SALT LAKE CITY — About three dozen Salt Lake area residents took a tour in their own stomping grounds, visiting three churches — the Salvation Army, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, and Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church — on a bus tour Feb. 24 that was sponsored by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable as one of the events of Interfaith Month.
The Salvation Army
Many in the group were surprised to learn the Salvation Army is an organized religion. The Salvation Army was founded in 1862 by William Booth, according to the Salvation Army website at salvationarmy.org.
Troy Trimmer, the envoy in charge of the Salt Lake chapter, said that because most people are unaware of the church’s religious outlook, they often don’t know the motivation behind the organization’s outreach in the community is Christian-based.
In addition to the thrift stores and Christmas bell ringing, the Salvation Army assists in military outreach operations, rehabilitation centers and youth programs, just to name a few, Trimmer said.
Trimmer said the church motto is “We preach the gospel of Jesus Christ and we meet human need without discrimination.” Some people don’t realize the Salvation Army is meant to signify a literal army, the army of God, he said.
As God’s soldiers, they wear uniforms, he said, adding that the church government includes a variety of ranks, all reminiscent of the U.S. military.
“I never had any clue that it was a religion,” said George Cannon, a certified public accountant and tour attendee. “It’s so different from any other religion that I’ve ever been exposed to, but the origins — that makes sense.”
The current Salvation Army worship building in Salt Lake City, located at 438 S. 900 West, was built in 1902.
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church
At St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 261 S. 900 East, associate priest the Rev. Susan Roberts said the historic cathedral is among the houses of worship that have been in use the longest in Salt Lake City.
The different parts of the church are all purposeful and symbolic. Russell Pack, the church's children’s ministries coordinator, explained the church is supposed to be reminiscent of an upside-down boat, symbolizing the church's ability to bring all through the stormy seas of life. He also passed out a paper showing that the church’s facilities are arranged in the shape of a cross.
Acquiring the building was quite a scandal, Pack said. In 1878, a bishop in New York was funding the building. When it came time to sell, the bishop in New York and the local leaders weren’t exactly seeing eye to eye, he said.
“There was this huge dispute as to who owned the building that would claim the proceeds of the church," Pack said. “Overnight, (the local leaders) sold the church and kept the proceedings. Had they not done that, we wouldn’t have this great church here.”
The church leaders have tried to preserve its history throughout time. Since the original church was in a different location, they have kept an altar as well as other pieces of furniture used there.
“Who knows how many times I drove past this one and I never even noticed it,” said Interfaith Month coordinator Janet Haney, who helped organize the tour. “I love it. The architecture’s just so beautiful.”
Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church
In the main worship area upstairs at Saints Peter and Paul Orthodox Christian Church, located at 355 S. 300 East, every inch of the domed walls and ceiling is covered in painted depictions of Jesus Christ and various religious saints.
Besides the painted walls and assorted rugs, the room is nearly empty.
“Orthodox churches — some do have pews, some don’t — but the ancient tradition was to have no pews because the way they worshipped God was by standing,” said Father Justin Havens. “We’re unity of soul and body, so if our body is attentive, there’s a better chance of our soul being attentive.”
Many on the tour were impressed that most churchgoers stand for the typical hour-and-a-half service. A single pew lined a wall.
Father Havens explained that since they believe the whole body should be engaged in each service, members of the church sing throughout the service and burn incense to help engage all the senses.
The building was originally a Jewish synagogue and was built in 1904.
“In America, the way we dress is really weird,” Father Havens said of his long beard and floor-length black robe. “But in the Holy Land, this is the norm. I would say that the modern world is more weird than we are.”
Father Havens said he dresses this way so the spiritually sick can easily find him. His dress presents opportunities for him to administer throughout the community, he said.
“The interfaith moment, what I like about it, is that we have to be united by common things,” Father Havens said. “My worry is that it’s so watered down, some of these things, that it’s not clear what those common things are anymore. And that’s important for us.”
Steven Parkins, a local high school science teacher and tour attendee, said he observed the titles of the saints, such as the Martyr Catherine. He felt like his struggles were minor compared to the sacrifices and trials those early saints had to face, he said.
"My mind was kind of filling in the unspoken about the struggles of each of these men and women," Parkins said. "I was just getting an overview of the struggles of humanity over time."
Parkins said he was impressed by all of the faiths, especially with Father Havens' choice of dress, candor and personable nature. Parkins also said his main goal throughout the tour was to look for commonalities in comparison to his own faith.
The Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable originated during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games and consists of a group of faith leaders focused on transcending religious lines and uniting all faiths together, according to its website at interfaithroundtable.org. The bus tour is one of the annual Interfaith Month events, and a calendar of events is available at interfaithroundtable.org/2016-interfaith-month-2.