News Release

Edmonton Faith Leaders Discuss Unifying Power of Religions

Religious Freedom 2023: A Community Conversation

Hundreds of people of different faiths came together in Edmonton, Alberta, on April 16, 2023, to participate in Religious Freedom 2023: A Community Conversation, an event to discuss the unifying power of religions. Hosted by the Edmonton Alberta Riverbend Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the event was an opportunity to understand challenges to religious freedom, unite in supporting Edmonton’s homeless community and celebrate the hope and joy of faith.

When speaking about the purpose of the event, Chantelle McMullin, communication director for the Church in Edmonton, emphasized the desire to engage in dialogue with others and, most of all, to build relationships. “That’s really our goal,” said McMullin. “We want to bring people of all faiths together and to have them respect and honour other faiths, to understand other faiths, to open their minds to the goodness that’s in all people.”

Speakers included Archbishop Richard Smith of Edmonton; Stacey Leavitt-Wright, CEO of the Jewish Federation of Edmonton; and Steven Collis, a leading religion scholar and professor at the University of Texas at Austin. The speakers shared their perspectives on how a community can be affected when faith is an integral part of its framework.

Archbishop Smith called on the “unifying power of religion” and encouraged attendees to come together, especially at a time when the world is longing for peace. He also invited participants to point society toward an authentic and lasting unity.

Leavitt-Wright discussed the importance of creating an understanding of who religious peoples are and encouraged those in attendance to “speak up and speak out.”

Collis, a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, discussed how history has long shown religious communities set against each other. He further emphasized the importance of allowing all to have the freedom to exercise their beliefs. After the event, Collis stated, “It seems to me that [this event] was a great opportunity for lots of local people here to get to know one another, which hopefully will lead to lots of bridge building.”
During a break in the event, participants assembled baskets of toiletries and other items as part of a JustServe community project. Care packages and notes for those who have recently left homelessness were prepared for donation to the Welcome Home initiative by Catholic Social Services. Approximately 100 packages were made and donated.

Melanie Sprigings of the Volunteer Services team at Welcome Home said, “We know that the Welcome Home participants will be so incredibly excited to receive such a lovely gift. Thank you for considering our agency for this lovely donation. We could not exist as an agency without the generosity of volunteers, and it is together with you that we are able to care for and bring hope to people in need with humility, compassion and respect.”

As reported by the Church News in April 2022, Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson said at the Freedom to Serve Symposium at Drake University in Iowa, “Religious groups and individuals play an indispensable role in our communities and are uniquely positioned to alleviate suffering and help those on the margins of society. … It will take all of us serving, contributing whatever we have available in time, talents and money to address the suffering we see around us.”

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