SOUTH SALT LAKE — When the South Salt Lake Interfaith Council was established two years ago, its primary objective was to help residents, especially refugees and immigrants, to feel welcome and safe.
“The goal was for residents to feel a sense of belonging,” said Lauren Levorsen, who serves as the council’s co-chairwoman.
The council felt progress toward this goal was achieved last week through a musical and cultural celebration that drew more than 250 people — much more than anticipated and standing room only, according the Rev. Elizabeth McVicker, pastor at Centenary United Methodist Church and First United Methodist Church.
“The event ... was a huge step in helping the city of South Salt Lake to engage various cultural groups within the city and help them to feel a part of the community,” Pastor McVickers said. “Also for the various groups to share with all of the participants and the larger community about their culture and values.”
Another member of the council is Sean Marchant, who serves as the president of the South Salt Lake Utah Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In one of the most diverse areas of Utah, where he said 40% of the population is foreign-born and more than 100 languages are spoken in the school district, there are many interfaith opportunities.
“There are people from all over the world,” President Marchant said. “There is such a diversity of beliefs and faiths that I think it makes coming together and having an activity like this even more important so that people know they have a sense of belonging, so they can feel safe expressing their beliefs.”
Growth for the South Salt Lake Interfaith Council over the past two years has been “slow but sure,” President Marchant said.
Last October, the council organized a resource fair.
Last week’s event was called, “In Harmony Together: A Sacred Music Event.” It was inspired by the annual music programs put on by the Salt Lake Interfaith Roundtable and featured 10 different performances by various faith communities, including choirs, instrumental pieces, dance and the spoken word.
“I think this event was a really important step in achieving that goal,” Levorsen said. “We are still a relatively new council and are working on incorporating more events, seminars and talks for community members to attend each month, which we are excited to move forward with. Our other goal for the council is that every South Salt Lake resident is on the pathway to self-reliance.”
The South Salt Lake Interfaith Council includes representatives from Centenary United Methodist Church, Emerald Hills Institute, Kearns St. Ann School, Mesopotamia Community in Utah, Victory Outreach, the Salvation Army and Promise South Salt Lake.
The growing number of different religious and cultural groups connecting through the council has impressed Pastor McVicker, she said.
“We started with just a handful, predominantly Latter-day Saint organizations, and there was me with the Methodist Church,” Pastor McVicker said. “Now we have an amazing diversity of organizations that are related. It’s really flourished in these last two years.”
For President Marchant, his interfaith work started when he felt a need to reach out and build friendships in the community. A turning point came when he and others helped to build a Tibetan community center and a strong friendship was forged. Working with the South Salt Lake Interfaith Council has allowed the different religious groups to share resources, he said.
“We’re able to help each other and strengthen the community, President Marchant said. “It’s neat to be able to work together and have those kinds of friendships.”
The Sacred Music event, held at the Columbus Center March 4, showcased the talents of people at the Emerald Hill Institute, the Mesopotamia Community in Utah, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Victory Outreach, Nepalese and Karenni communities and nondenominational groups.
Among various cultural performances, the audience was treated to a whirling dervish demonstration, orchestral performances, cultural dances and a solo rendition from the musical “Godspell.”
Following the program, the Emerald Institute served Noah’s pudding, a traditional Turkish dessert.
“It was there to represent Noah’s Ark and that all of these different cultures could come together like the different ingredients in this recipe and make something beautiful,” Levorsen said. “There was a special excitement, a special spirit and feeling in the room. Everyone was cheering each other on. They were so encouraging and respectful of each other.”
President Marchant and Pastor McVicker are both confident about future growth of the South Salt Lake Interfaith Council and its involvement with an array of cultural and religious groups in the community.
“Surely, we are getting more and more that are jumping on board,” President Marchant said. “Three, five, 10 years from now, I think it will be a really powerful part of the city.”