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Churches keep the faith by sharing it

It sounds like the kind of hackneyed joke overheard at a bar: Three guys walk into a room. One guy is Catholic. The other guy is Episcopalian. The third is Mormon. The jokes poke fun at the fissures that separate different denominations of the Judaeo-Christian tradition.

The Interfaith Council, now in its 15th year, pools pastors, priests, bishops and laymen from nearly a dozen churches in Park City for serious business to take on hunger, poverty and other social causes. Skiers and snowboarders are familiar with the council for its religious services held at Park City Mountain Resort during the ski season, but the real mission of the council is to find housing and food for people passing through town either to work or play.

The council connects everyday people with housing and nonperishable food. Rev. Bob Kaylor of Park City Community Church said that the meeting of church leaders helps foster a dialogue among believers who may otherwise not have the time or money to foment change.

"It’s always very pleasant," he said. "We talk about the ways we can engage the community."

One of the group’s goals was to push for a voucher program that provides food and shelter to people stranded in inclement weather in town. The message organizers are trying to convey is that there’s always room at the inn, they say.

Unity is especially important in the midst of a heated response on the part of activists against the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for its support of a gay marriage ban voters passed in California Nov. 5. Mormon office buildings have been vandalized in the Salt Lake Valley and about 3,000 protesters marched around the Mormon Temple in Salt Lake last week.

Whether Episcopalian, Mormon or Jewish, leaders are calling for unity before the holidays.

"No one has got a monopoly on the right answers to faith," said Bill Dwyer of Shepherd of the Mountains Lutheran Church. "The economy boils down to whether or not you have a job. We try to maintain an awareness of what’s going on in Park City."

Part of the council’s big-tent approach is to make Thanksgiving a joint spiritual celebration with an event Nov. 25 at 7 p.m. Council members encourage congregants to bring canned food to donate and a pie to share after the worship scheduled at the Park City Stake Center, 2200 Monitor Drive.

Thanksgiving festivities are often seen as the start of what can be a challenging time of year for churches.

"I think there is a spiritual tenor in Park City," Kaylor said. "But there are also a lot of challenges here about how you engage people in a leisure atmosphere."

The influx of tourists in the winter also has its benefits. On any given Sunday, about one-fourth of the 1,800 congregants that pour into Park City Community Church are from out of town. The church acts as a crossroads where fun and faith intermingle and a way station for people "We want to be a church that’s really active," Kaylor said. "We focus on hospitality."

Kaylor said resort towns often acts as bellwethers to economic and social problems elsewhere in the country.

"We’re kind of the canary in the coal mine," he said. "Things usually hit us first. People are becoming more and more spiritual and less and less religious."

Religious organizations have to adjust their approach to remain relevant to the people, Kaylor said. "You’ve got to be out in the community and really engaged," he said. "We want to change the world."

With seasonal workers and vacationers flowing in and out, Father Bob Bussen has been a mainstay in Park City. "This year there’s a heightened awareness. Both food banks are feeling tremendous strain." He added, "All our spiritual community would say that Park City has a spiritual hunger, not a lack of hunger."

The Thanksgiving Worship is scheduled to host Park City Stake Center, 2200 Monitor Drive, at 7 p.m. Nov. 25.


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