“Exploring Similarities — Celebrating Diversity” was the 2018 theme of Interfaith Harmony Week in Halifax, Nova Scotia, which is held annually from February 1 to 7. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints consider freedom to live one’s faith in peace and harmony a vital freedom for society to flourish. The Church’s eleventh article of faith states: “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
World Interfaith Harmony Week’s purpose is to spread harmony through promoting love of God—or the good—and love of neighbour. It is a week of celebration, education, hospitality, rituals, spiritual practices and worship services. This year’s events in Halifax included visits to sacred spaces to observe, meet and engage with diverse faith communities.
The events were organized by a team of volunteers from different faith traditions. This is the second year that John and Janet MacLennan, Mormon public affairs representatives in Atlantic Canada, have served on the planning committee.
Speaking of their experience, Janet commented: “Being part of the organizing committee has been a wonderful journey in developing interfaith relationships. Those on the committee are caring and open-minded people. The more we work with the team, the more we appreciate and admire their strengths and their desire for interfaith understanding and appreciation.”
John added: “We recognize that although we have different beliefs on points of doctrine and in other ways as well, there are also similarities. We came to believe that it was important to celebrate the differences as well as the similarities among faith groups.”
The week was organized into three types of activities, free to all: visits to sacred spaces, an interfaith celebration and an interfaith engagement program.
Regarding the opportunity to visit 12 sacred spaces, Interfaith Harmony Week Halifax co-coordinator Kim MacAulay commented: “It’s natural to be curious about other faiths and cultures. This week provided an opportunity to walk into a building like the Ummah Mosque and meet people who are really happy to see you. You could go to a Quaker meeting, a Bahá’í devotional, a Jewish Shabbat [service], a Hindu puja — which is a ritual worship — or participate in a talking circle led by an Indigenous elder at the Native Friendship Centre.”
For the first time, the Halifax Public Library co-hosted the celebration, providing a wonderful venue, technical support and assistance with the setup and takedown of the events.
The interfaith engagement program required registration and a commitment to attend various events during the week. Certificates were awarded to those who met all the commitments. This year, 32 individuals, including Halifax Police Chief Jean-Michel Blais, received certificates.
David Evans, the Dartmouth public affairs representative for the Church, has participated in Interfaith Harmony Week events the past two years. He remarked: “I am very impressed with the warm relationships that have been developing with our friends of other faiths. One experience that stood out for me this year was a dinner hosted by a rabbi. We had the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings about faith and what it means to us, our family and our community.”
Elder Alain L. Allard — who resides in Quebec and is an Area Seventy of the Church with responsibility for Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic provinces — is a strong proponent of interfaith relationships: “We value our friendship and brotherhood with people of different faiths. Our differences in ethnicity, beliefs and actions do not eliminate the possibility to unite together for a good cause. Together we can be kind, patient and compassionate to bring blessings to our communities.”