PROVO — Maddie Blonquist celebrated the end of one interfaith adventure and the beginning of another Thursday at the front of Brigham Young University's Harold B. Lee Library auditorium.
The art exhibit she'd curated for display in the library, "Sacred Sounds: A Compassionate Listening Guide to Musical Worship," was wrapping up its three-month run. And the new BYU Interfaith Club, which she will co-lead, was just getting started.
"I wanted the interest in this (exhibit) to funnel into something that has more longevity," said the senior humanities major.
She launched that transition with Thursday's hour-long panel on the importance of interfaith dialogue, bringing together an imam, a Jewish music leader, a BYU professor and more than 100 of her classmates.
Blonquist first got interested in religious diversity during her mission for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in New York City. She was exposed to unfamiliar faiths and wanted to learn more.
Her sacred sounds research allowed just that, bringing her out of her comfort zone and into new houses of worship. She met Imam Muhammed Mehtar, the religious leader for the Khadeeja Islamic Center in West Valley City, and Wendy Bat-Sarah, cantor for Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake City, who both sat with her during Thursday morning's event.
Blonquist, Imam Mehtar and Cantor Bat-Sarah were joined at the front of the auditorium by Blonquist's two on-campus partners in her interfaith work: Savannah Clawson, the other student leader of the BYU Interfaith Club, and Andrew Reed, a comparative religions and church history professor.
The group discussed common misconceptions about interfaith engagement and the value of choosing curiosity over fear. The non-Mormon panelists laughed while sharing common pitfalls to avoid when visiting their faith communities.
"One of the things that always comes up when we have visitors is a comment like, 'That's odd you didn't mention Jesus,'" Cantor Bat-Sarah said. "Jesus is not part of Judaism."
Imam Mehtar joked that people don't believe him when he talks about Muslims love of Jesus. "They say, 'No. I think you are wrong,'" he said.
Reed told the students gathered in the auditorium that learning about other religions should be considered part of a good BYU education, noting that graduates are called to "go forth to serve" everyone, not just Mormons.
"One of the things I hope you are getting from this is the open invitation for us to be curious, to ask questions and to learn more," Reed said during the panel.
"Having this type of dialogue is very, very positive," added Imam Mehtar.
Moving forward, BYU Interfaith Club will focus on making members more comfortable talking to people from different religious backgrounds, said Reed, who serves as club adviser. Meetings will include conversations about how to be a better friend to non-Mormon classmates and neighbors.
"This club is an opportunity for students to learn how to have interfaith dialogue in a respectful way, in a sensitive way, so that we're not just running around out there unaware that Jews don't necessarily believe in Jesus," he said.
Club leaders also envision the group as a safe space for non-Mormon students at BYU, although they admit it may take a while to make the group truly diverse.
"Because of our setting here at BYU, there's a good chance we'll have predominately LDS students at first, and I think that's OK," Reed said.
Blonquist and Clawson are currently preparing for their first formal club meeting, scheduled for Feb. 1, and working to fill open leadership positions.
"We're hoping that we will be able to start something really big and create an organization that will provide students … with some training on how to respectfully approach interfaith dialogue," Blonquist said. "There's a good chance they're not going to be working in a homogenous LDS environment their whole lives."