INTERFAITH GATHERING, Amen to Diversity
Monday, November 19, 2001
Calvary Baptist Church's
choir sings at Sunday's 12th annual Interfaith Thanksgiving Service.
(Danny La/The Salt Lake Tribune)
BY PEGGY FLETCHER STACK
THE SALT LAKE TRIBUNE
About a week after the Sept. 11 attacks, Shahab Saeed was sitting at lunch
with his co-workers, exchanging stories about the various memorial services
they had attended. One friend announced that he had avoided all of them.
Religion, he said, was at the root of the terrorists' actions in the
To Saeed, a Utah member of the Baha'i faith, that was an example of
"It is a great injustice to blame the teacher for misbehavior of some
students," Saeed told a packed crowd Sunday night at the 12th annual
Interfaith Thanksgiving Service at the just-completed Calvary Baptist
Church in Salt Lake City.
He placed a stack of scriptures from many faiths on the podium before him.
"There is but one book of God, which is love," Saeed said. "These are
just different chapters."
Earlier Sunday, Calvary -- Utah's oldest and largest African-American
congregation -- dedicated its new $2.5 million building at 1090 S. State.
The new building is twice as large as the church's former home at 532 E.
700 South, seating about 900. At the interfaith service, nearly every one
of those seats was filled.
More than 500 people from about a dozen religious groups
filled the burgundy-covered pews of the sanctuary. They swayed with
Calvary's pur- ple-robed choir and called out "Amen" and "Praise the
Lord" as speaker after speaker extolled the virtues of unity amid
diversity. That is, after all, the purpose of the National Conference
for Community and Justice, which sponsors this annual service.
A half-dozen speakers read passages from their faith's
scriptures, several of them rendering the verses in English and another
language, everything from Hebrew to Arabic to Spanish.
Rabbi Frederick Wenger of Congregation Kol Ami in Salt Lake
City read Psalm 107 from the Bible. Raza Patel of the Islamic Society of
Greater Salt Lake read from the Quran.
Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Council of Twelve Apostles in
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints read from The Book of
Mormon, and the Rev. Langes Silva and Maria Cruz Gray of the Roman
Catholic Diocese of Salt Lake City read from the New Testament.
The Rev. Tom Goldsmith of First Unitarian Church in Salt Lake
City talked of responding gracefully to tragedy. Bishop Carolyn Tanner
Irish of the Episcopal Diocese of Utah read from Abraham Lincoln's 1863
address, establishing Thanksgiving as a national holiday.
T.E. Morgan-Begay and John Begay Jr. spoke about the idea of
prayer in the Native American Church.
"Gratitude is our ability to appreciate goodness," said Mayor Rocky
Anderson of Salt Lake City. "Thanksgiving is not about ignoring the bad
that has happened, but about reminding ourselves of the goodness around us."
The keynote speaker, Catholic Bishop George Niederauer of Salt
Lake City, also took up the theme of gratitude, made so relevant by
After Sept. 11, "we and our neighbors are sorting through our
values carefully," Niederauer said, to a chorus of "amen, brother."
"We are beginning to break out of the cycle of
self-gratification," he said. People are increasingly grateful for the
"gift of each other," even those whose "eccentricities and orneriness we
would miss if they were suddenly snatched away."
It is fine to be grateful, Niederauer said, but "God doesn't
want our thank-you notes. He wants us to be as generous with others as
he is with us."
Niederauer urged his listeners to resist the choice between
seeking justice for the crimes or working for peace, supporting America
or embracing some other country, celebrating one's own faith or reaching
out to other traditions.
"We must not be silent before such nonsense," he said. "We
need both/and thinking rather than either/or."
As an example, Niederauer pointed to all the last-minute calls
made to loved ones from the burning Trade Centers or crashing airplanes.
"Every one one of those calls was about love," he said. "None
of them demanded vengeance."
©Copyright 2001, Salt Lake Tribune