the Human Rights Education Center of Utah. "How can we know anything unless we peel back what we think we know?"
She said that her experiences have taught her "we all want, need and deserve the same things."
Wendy Stovall, of the local Unification Church, known as the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, said she was raised in a racially segregated area of Zimbabwe and later moved to an otherwise very diverse England for schooling.
The two cultures were opposite, but experience taught her "we all laughed and cried over the same things. What was important to one mother was important to me and our core values were similar," Stovall told the group on Saturday.
Kelley said to exhibit true compassion for others, biases have to be let go.
"We tend to shut others out in our own pain," she said. "We need to recognize others as being human."
"Being human," Kelley told the group, allows people to make mistakes and try again.
"Love and forgiveness and compassion is what's going to save us and it's the only thing that is going to save us," she said.
Brittani McLeod, a resident of Salt Lake City, said she likes to keep up with different cultures and ways of thinking that float around her hometown. As an anthropologist, she said, the new information "challenges my viewpoints and gives me a better understanding of what truth is."
While her established religion and faith play a "huge part" in her life, McLeod said an idea of truth can't be formed without knowing what else is out there. She encourages her friends and family to also strengthen what they know about God by learning about others' views.
The Interfaith Roundtable is hoping more young people will get involved this year, as "eventually we all get older and we all move on," Stone said. "Our biases are instilled in us at a young age. And their attitudes and acceptances are more advanced than ours. They are more introspective."
And regardless of a person's religious ascription, she said all people can appreciate compassion, peace, love and harmony, which are tenets of many religions.
"Some don't belong to organized church and at the same time, that doesn't mean they are not religious," Stone said.
Utah Gov. Gary Herbert is speaking during an Interfaith blessing at the state Capitol on Wednesday and a musical tribute to the various religions present in the state is scheduled for Sunday, Feb. 23, at 6 p.m. at the Salt Lake Tabernacle.
For a more complete list of events, visit www.interfaithroundtable.org. All events are free and open to the public.
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