Diversity Defines Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council Event

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Photo credit above: A centerpiece at the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council’s largest annual event. (Courtesy of Irene Gallegos)

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people of faith flocked to attend this year’s Table of Faiths event hosted by the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council at the Stoney Creek Hotel and Conference Center in Independence, Missouri.

This year’s theme, Faith it Forward, was a celebration of cultural and religious diversity that helps define the larger Kansas City community.

Attendees from over a dozen different faith communities lined the venue with eye-catching booths displaying religious symbols, texts, artifacts, literature and even complimentary samosas.

After Director Lama Mathew Rice of the Rime Buddhist Center said the opening prayer, a vegetarian meal was served, followed by the time-honored tradition of presenting this year’s awards.

Poet and English professor Aisha Sharif recites from one of her original poems. (Inas Younis | Plains)

Each year, the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council presents the Table of Faiths Award, which honors a local organization that demonstrates interfaith values ​​in the community. This is followed by the Steve Jeffers Leadership Service Award, named for the late Director of Spirituality in Healthcare at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, who made outstanding contributions to the interfaith community.

Chairman Alan Edelman’s opening address emphasized the Council’s mission to raise awareness of the rich diversity of faiths that make up our fellowship.

“The Council strives to provide educational programs about our many faiths and traditions. Our mission is as important as ever, especially at a time when hatred of people of different faiths is growing,” Edelman said.

Edelman presented this year’s Table of Faiths Award to SevenDays, an organization formed after a hateful act when a white supremacist killed Reat Underwood, his grandfather Dr. William Corporon and Terri La Manno murdered outside the Jewish Community Center on April 13, 2014, at Überland Park. SevenDays is now entering its ninth year of fighting hate by promoting kindness and understanding through education and dialogue.

“Recognizing that people are not born to hate, SevenDays creates programs that focus on the education of our youth and sets the stage for interaction between people of different faiths. They encourage all people to come together to cultivate a more religious and pluralistic society,” Edelman said.

Previous recipients include Children’s Mercy Hospital, Unity Church of Overland Park and Dialogue Institute.

SevenDays founder Mindy Corporon delivered a recorded message to the audience while board member Vicky Harris accepted the award.

“While hate continues to be taught, SevenDays will continue to be a testament that kindness can be taught in terms of faith, gender, race and even politics,” Corporon said.

SevenDays, a Kansas City nonprofit that overcomes hatred by promoting kindness and understanding through education and dialogue.
SevenDays, a Kansas City nonprofit that overcomes hatred by promoting kindness and understanding through education and dialogue, recently received the Interfaith Council’s Tables of Faith Award. The event was attended by (front row, from left): Michaelah Weaver, 2015 SevenDays Song Contest Winner; Jill Andersen, director of youth engagement at SevenDays; Beth Roller, volunteer; Ruth Baum Bigus, Director of Media/Community Relations at SevenDays; (second row, from left) Kaleb Weaver, Dawson Gardner, former member of the SevenDays Kindness Youth Leadership Team; Vicki Harris, board member of SevenDays; Inas Younis, board member of SevenDays; Lama Matthew Palden Gocha, board member of SevenDays; Larry Bigus, volunteer. (Courtesy of Irene Gallegos)

Reverend Dr Shawnee Mission Medical Center Director of Spirituality and Health David E. Nelson, Faith Director Zulfiqar Malik, who represents the Islamic tradition, expressed heartfelt appreciation to this year’s Steve Jeffers Leadership Award winner.

“I first met David about 36 years ago at the opening of the Christian-Jewish-Muslim Dialogue Group and later other faith leaders were added to form the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. At the first dialogue group meeting, David gave us a challenging task: What legacy will you leave behind?” said Malik.

Nelson was one of the early conveners of the Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and his legacy was evident that night as the audience stood and applauded enthusiastically after his acceptance speech.

Drawing on spiritual greats such as the late Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong, Nelson emphasized our common humanity and highlighted the work of the council and community that he has helped cultivate and promote.

After the awards ceremony, the audience was treated to inspirational presentations and live entertainment, culminating in a beautiful poetry recitation by famous local poet and English professor Aisha Sharif.

“As I pondered tonight’s theme, Faith it Forward, I began to see faith as a kind of offering, one that can be used to help not only give yourself but others to give hope and to help injustices,” said Sharif.

Although the event was filled with conversation and energy, there were moments of deep listening and acceptance, not just with each other but with our innermost beings.

Flatland employee Inas Younis is a freelance journalist and commentator who is also a member of the board of SevenDays.

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