Unitarian Church of Calgary wins global interfaith award

Rev. Debra Faulk of the Unitarian Church of Calgary was thrilled to belong to a three-

Rev. Debra Faulk (second from right) and other winners of the prize in Amman, Jordan.

person delegation that travelled to Amman, Jordan last this month to receive the HM King Abdullah of Jordan First Prize for World Interfaith Harmony Week 2017. Awarded every year since 2013, the prize rewards organizers of Interfaith Harmony Week, a global event intended to foster harmony within and between different faiths.

Calgary’s entry triumphed over almost 80 other contenders for the prize, which also includes $25,000 and a gold medal. In awarding the prize, judges took into account efforts made despite scantiness of resources; events celebrating each faith as it is rather than movements towards religious syncretism; and efforts specifically for Interfaith Harmony Week rather than interfaith work in general.

While Calgary may have won for its efforts during the first week of February, Faulk hopes this is just the beginning of a new era of interfaith cooperation in the city. This was one of the rationales for holding the week, an event she helped spearhead.

“The primary thing was to bring faith communities together, to build on the work the Interfaith Council has been doing around organizing our capacity to build, to work for the common good in the city. It was also the inauguration, if you will, of the newly formed Calgary Interfaith Council that has brought together all of the different interfaith groups in the city under one umbrella.”

Representatives from 15 faith traditions attended the opening ceremony of the Calgary Interfaith Council at Calgary’s city hall, presided over by Mayor Naheed Nenshi. The event was one of several that took place over the week, including interfaith breakfasts, open houses, and musical services at different places of worship. It also followed an interfaith clergy build  for Habitat for Humanity that had taken place over the summer. Faulk, who participated in the project, sees it as a prime example of the power of different faiths working together.

“Doing that kind of really concrete action in the city together is really inspirational,” she says. “And it was particularly poignant because the opening ceremony was on the Wednesday night, February 1, and the shootings at the Quebec City mosque happened on the Sunday (before). So it was an uncanny kind of timeliness to be lifting that up.”

The public engagement and overall success of Calgary’s Interfaith Harmony Week already far exceeded organizers’ expectations, says Faulk. Winning first prize, meanwhile, gives them a chance to build on the collaboration the award recognized.

“The Calgary Interfaith Council is a group of folk we don’t have any resources or anything like that,” says Faulk. “So this now gives us the seed money to be able to become a really viable organization in Calgary.”

Accompanying Faulk to Amman were Rabbi Shaul Osadchey of the Beth Tzedec Congregation and Imam Fayaz Tilly of the Muslim Council of Calgary. The trio were chosen because of the desire for representatives of all three Abrahamic faiths, a role Faulk is comfortable playing because although Unitarianism is a distinct religion, it has Judeo-Christian roots.

“It was a bit of a challenge for me thinking about being representative of the Christian tradition. And yet my faith tradition does come out of that one, and that there is a capacity for me to hold both an honoring of that tradition but also an expanded understanding of what faith is.”

The trip marked Faulk’s first visit to the Holy Land. But the significance for her goes deeper than that.

“Truth be told, when I think about my call to ministry, when I think about what I think my work to do in the world is, it has always been this idea of somehow bridging both faiths but also allowing for the importance of the spiritual dimension of our lives to be lifted up. So in some ways this feels like a fulfillment of a calling.”