Thinking back to Feb. 1, an image Murray Nicholson will remember from Calgary’s inaugural UN World Interfaith Harmony Week is seeing different religious leaders standing together during the opening ceremony.
That was a “powerful symbol for me, and an accomplishment to be able to pull all of that together,” says Murray, who co-chaired the event with Rabbi Shaul Osadchey. The opening ceremony at City Hall kicked off a week-long celebration with special events including open houses at 18 places of worship.
Murray says the week went “better than expected,” and things came together easily.
Community feedback has been positive, particularly among people already involved in interfaith activities. The week served as encouragement to continue the interfaith efforts, says Murray. A “stream” of phone calls and emails from people interested to be involved with Calgary Interfaith Council have come in since Interfaith Harmony Week.
National news attracts more participants
News of the Jan. 29 Quebec City mosque shooting likely resulted in more people stepping forward during the Calgary interfaith week that otherwise may not have, Murray notes.
“The worldwide concern about the Muslim community undermines a lot of the interfaith activities,” Murray says. “We are aware of that and anxious to treat them as brothers and sisters and with respect.”
Two open houses at mosques were well attended by visitors, some curious and others wanting to show a level of support with the Muslim community. “World events have an impact on interfaith harmony and we think there is a role to be played and people seem to be interested to stand up and support that, so we are encouraged,” Murray says.
Interfaith Council expands
A newly amalgamated Calgary Interfaith Council officially launched Feb. 1 as the central organization for interfaith activities across the city. The expanded council will have greater capacity in four major program areas: interfaith education, interfaith dialogue, interfaith worship and interfaith action.
Calgary Interfaith Council currently has 84 members. Existing programs will continue in the areas of poverty reduction, as well as partnerships in immigration and indigenous relations. The council will be working to bring people on board and create a workable structure in time for its May Annual General Meeting.
The council hopes the province will also declare UN World Interfaith Harmony Week. Halifax and Toronto, other cities that mark the week, are interested to share and coordinate with Calgary going forward.
What role can the United Church play?
The United Church in Canada participates in interfaith dialogue and action and has published statements and study guides on whole world ecumenism as well as relations with Jewish, Muslim, and Hindu religions. The United Church can play a leadership role in interfaith dialogue, says Murray. He attends Calgary’s Living Spirit United Church.
“The United Church presbytery for the Calgary area has been very supportive of the council and the other events that have been held in the past,” he adds. “We look forward to a really positive relationship with the United Church.”
To learn more about Calgary Interfaith Council, including links to take a virtual tour of a place of worship, visit http://calgaryinterfaithcouncil.org.