Bahai News -- Deseret News - Harmony and faith to blend Thursday, February 6, 2003

Harmony and faith to blend

By Carrie A. Moore
Deseret News religion editor

      A good quarterback could easily throw a football from the center of the Main Street Plaza to the Tabernacle on Temple Square. While the former has, in recent weeks, become a forum for religious rancor as First Amendment legal maneuvering continues, the latter will house the sacred sounds as many faiths come together Sunday night.
      Members of Salt Lake's Interfaith Roundtable are convinced that a higher power had a hand in that little paradox.
      The very area that has recently become "a battleground of divisiveness is now becoming the sacred ground of unity through the bridge of music," said Mark Allison, chaplain at University Hospital and a member of the Roundtable. The group was formed three years ago in anticipation of last year's Olympic Games and the need for locals to put their differences of faith aside. It continues on as a kind of grassroots effort to maintain the goodwill and cooperation that characterized the community's Olympic efforts.
      So for its second annual Interfaith Musical Tribute to the Human Spirit, the group chose the Tabernacle on Temple Square months ago — long before the Main Street Plaza issue came to a head in December.
      On Sunday, the Roundtable members will join thousands of Utahns in a display of unity they believe is sorely needed now. "Instead of espousing and shouting, we'll be listening," said Elaine Emmi, whose believes her presence on the Roundtable is indicative of its desire to be as inclusive as possible. "There are only 100 Quakers in Utah," she said, "yet they invited me to participate."
      That diversity of voices will literally be on display in the Tabernacle Sunday as Native American flutes and drums share the same venue as Buddhists for a blessing dance. A variety of Christian choirs will perform during the 90-minute program, along with the Wesley Bell Ringers and the Orchestra at Temple Square. Prayers will be offered by Muslims, Bahai's, Hindus, Jews and Christian Scientists.
      It is believed the event will include a more varied "melting pot" of faiths than any meeting ever held on Temple Square.
      Sister Bridget Clare McKeever with the Catholic Diocese hopes that fact alone will be enough to draw some who have hesitated to set foot in the Tabernacle in the past.
      Remembering the first time she visited Utah's largest tourist attraction, McKeever — who moved to the Beehive State seven years ago — said she lived in Utah for six months before she dared go to Temple Square. She laughs now as she remembers the Christmas lights there finally drew her onto the literal centerpiece of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
      Coming from California, she'd heard some of the prejudice surrounding "the Mormons" and it made her "so afraid to go to Temple Square." Yet when no one tried to accost her the first time, she decided to take visiting guests and return. Now she goes on her own.
      Her fear was ill-founded, she said — just like the fear many Utahns have of visiting a worship space that isn't "their own."
      "That's where people get stuck," said Maxine Hanks, now a minister in her own faith who was excommunicated from the LDS Church more than a decade ago. Her desire to facilitate interfaith cooperation eventually overcame her fear of interacting with LDS men who are also a part of the Roundtable.
      When she sat across from one and they struck up a conversation, "I took it as a sign from God that it would be OK and I could continue. It's the fear we all have that gets in the way, that fear of the unknown. That's the thing that's stopping us, the fear that we might be changed by someone else."
      The members agree that mutual acceptance and respect are the goals they have been able to achieve among themselves and hope to foster in the wider community as others are encouraged to reach beyond their owns faiths.
      In fact, Gov. Mike Leavitt has issued a proclamation declaring Feb. 2-9 as Interfaith Week in Utah, with the hope that every resident will make friends with someone of a different faith or heal a faith-related conflict. Roundtable members agree they've changed for the better as they've worked personally on those goals.
      And they say that's the way Utah's ongoing religious divide can eventually be healed — one person at a time.


©Copyright 2003, Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT, USA)

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