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Diversity Defines Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council Event

Flocks Gather Around Table of Faith

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Above image credit: A table centerpiece at The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council's largest annual event. (Courtesy | Irene Gallegos)

After a two-year hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic, people of faith flocked to take part in 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 the cultural and religious diversity that helps define the greater Kansas City community. 

Attendees representing over a dozen different faith communities framed the event space with eye-catching booths featuring religious symbols, texts, artifacts, literature and even complimentary samosas. 

After director Lama Mathew Rice of the Rime Buddhist Center delivered 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.
Poet and English professor Aisha Sharif recites from one of her original poems. (Inas Younis | Flatland)

Every year The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council presents the Table of Faiths award honoring a local organization that exhibits interfaith values in the community. This is followed by the Steve Jeffers Leadership Service award named after the late director of spirituality in health at Shawnee Mission Medical Center, who was a prominent contributor to the interfaith community. 

Chairman Alan Edelman’s opening remarks emphasized the council’s mission to bring awareness to the rich diversity of faiths that constitute our community. 

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

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

“Recognizing that people are not born to hate, SevenDays creates programming focused on education of our youth and setting 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 award winners include Children’s Mercy Hospital, Unity Church of Overland Park and The 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 proof that kindness surrounding faith, gender, race and even dare I say, politics can also be taught,” Corporon said. 

SevenDays, a Kansas City nonprofit that overcomes hate by promoting kindness and understanding through education and dialogue.
SevenDays, a Kansas City nonprofit that overcomes hate by promoting kindness and understanding through education and dialogue, was recently honored with the Interfaith Council’s Tables of Faith Award. Attending the event were (front row, from left) Michaelah Weaver, 2015 SevenDays Song competition winner; Jill Andersen, SevenDays Youth Engagement Director; Beth Roller, volunteer; Ruth Baum Bigus, SevenDays Media/Community Relations Director; (second row, from left) Kaleb Weaver, Dawson Gardner, Former SevenDays Kindness Youth Leadership Team Member; Vicki Harris, SevenDays Board Member; Inas Younis, SevenDays Board Member; Lama Matthew Palden Gocha, SevenDays Board Member; Larry Bigus, volunteer. (Courtesy | Irene Gallegos)

Representing the Islamic tradition, faith director Zulfiqar Malik, gave a warm tribute to this year’s winner of the Steve Jeffers leadership award to the director of spirituality and health for the Shawnee Mission Medical Center, the Reverend Dr. David E. Nelson.

“I first met David some 36 years ago at the inauguration of the Christian, Jewish, Muslim dialogue group and later more faith representatives were added to form The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council. In the first meeting of the dialogue group, David gave us a challenging assignment: What legacy will you leave behind?” Malik said. 

Nelson was one of the first conveners of The Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council and his legacy was apparent that night when after giving his acceptance speech the audience enthusiastically rose to their feet in applause. 

Drawing upon spiritual giants like the late Joseph Campbell and Karen Armstrong, Nelson emphasized our common humanity, and uplifted the work of the council and the community that it has helped to cultivate and foster. 

Following the award ceremony, the audience was treated to inspiring presentations and live entertainment which culminated in a beautiful poetry recitation by celebrated local poet and English professor Aisha Sharif. 

“In thinking about tonight’s theme, Faith it Forward, I began seeing faith as a type of offering, one that could be used to help not only yourself but also others, and to provide hope and to help injustices,” Sharif said. 

Although the event was overflowing with conversation and energy, there were moments of deep listening and acceptance, not only towards one another but also towards our innermost selves.

Flatland contributor Inas Younis is a freelance journalist and commentator who also serves on the board of SevenDays.

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