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Annual interfaith service unites spiritual voices

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SALT LAKE CITY — Voices from an array of faiths and communities united in a feast of word and song Sunday night at the interfaith service that has become a Thanksgiving tradition for some families in Utah.

The Inclusion Center's 23rd annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service was hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and Elder C. Scott Grow of the Quorum of the Seventy, joined by representatives from the Baha'i, Sikh, Catholic, Jewish and Islamic faiths.

While each speaker brought a unique perspective to the small crowd in the LDS Assembly Hall on Temple Square, a phrase sung by the One Voice Children's Choir summed up the mood of the evening: We're many faiths, one family.

Elder Grow joined the speakers in calling for communities of faith to "come together," as the service's theme stated. Uniting in faith is essential in order to defend family values, moral living and freedom of religion, Elder Grow said.

"We have come together today knowing that we can make a difference," he said. "Whatever may be our doctrinal differences, we stand united as we express our faith in God."

Amidst deteriorating standards in society, Elder Grow gave a reminder of the right Americans have to let faith inform their decisions.

"We are grateful to live in a land with religious liberty, and yet religious freedom is in decline," he said. "Rather than advocating freedom of religion there are many today who feel that the public deserves to be free from religion."

Kilo Zamora, executive director of the Inclusion Center, said helping to plan the interfaith service for the past 20 years has, in a way, become his form of worship. As he smiled at familiar faces in the audience, Zamora said the event that is put on each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving has become a family and community tradition.

"There are families here that I have seen here for 20 years," he said. "They come here and they say 'I'm ready to go into my holidays.'"

The service is hosted by different faiths in a different location each year. It has been 18 years since the LDS Church last had a chance to host, Zamora said.

As Thanksgiving approaches, Jan Saeed, director of Spiritual Life at Westminster College and member of the Baha'i faith, spoke of the need to act in service and gratitude to truly show thanks, while Pritpal Singh Tib of the Sikh Community of Utah explained the Sikh principle of standing on behalf of the poor and the weak.

This is the first year a representative from the Sikh community has spoken at the service, Zamora said.

Jean Lawton, a peer minister at the St. Catherine of Sienna Newman Center, shared a message in Spanish about reaching out to others and sharing, even when it's difficult. She said she enjoyed the feeling of sharing that came through the interfaith service, similar to the connection she feels with Jesus Christ through religious worship in the Catholic church.

Alex Shapiro, executive director of the United Jewish Federation of Utah, praised the strength that comes through uniting diverse beliefs and cultures. Interfaith unity can prevent bigotry and persecution, he said.

"We do not need to be uniform in order to be united," Shapiro said.

Florida resident Cherise Graham said she was in Utah visiting family for Thanksgiving and decided to attend the service, which she called "benchmark of faith."

"I loved to hear their philosophies and their spirit," she said. "They cared about one another … what stuck out to me was (the message of) helping each other."

Many in attendance were especially touched by the musical offerings of the One Voice Children's Choir. Sara Goldberg, a 15-year-old Salt Lake City resident, has performed at the annual interfaith service for several years.

Goldberg sang a solo in the choir's final number, "We'll rise above." She said she hopes the choir helped to further unite the participants in Sunday's service.

"That's what we try to do, we try to bring people closer together and just celebrate music," she said. "You really have to be thankful for what you're given."

E-mail: mromero@deseretnews.com Twitter: @McKenzieRomero