A veritable Google search of Utah religious leaders came together Wednesday afternoon to celebrate and dedicate a landmark to ecumenism at This Is the Place Heritage Park.
"We are all part of this celebration," said the Most Reverend John C. Wester of the Salt Lake City Diocese, "because This Is the Place park celebrates all of us."
That is especially true now, with the dedication of the park's new Garden Place and its 10-monument Walk of Pioneer Faiths. The Garden Place is a large event center built with the look and feel of Utah's pioneering past but with enough modern technology to accommodate large gatherings and special events year-round. The grounds surrounding the Garden Place are beautifully landscaped, featuring flowers, trees, shrubs and a meandering stream and waterfall.
"This building will add so much to the future of this Park," said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints during the dedication. After the meeting, he added, "The Walk of Pioneer Faiths reminds us that the history of this state wasn't written by one faith group — it was written by many. And that's what we'll need going into the future: all of our faiths, working together."
Leading up to the Garden Place from the parking lot is the zig-zagging Walk of Pioneer Faiths, which includes 10 monuments, each one set about 20 feet from the next. After an introductory monument, each of the nine remaining monuments pays tribute to a different religious group, honoring those who pioneered each faith in Utah.
"That is truly the significance of what we are doing here today," said Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman of Congregation Kol Amee following the dedication. "We have all come together to celebrate our shared history because we are all part of Utah."
Sensing that significance, Ellis Ivory, chairman and executive director of the This is the Place Foundation, asked each of the religious leaders who were present to represent the various faith groups memorialized on the Walk of Pioneer Faith to stand together as a group before the audience of some 400 people. The group included:
Reverend Michael Chittum of the First Congregational Church
Bishop Scott Hayashi of the Episcopal Church
Reverend Steve Goodier of the First United Methodist Church
Reverend Curtis Price of the First Baptist Church
Pastor Mike Imperiale of the First Presbyterian Church
Reverend Steve Klemz of the Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church
Father Matthew Gilbert of the Greek Orthodox Church
"This is a great photo op." Ivory said as the audience applauded. "This is a wonderful picture of the unity this project represents."
During the dedicatory meeting, Lt. Governor Greg Bell expressed his admiration for "pioneer forbears from any faith" who have taught that "we must live morally, honestly and with kindness and tolerance."
"Some of the best and wisest voices emanate from our religious community," he said. "May the faiths of our fathers always be found walking among us."
Bishop Wester echoed that theme when he noted that it is "beautiful to see how our faith, civic and business communities can all work together for the common good and to celebrate what is good about our state."
And that, Bishop Wester noted, is what made the Garden Place with its Walk of Pioneer Faiths so important.
"The work that was done here was done for all of us," he said. "Yes, this park is especially sacred to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But because it is sacred to them, it is sacred to all of us, because we are all one. This is part of all of our history, and all of our ancestors are part of this history."
Bishop Wester concluded his remarks by expressing his confidence that "the future will be greatly blessed for this park, as many come here for generations to come to give thanks for our past, celebrate our present and look forward with hope to our future."
In his dedicatory prayer, Bishop Wester thanked God "for your abundant gifts — especially this gift of faith. ... you have hallowed this land through the faith of those who came here." And he prayed that the new building and the Walk of Pioneer Faiths would stand "as a monument to our commitment to love and support one another."
The construction of the Garden Place and the Walk of Pioneer Faiths was funded entirely by private donations.