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Hundreds attend interfaith fireside

KITCHENER, Ontario — Leaders from the Mormon, Catholic, Pentecostal and Lutheran faiths descended on the Kitchener Ontario Stake Center to explain how their beliefs, traditions and rituals bring people closer to Jesus Christ.

The event on Jan. 31, called "Finding Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ," included visits from a member of the Canadian Parliament and a member of the Grand Philharmonic Choir in southern Ontario.

Despite being in an area of Ontario known for rich religious diversity, the leaders were surprised at the turnout at the LDS stake center.

The Rev. Wayne Lobsinger of Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, the parish in which the Kitchener Stake Center is located, said he expected no more than about 100 attendees. More than 350 people — including Mormons, members of other Christian churches and other Christian ministers — attended the event.

"I was pleasantly surprised with the large attendance," said Kitchener Ontario Stake President James A. McBride.

The Rev. Lloyd Oakey, a Pentecostal minister currently serving a Mennonite congregation in the town of Ayr, Ontario, set the tone as he explained his personal conversion to Christ, which was the backdrop for his testimony. The Rev. Oakey said it is not the institution of any church that saves people, but the Spirit of God that works in their hearts.

These sentiments were echoed by the other participants, each in their own way.

The Rev. Paul Hartig of St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church in Waterloo, Ontario, described being saved by grace as responding to God's call which is felt in the heart, and although the response is ideally manifest in the manner of one's life, it is God's grace through Jesus Christ — rather than works — which results in salvation.

The Rev. Lobsinger and President McBride focused upon the manner in which works contribute to salvation without replacing or superseding grace.

Catholics, said the Rev. Lobsinger, are required to look beyond the symbols of their statuary and sacraments in order to see Jesus present in them and thereby connect with him. He suggested that each of us are called to bring Jesus into the world and that Catholics are helped in doing so by their sacraments and images.

President McBride set out Mormon teachings on love and the family as primary examples of the kind of life to which faith in Christ leads us.

"To choose Christ," President McBride said, "is to choose to be changed," noting that one's conduct will demonstrate whether or not we have faith in him.

During the question-and answer-period following their talks, the religious leaders thoughtfully addressed pointed concerns such as what are believers saved from, how do they deal with the increasingly multicultural (and therefore less Christian) nature of society, and overcoming distractions that interfere with faithful living.

Although some attendees admitted they had doubts or concerns going into the meeting, reactions to it afterwards were all positive. Almost everyone remained for the refreshments and social time that followed. Some non-LDS attendees took tours of the building, and many picked up free copies of the DVD, "Finding Faith in Christ," which was played as the "prelude" to the evening's program.

One LDS attendee said the fireside was one of the best church-hosted events he had ever attended. Other features of the fireside were a warm welcome by Harold Albrecht, a former Christian minister currently serving as a member of the Canadian Parliament representing the area including the stake center, and a rendition of Charles Gounod's classic hymn, "O Divine Redeemer," sung by Marhee Clifton, a member of the Grand Philharmonic Choir, accompanied by Janeth Williams, both of whom are music teachers and members of the Kitchener stake.

e-mail: kitchenerpa@bell.net