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'More similar than different': Community members tour Utah churches on Interfaith Bus Tour

SALT LAKE CITY — Community members became familiar with various houses of worship on Tuesday’s "Interfaith Bus Tour," an event that is a part of Interfaith Season sponsored by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable.

Josie Stone, vice chair of the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable, said the bus tour was an “immediate success” its first year and has been one of the more popular events of Interfaith Season since.

People enjoy the event because there isn’t any pressure or proselytizing, Stone said. The relaxed and open atmosphere also gives church leaders an opportunity to “showcase."

"They are very proud of their churches," she said.

Stone was impressed by the 10 or so younger participants who were part of a group numbering about 50.

“This was the first year we had younger people aboard,” said Stone, adding that youths have been more involved in all the Interfaith events this year. “It is good to see that the word is being spread to a younger generation.”

This year, the tour visited St. Ambrose Catholic Church, Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church and Congregation Kol Ami.

At St. Ambrose, the Rev. Andrzej Skrzypiec, who has been pastor of the parish since 2009, led participants into the chapel as they shuffled off the bus. He explained the symbolism in the stained glass windows as the sun set.

The windows have cooler colors at the back of the church that gradually get warmer the closer they are to the altar, symbolizing the warmth found in God’s love, he said.

The Rev. Skrzypiec answered questions about the nature of God and talked about the history of the parish.

“(St. Ambrose) was a defender of the faith and was very eloquent in the way he defended that faith,” he said. “His symbol was a beehive, which is also a symbol of Utah. Because of his eloquence, he spoke like honey.”

One of the defining features of the chapel is the organ, which is the fifth largest in the state. A young man played two short numbers for the group on the St. Ambrose organ, which once belonged to St. Marks Episcopal Cathedral.

The Rev. Skrzypiec said music and art are found in churches because true art brings the Spirit.

Pastor Steve Klemz of Zion Evangelical Lutheran Church welcomed participants at the front door and pointed out additions to the building.

“We had a vision that as salvation goes, there’s a sense of making room and expanse so hospitality was very important to us,” he said.

The Rev. Klemz said around 150 people worship on Sundays.

“I really think I have a congregation of 800 plus, because whenever somebody ends up in the hospital or something happens where pastoral care is needed, I really do feel like I’m a pastor to 800,” he said.

This sense of care and hospitality is integral to the faith, he said, pointing out that the seat cushions on the pews were added when a member of their congregation was undergoing cancer treatment.

“When I saw what she was going through during chemo, when you begin to lose body mass and muscle mass, soon it became a matter of hospitality,” he said.

The welcoming spirit is also apparent in their beliefs, which includes a strong understanding of God’s gift of grace.

“I believe Jesus shows up in incredible and many ways,” the Rev. Klemz said.

Because the scripture reads “for God so loved the world” and not “for God so loved the Lutherans,” the Rev. Klemz said they try to pay attention to what is happening in the world.

“We continue to explore ways that hospitality can reach out to the world,” he said.

Betty Yanowitz, a member of Congregation Kol Ami, talked about the 130-year history of the Jewish faith in Salt Lake City and the origins of the synagogue.

She said that for years there were two smaller synagogues, one that was more reformed and liberal, and another that was more traditional and conservative.

The two synagogues were “a stone’s throw” from each other, yet “people who grew up here will tell you that if you belonged to one congregation, they didn’t know the people in the other,” Yanowitz said.

In the late 1960s, the two synagogues merged for financial reasons.

“People think of Judaism as being monolithic, but this was almost an intermarriage between the reformed, liberal and the conservative, more traditional,” she said. “We are the result of this. It’s built on total compromise.”

Some of the issues they compromised on were the role of women and whether music would be a part of the service.

Rabbi Emeritus Frederick Wenger read from the Torah for the group. Reading from in a set order became the “high point of the service” once prayer was established as the “full equivalent of sacrifice,” he said.

“The synagogue as a house of worship, a house of study or learning and a house of getting together assembly is a direct replacement of the ancient temple of Jerusalem and was the first house of worship ever that did not involve an animal sacrifice,” Rabbi Wenger said. “That was probably the most radical reform that has ever occurred in any religion because a rabbi said that prayer and good deeds and faithfulness are complete replacements for animal sacrifices.”

Cheryl Christensen and Judy Bosley are friends who attended the event together.

Christensen, a member of the St. Marks Episcopal Cathedral congregation, said this was the third year she has taken the bus tour. She invited Bosley, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to come with her.

“In all these faith communities, we are much more similar than different,” Christensen said, adding that she felt peaceful and welcome in each of the churches.

Email: vromney@deseretnews.com

Twitter: GinnyRomney