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'Discovering Many Faiths' starts dialogue about Mormonism

As parents with fussy children wound in and out of the congregation at the Glen Allen Ward on Jan. 25, a woman rose to discuss her salvation.

She began to cry as she spoke about her growing confusion and frustration with her challenging role as the traditional wife and mother in the Mormon Church.

She was one of three speakers who spoke this Sunday about her faith, as is common practice during the weekly worship service for members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Terryl Givens, a University of Richmond literature and religion professor, said speakers sometimes became emotional.

"A lot of that has to do with the fact that the Mormon community is so close," he said. "In fact, the Harvard Encyclopedia of Ethnic Groups refers to Mormonism as an ethnic community ... I think that's one sociologist's attempt to explain or describe the unusually cohesive nature of Mormon society."

On this particular Sunday, this woman was not only addressing her close-knit congregation, she was also addressing people invited to sit in on the service through the Discovering Many Faiths program.

The program was organized by the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond and the University of Richmond's Office of the Chaplaincy.

The mission of Discovering Many Faiths is "to enable participants to gain insights and appreciation of diverse faiths through dialogue with believers of other faiths and visitation to their worship services."

The Discovering Many Faiths' Jan. 22 discussion focused on The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as the Mormon Church. An invitation was extended to visit a local Mormon worship service. Non-Mormons cannot attend the Church's temple, which is used for special services and ceremonies such as marriage, but they were invited go to a Mormon ward meeting, or weekly worship service.

Matthew White, the Office of the Chaplaincy's Interreligious Community and Justice Coordinator, said the program rotates among the Interfaith Council of Greater Richmond's organization of 19 religions.

"The idea is to balance different religious traditions," he said.

This spring, Discovering Many Faiths will host three more events. On Feb. 5, a program will be held on Islam, followed by Jainism on March 5 and the Roman Catholic Church on April 2. The events are held in Richmond's North Court Reception Room.

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Each free event features a panel of believers and scholars who present the faith's history, celebrations and teachings and the roles of women and youth. White said after these presentations the panel broke down into tables in which participants could ask questions in a smaller group setting. At the end of the program, participants are invited to join the religious tradition's worship service for that week.

Brian Krohn, a Richmond College sophomore, helps to organize these events as an intern in the Interreligious Community and Justice Office. He said Discovering Many Faiths was working to host events on religious traditions people may be less familiar with.

"I think it's hard to separate the ideas of communities and diversity without hitting on religion," he said, "because religion really does shape different nations and even our own nation."

Krohn said it was amazing to see how the different religious traditions were more alike than different.

The Chaplaincy partnered up with Interfaith Council, which created the program, this past year to collaborate, White said. ICGR's purpose is to develop understanding, respect and cooperation among various religious faiths.

Givens, a scholar of the Mormon Church who participated on the Jan. 25 panel, said most of the information he presented was new to participants.

"Most people know very little about Mormonism, it's very much like the Amish," he said. "Nobody knows anything about the Amish except they drive a horse and buggy and nobody knows much about the Mormons except one time in the 19th century they practiced polygamy ... few people get beyond that."

Discovering Many Faiths, Givens said, gives believers the opportunity to explain their faith in terms they think are appropriate.

Krohn said most of the people he had met participating on the events' panels, "just really want to share about their faith and get rid of some of the stereotypes that go with it."

He said, "Religion is a hot topic ... I think that it really is an integral part of how people think and act toward one another."

Contact reporter Laurie Guilmartin at

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