WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Representatives of various faiths came out to mark the fifth anniversary of Edmonton's innovative Celebrating Our Faiths Program.
In a time when municipalities are weeding religion out of public places, the City of Edmonton has taken a different approach, encouraging understanding of all spiritual traditions, and giving thanks for the city’s many faith expressions.
Each month a different faith launches an educational event to showcase its tradition. Displays depicting various faiths are rotated on a regular basis in City Hall.
Since 2006, more than 18 different faiths have been featured, showcasing their traditions, symbols and spiritual viewpoints. The permanent exhibit includes religious artifacts that educate visitors about a host of religions practised in this diverse city, including Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Jainism and Zoroastrianism.
The display is part of Celebrating Our Faiths, a partnership between the City of Edmonton and the Edmonton Interfaith Centre for Education and Action.
Rabbi David Kunin, president of the Interfaith Centre, said the ongoing displays are a great learning tool, allowing people to learn more about Eckankar, Baha’i and the Unitarians.
“It allows us to learn about their holidays and rites of passage, and their beliefs. It really gives us an opportunity to be educated. Every time I look at the display, I learn something new about other traditions. It gives us an opportunity to share in the wonder of our city,” said Kunin.
The primary idea of the Interfaith Centre is promoting peace, friendship and harmony, in order to strengthen Edmonton, Canada and the world.
Since the program’s inception there has been a growing awareness, among those of every major faith, of the commonalities within religions, regardless of the differences in dogma and religious law.
“Differences are something we should celebrate, not something we should fear,” said Kunin.
City Hall was the site of a special thanksgiving event Oct. 5 to mark the fifth anniversary of the program. The evening consisted of musical pieces incorporating various cultural instruments, communal blessings and a thanksgiving tree. Guests were asked to write what they are thankful for on leaf-shaped papers and hang their reflections on tree branches.
“It is a program that recognizes there is a unity in our diversity, and there is so much that we can learn about each other through words, experience and reflection,” said John Dowds, city chaplain.
Dowds began the evening’s program by acknowledging the territory on which Edmonton is built. He expressed gratitude and honoured the ancestors of the Cree and Blackfoot nations.
WCR PHOTO | CHRIS MILLER
Exhibits in City Hall provide information about a variety of the faiths represented in Edmonton.
“Before the buildings of steel and concrete, the paved streets, and the commercial enterprises, the churches, the synagogues, the mosques and the temples, before all of that, the land upon which we stand now felt only the feet of the First Peoples and that of the natural world of animals and plants,” said Dowds.
In keeping with honouring aboriginal spirituality, there was a blessing of the Four Directions. A key feature of the First Nations spiritual outlook is found in the powers ascribed to the Four Directions, which occur throughout their stories.
More than 100 guests – whether Buddhist, Sikh or Jewish – faced south, west, north and east as prayers were recited.
Mayor Stephen Mandel said Edmonton is a remarkable place with caring people who genuinely understand each other. Edmontonians recognize the right of citizens to worship the way they want to, and know that even though differences exist, the similarities are in great numbers.
“We should be the envy of the world. We don’t have the conflicts that many other cities have. We are a microcosm of the world, but a group of people who care about each other and work together – and the interfaith community is a big part of that,” said Mandel.
A poetry reading by Edmonton’s poet laureate, Anna Marie Sewell, also highlighted the celebration.
Rabbi David Kunin
“I am with you tonight because I believe that this work, this celebration, and this kind of education is some of the most important work that we as human beings can do, to reach out to each other and weave the soft chains that bind us together,” said Sewell.
She spoke of Sheila Rogers who, following the decision in Ontario to remove the Lord’s Prayer from public office, invited ideas for a Canadian prayer. Sewell’s idea was a profound Lakota prayer, Mitayuke Oyasin, or in English, All My Relations.
The prayer petitions God on behalf of everyone and everything on Earth. The prayer also honours the sacredness of each person’s individual spiritual path.
“Three words, a wealth of meaning. The simple prayer is rooted in our deep past, resonant in our present, and a signal call toward a better future,” said Sewell.
She continued, “All My Relations expresses our present reality in broad and welcoming terms. There is space in this prayer for Canadians of all heritages. It is a good reminder too how we might approach the discussion differently at the table of policymaking and justice if we acknowledge that, whatever our differences, we are all relatives.”
Representatives from 12 different faiths did a thanksgiving prayer. One by one, Sikhs, Hindus, Buddhists and others went to the front podium and prayed in their own distinct way, an overlap of creed and ritual with each new person.
The Christian representative was Pat Holt, a Catholic woman from Leduc.