Karambir Singh Khalsa sings a Sikh prayer during the Prayer Over the City rally at St. George Tabernacle, St George Utah, January 1, 2020 | Photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News
ST. GEORGE- Week after week, church leaders will offer a similar prayer or supplication at the start of a public meeting of St. George’s City Council. It might be a Jewish rabbi one week and a retired Baptist pastor the next.
They do so as members of the St. George Interfaith Council, a grassroots group that promotes cooperation and unity among diverse faith groups while promoting their global visibility.
“The goal is to have communication between all faith communities and to make sure that we talk to each other, that we have service projects – to work together when something needs to happen,” said Tim Martin, one of the founders of the interfaith council.
The St. George Interfaith Council does more than just offer prayers at St. George’s City Council meetings – although this is one of their most visible activities (council members also offer prayers at city council meetings). the Washington County Commission and more recently the Washington City Council), he is involved in charity work, networking within the faith community, and the annual Prayer Over the City New Year’s Day event.
It was from this last event that the St. George Interfaith Council was born 12 years ago.
At the time, Martin and his wife were members of the local public affairs council of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and were among the first participants in the prayer over the city when it was held. originally at Pioneer Park in St. George. . The New Year’s event, hosted by Reverend Jimi Kestin of Solomon’s Porch Foursquare Fellowship, involved ministers from various faith traditions who offered short prayers for the community for the coming year.
Through this act of interfaith unity, along with similar events and general encouragement to serve the community while involving other churches and denominations, Martin came up with the idea for the interfaith council.
Using his own and Kestin’s contacts, leaders from more than 25 congregations were invited to join in the creation of an interfaith council in early 2010 at a meeting held at the Dixie State College Alumni House.
“About 22 to 23 showed up in February 2010 and the Reverend Dr. Ralph Clingan (of Good Shepherd Presbyterian Church) was elected president…and off we went,” Martin said.
Both Christian and non-Christian denominations are represented on the interreligious council. This includes various Christian denominations, as well as leaders among the region’s Jewish, Baha’i, Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“We have religious leaders from all walks of life,” Kestin said. “It was a real joy to see the community of faith come together.”
The interfaith council has much the same philosophy that was going on at Prayer Over the City and similar events, Kestin said.
“We come together in unity, but not compromise in faith,” he said, adding that there are many points of belief on which no one fully agrees. Despite this, board members focus on what they have in common. “It has helped us build a spirit of togetherness that transcends differences and has built great friendships over the years.”
The Interfaith Council has helped bring together various groups and churches for their benefit and for the community as a whole. An example of this is the annual CROP walk, Kestin said.
The CROP walk, which stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty, is a fundraiser that involves a 6-mile walk. It is said that 6 miles is the distance that people in third world countries walk every day for food, water and work. The charity has raised more than $90,000 by 2021 to help feed people in St. George and around the world.
The event was originally organized by a single church, he said, but thanks to the interfaith council, this event had a greater reach and impact than it otherwise would have had.
Other interfaith events have involved the Stations of the Cross, which is a tradition of the Roman Catholic Church. The event has been observed in St. George for many years with members of the Interfaith Council serving as volunteers at each of the 14 stations.
More recently, the council has helped raise awareness of the plight of Ukrainian students at Dixie State University. They are stuck in the United States at the moment due to the war with Russia unfolding there, Martin said. So to help these students, the council has helped raise $4,000 so far to support students through the summer.
“Being on the board allows for more impactful projects for the community,” Kestin said.
In addition to unity and collaboration, the interfaith council fosters, it also promotes tolerance and denounces hate incidents.
“We don’t look at religion or skin color – we just want to help people,” said Rabbi Helene Ainbender, former chairman of the interfaith council. “You can’t get any better than that.”
Following incidents of anti-Semitic and racial violence across the country and closer to home last year, the Interfaith Council issued a statement exposing the hatred shared at the time with the Washington County Commission.
Most recently, council members met with an FBI analyst for training on how best to prepare for and recognize terrorist threats and actions, particularly during worship services and meetings.
Ainbender said it was great to have a network of support and camaraderie within the faith community where they were able to share ideas and resources like training. Religious groups that weren’t on the council don’t have that network, she said.
“Those who aren’t part of it may not be such a strong voice in the community,” Ainbender said.
In order to join the St. George Interfaith Council, Martin said religious leaders can contact him. through the town hall website.
“It’s been a joy to be a part of it,” Kestin said.
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