Athiests and nonbelievers 'still have a place' in Utah's interfaith community
Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News
SALT LAKE CITY — Salt Lake's interfaith community makes room for everyone, even those who do not believe in a higher power.
Lacee Harris, from the Northern Ute and Piute tribes, prayed Wednesday near the Capitol rotunda for unity among all people, including those who consider themselves atheists or nonbelievers.
"They still have a place with us," Harris said before performing a pipe ceremony and blessing.
He waved a part of an eagle wing held in a leather sheath and turned toward the Creator, the Earth, and north, south, east and west during his prayer. The First Nation people believe the eagle is the bird that flies the highest and carries their prayers.
"We are united as a spiritual people. We cross the philosophy of lifelines," Harris said before the blessing.
Before the ceremony, he put together a pipe and stem, representing the unity of the spiritual and temporal.
Attendees at the ceremony stood in a circle around Harris and passed the pipe filled with herbal tobacco, holding it close to their mouths. They pointed it up to the Creator, down to the Earth, and north, south, east and west. The action symbolized their unity with each other, the world and their Creator.
"Today we have sealed each other's beliefs. We have sealed each other's spirits," Harris said at the end of the blessing.
The blessing was one of the events for Salt Lake's Interfaith Month. The Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable coordinates events for faiths throughout the state to unify people of different backgrounds.
"If we learn about each other's religion and culture, then we appreciate each other," Interfaith Roundtable recording secretary Leslie Dorius-Jones said.
Video and still cameras were not allowed during the blessing as a sign of respect for the sacred ritual.
A little more than 20 people gathered for the blessing. Harris charged each of those in attendance to be examples to those who did not come.
"(The ceremony) was very moving and inspiring. Something that is going to carry me through for a long time," said the Rev. Father Elias Koucos of the Prophet Elias Greek Orthodox Church.
Harris' themes of unity, harmony and "one Creator under many names," resonated with Father Koucos, who is the 2013-14 Interfaith Roundtable chairman.
It also struck a chord with community outreach chairman Alan Scott Bachman, who took a break from his duties as Utah assistant attorney general to attend the ceremony.
Bachman said it is important to reach out to those who are not like us in order to make a meaningful impact.
"It's easy to be insular, and it's easy to stick with what you know and what your comfort zone is," he said.
After the blessing, members of the Pacifica Institute Utah presented two Turkish rugs, one woven with a picture of Gov. Gary Herbert and one with Herbert and his wife, Jeanette. They did this to thank the governor for his inclusion of religions in the state.
“It was perfect. He was very happy,“ said Coskun Kariparduc, director of Pacifica Institute Utah, part of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.
Herbert made a brief appearance to the group before the blessing and remarked that the ceremony "sets the tone" for what should happen in government.
The Capitol has been around for 100 years, the governor said, and was built with an eye toward the future. The interfaith community is similar in providing a foundation for the future.
"We're building for tomorrow and what we can become," Herbert said.
The roundtable came began in 2002 as a way to provide religious support for the participants of the Olympic Games in Salt Lake City. Since then, the group has met monthly to find ways to unify the religious communities.
For information about Interfaith Month events, including the Musical Tribute on Feb. 23, visit interfaithroundtable.org.
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