With a view to promoting inter-faith understanding, representatives of Squamish churches have come together to form the Squamish Multi-Faith Association.
The association will organize multi-faith events and lectures in the future to promote dialogue and understanding between people of different faiths, said Karen Millard, the pastor of the Squamish United Church.
"We have our golden rule, which is to work together and care for others," she said.
The association, she added, also plans to work on social issues and will focus on three specific goals: poverty, peace and the environment.
Millard's predecessor, Dr. Daniel Bogert-O'Brien, gave roots to the multi-faith association in Squamish but after he left town the idea petered out. In November 2010, Geraldine Guilfoyle, a follower of the Bahia faith, met Karen Millard and both decided to renew the association in Squamish.
They were helped in this by Andrea Gailus from the St. John's Anglican Church, who had been involved in a multi-faith association in Calgary. Gailus said her experience there helped shape her thinking on inter-faith dialogue and the binding role religion can play in society.
"My own feeling is that religion should unite us and bind us together instead of separating us or bringing us into conflict," she said.
Millard spoke about the bitter emails she received after 9/11 about Muslims and their supposedly violent faith.
"Even now I will get the occasional email that is offensive. That just made the desire stronger in me to be more aware of one another," she said.
Growing up in Ireland, Bahai follower Guilfoyle said her church provided a good moral and spiritual base, but she was ignorant of the teachings of other faiths and had "crazy" notions of their true teachings and practices.
"This created suspicious, prejudice and fearfulness of everyone we saw as 'others,'" she said.
The Bahai Faith, she said, brought meaning and purpose to her life and removed the veils of fear and suspicion from other faiths. She hopes a multi-faith association will serve the same purpose.
"We are for the most part pretty tolerant of each other in Squamish, but I feel we still haven't grasped our essential oneness and inter-faith dialogue will help towards that end," she said.
Mohammad Afsar, too, had similar views, and he shared an anecdote from his life to illustrate the need for such an association.
In the early 80s, Afsar was trying to mobilize local Muslims to establish a mosque in Swift Current, Sask. As the numbers grew, Afsar looked around for a suitable place for the congregation.
He talked to one of the churches, which permitted them the use of their worship hall once a week. On the day that local Muslims gathered in the church, the pastor took Afsar aside and asked him something he still remembers clearly.
Knowing well that idolatry was banned in the Muslim religion, the pastor pointed to the images of Jesus and Mary plastered all around the church and asked:
"Would you like me to take away all the pictures every time you pray here?"
Afsar told the pastor there was no need for it but that gesture of openness touched Afsar deeply and has stayed with him.
"The more we know about each other, the more we will realize the similarities, and that helps us live together peacefully," he said.
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