Interfaith Conference Connects Women of Faith in Tacoma, Washington, Area
Contributed By Janice Martin, Church News contributor
“Surely our Father in Heaven is so happy and grateful as He sees His children reaching out to each other in meaningful ways and uniting together.” —Linda S. Reeves, former member of the Relief Society General Presidency
Prior to her calling as Tacoma South Stake Relief Society president, Melinda Huish had a pressing desire to serve her community in some way. This desire brought about the conference “Women Building Bridges of Interfaith Unity.”
“The idea for this—helping organize an interfaith women’s conference—began with my personal quest to find ways to serve in my community outside the Church.” Sister Huish had previously read an article in the Church News telling about an interfaith conference between Mormons and Muslims that had been held in San Jose, California, and she found the concept interesting. She had actually attended an interfaith conference in Boston where 3,000 other women were in attendance. She wanted to reach out on a broader spectrum and open up new conversations with other faiths and groups in her community.
After conferring with her stake president, Sister Huish approached the Associated Ministries of Tacoma-Pierce County about holding an interfaith women’s conference. The Associated Ministries organization is a nonprofit organization dedicated to improving interfaith relations and joining people together to do good for the community. Sister Huish was directed to the volunteer coordinator of Associated Ministries, Wendy Morris, and they set up a meeting at a local restaurant for hot chocolate.
Morris was immediately intrigued by the idea of an interfaith conference, but there were some potential problems. “The biggest concern Associated Ministries had was having a budget to sponsor such an event,” Morris said. She also recognized that it could take time for the board to see the value of bringing together women of many faiths. Nevertheless, there was no deterring Sister Huish and Morris after they had seen the vision of what could be accomplished, and they moved ahead with the event.
As the conference was being organized, Sister Huish saw a way that the event could have an even broader potential to draw women together from the stakes in her area. She decided to request approval for someone from the Relief Society general board to attend the conference. She hoped that the visiting sister could not only speak at a Church fireside for women before the Associated Ministries conference, but that she would also take part in the event itself.
Her desires and belief in her plan were answered. Sister Linda S. Reeves, released on April 1 as Second Counselor in the Relief Society General Presidency, agreed to come to the event. Sister Reeves remarked, “This is the type of activity the Church is asking the sisters of the Church to do, to have the courage to reach out to others.”
Following Sister Reeves’s remarks to the sisters in the multistake fireside session, Elder Robert M. Call, the Area Seventy who presided at the meeting, included a special blessing and a promise in his concluding remarks on charity, promising those in attendance that if they would “reach out beyond their comfort, build bridges outside their faith, and share the truths of the gospel,” they would “overcome their fears” and “charity would flow more powerfully” than they “ever had previously experienced.”
Later, Sister Reeves also participated in one of the workshops of the Associated Ministries conference. According to Morris, “The conference was designed for women who attend churches, temple, and mosques, as well as nonaffiliated, spiritually active women to support religious pluralism, respectful dialogue, and engaged social action that benefits communities in the Puget Sound region.” She went on to say, “The day’s classes and workshops were designed to promote understanding, respect, and cooperation among women in our region.” Among other topics, the classes covered subjects such as service to the community, sacred acts in everyday life, and strength in adversity.
The session of the conference in which Sister Reeves participated was a discussion on the power of prayer. The session included women of various faiths. Sister Reeves commented that she particularly enjoyed being on a panel with two other women of different faiths: a Muslim and a Jew. Sister Reeves added that each member of the panel had time to “explain the importance of prayer within our faith and explain the nature of God … and who it is that we pray to.”
Following their remarks a question-and-answer period was held. Sister Reeves observed, “During that part, we were able to respond to many soul-searching questions, like how does God answer prayers? As we concluded we all felt to testify that we all have far more in common than we have differences. Each of these groups places great faith in God and His ability to help and bless our lives. There was a wonderful feeling of love, unity, and spirit in the room. It was a sacred experience for me.”
During the lunch break of the Saturday conference, Sister Reeves shared her thoughts on the event with public affairs director Janice Martin of the Tacoma Washington South Stake by saying, “Surely our Father in Heaven is so happy and grateful as He sees His children reaching out to each other in meaningful ways and uniting together.”
Sister Linda S. Reeves, center, with Rosalind Weir and Janice Martin at a fireside in Tacoma, Washington. Photo courtesy Janice Martin.
Women from the community and local Church stakes attend the “Women Building Bridges of Interfaith Unity” conference. Photo courtesy Janice Martin.