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Guest Column

Interfaith Activity in Salt Lake City

Linda Nobis teaches Communication courses for Salt Lake Community College and Online for the University of Denver's University College.

I recently moved from Colorado to Salt Lake City, Utah. My curiosity as a non-Mormon resident in a city where this religion dominates life and culture led me to research both historical and current accounts of how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (LDS, or commonly, Mormons), interacts with other faiths.

Mormons and non-Mormons have been finding ways to coexist in Utah since the 1800s. In the 19th century, Utah served as a stopover for settlers and prospectors on their way to California. In 1847 the Mormons arrived as permanent settlers in the
Wasatch Valley. Immediately, there arose tension between faiths. Brigham Young initially refused to allow non-Mormon services to be held in any public facility. However, as time passed and relationships were formed, this policy was relaxed. In 1899 the Catholic Church broke ground for a major cathedral to rival the Mormon temple, situated on the same street in Salt Lake City. Presbyterians soon laid the cornerstone for their flagship church in 1903, one block from the Catholic Church.

The Transcontinental Railroad construction (completed in 1869 at Promontory Point, Utah) also meant an influx of workers who brought other faiths into the community. As the groups interacted and moved towards the goal of Statehood, it became apparent that a way to coexist would have to be found. Federal troops who were sent to oversee the transition from Territory to Statehood in 1890 brought even more diverse representation of ethnicity, culture, and religion into the fledgling state.

Much more recently, the 2002 Winter Olympics positively impacted interfaith activities. The Olympic charter mandates that the host city provide venues for worship and spiritual guidance for the world's athletes. This requirement resulted in the development of the Interfaith Roundtable, begun in 1998, which was created to address how best to meet the needs of the athletes. This body represented the LDS church, Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Hindus, and Muslims.

Relationships that ensued from this planning committee continued beyond the Olympics. The Roundtable meets regularly today, and includes a lunchtime forum for building relationships and understanding. The mayor's office also has created a group called "Bridging the Religious Divide". The first phase of this program attracted six hundred people. The interfaith dialogue that began with the arrival of miners, settlers, and soldiers has become an infrastructure that can possibly address how to move forward as a modern community of all faiths.

- Linda Nobis