by Heather Hemingway Calabresi, Director of Public Affairs, Round Rock Stake
Just up the hill from the Pennybacker Bridge over Lake Austin sits Riverbend Church. Its sanctuary served a special purpose for Austin’s religious community on Nov. 24, 2019. Riverbend Church, located at 4214 North Capital of Texas Highway, welcomed more than ten faiths from the greater Austin area for the Interfaith Action of Central Texas (iACT) 35th annual Interfaith Day of Thanks.
Seeing the various faith leaders together was a good reminder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints’ Eleventh Article of Faith, written by Joseph Smith Jr., the first latter-day president of the Church.
“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.”
The theme of the program was universal acceptance. Highlights included the Muslim imam’s call to prayer, Buddhist chants, littanies, Hindu dances and a children’s song from members of the Round Rock Stake from the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Resembling a Greco-Roman amphitheater with two-tiered 175 degree seating, this chapel provided amazing acoustics.
Simone Talma Flowers, executive director for iACT, said universal acceptance was chosen as the theme since it is the “one thing that connects the Hindu community that everybody knows and values.”
“This embodies what iACT strives for in bringing people together to have a deeper understanding of each other, experience each other’s face and cultures and build relationships,” Flowers said. “Whether you become friends, we support our neighbors, which ultimately strengthens and unifies our community. The work of iAct is about building these bonds of friendships, building awareness that each of us matters, that our lives are important.”
Austin City Council member Alison Alter was also in attendance to offer a prayer for the city. “We thank you for the mixture of our cultures, blending us into one people under God. Help us to be a light unto other nations, and to further the cause of freedom and justice all over the world.”
Flowers additionally spoke of gratitude and connecting with each other. “Gratitude is such a complex bag of emotions happening within us. This is our human experience that cannot be simplified into an electronic post. That’s why I am so grateful for iACT in bringing people together to stay physically connected.”
Through iACT, many faiths work together to serve the community by helping the elderly with safety repairs, teaching English to refugee adults, and tutoring and mentoring refugee children. Several religious communities have had many opportunities to work together in fundraisers, food and clothing drives for those in need that iACT serves. Through the Passport program, people have found their lives enriched with meaningful conversation at Red Bench dinners and discussions as well as having opportunities to visit different congregations. Additionally, iACT aids in celebrating one another’s cultural events. http://interfaithtexas.org
For those of us involved in iACT and all receiving aid or cultural enlightenment, we have much to be grateful for this year.