by Sarah Fentem
To Suzanne Morgan, the scene Sunday afternoon in Federal Plaza—a bright, white tent, a podium and lectern placed in front of folding chairs, the blindingly bright springtime sun—had the feeling of a graduation.
And for good reason. The stage was set to celebrate the completion of the eight-month Chicago “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program, a series of interfaith events during which eight participating Chicago communities of faith and practice invited others into their sacred space, engaged the visitors around matters of their faith, and provided hospitality and conversation. Morgan, a retired architect, designed the program, which was sponsored by the Council for the Parliament of World’s Religions(CPWR).
Participating communities included a Buddhist Temple, a Jewish Reform Congregation, the Downtown Islamic Center, an Episcopal Cathedral, and United Methodist, Christian Science, Presbyterian, and Catholic churches.
photos by John White
By Sunday, all the communities had shared their sacred space with one another, and were gathered together for the first time not to focus on an individual space or religion, but to celebrate the harmony and diversity of the group as a whole.
“It really solidifies what we’ve done,” Morgan said of the event.
“This is the beginning of the journey, not the end,” said Dirk Ficca, the Executive Director of the CPWR. Ficca announced the success of the program “exceeded expectations” and the Chicago pilot program will be used as a model for 80 partner cities around the world.
Of the program, Morgan said herself she had “No clue how it would turn out,” explaining the success of the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” depended on the public’s involvement.
“We were amazed at how people took this up,” she said. “They wanted to connect, to share something.”
The diversity and harmony among the participating communities was underscored by the signing of the “Sacred Spaces” Solidarity Pledge, the focal point of the event.
The Solidarity Pledge speaks of the bonds of mutual respect and trust forged among the eight participating faith communities during the last eight months. By signing the pledge, they promise to support and respect each other, stand together against public disrespect or harm of any faith community, and to celebrate “shared values of justice, peacemaking, and harmony in diversity.”
As a representative from each location took the stage to sign the pledge, they also read a personal statement explaining what the pledge meant to their community. The statements were as diverse as the communities from which they came.
“We commit to this pledge because as Jews we know the history of bigotry and intolerance,” said Rabbi David Levsinky from the Chicago Sinai Congregation. Syed Khan, from the Downtown Islamic Center, referenced the “pledge of mutual support and defense” the Prophet Muhammed made with the citizens of Medina before he signed the pledge. And Kwang Oh, the representative from the First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple, said “We as United Methodists believe there is a God who loves us and calls for us to love one another, who insists we work with all people.”
The communities’ declarations showcased the philosophy at the heart of “Sharing Sacred Spaces”—that what makes us different ultimately can be what brings us together.