Students at Utah Valley University may easily assume that their neighbors in class or fellow group members share their same religious faith. Let’s be honest, they are probably right. However, just because this area is partially defined by a homogeneous religious environment doesn’t mean that people shouldn’t experience what isn’t familiar.
The Utah Valley University Interfaith Student Association gives all faiths a chance to learn and gain experience about religions that are not necessarily the status quo. Linda Walton, one of the advisors of the association and an interfaith chaplain, stresses that the club is open to anyone of any faith to help its members feel comfortable exploring many different religions.
“Students that I knew wanted to visit or study various faiths and they felt uncomfortable just showing up at a meeting or a service,” Walton said. “They wanted to go in a group and have someone facilitate the visit so it wasn’t awkward or intimidating.”
Previous activities for the association have ranged from visiting churches, synagogues or temples to celebrating religious events and sponsoring speakers, debates, panel discussions and several other social activities. Abby Elieson works hand in hand with the PR firm class as the ISA account executive to help sponsor activities.
“We have a lot of exciting things planned for this upcoming semester,” Elieson said. “We are hoping to highlight at least one religious holiday for a different faith every month and sponsor an activity. We also hope to spark curiosity so that people will look more into the different faiths in this area.”
Beyond organizing events and raising awareness, the ISA also makes sure that students are able to find their place of worship if they are new to the area. It also presents an opportunity for those with an interest in different religions to have hands-on experience. The club also keeps its members’ information confidential so that they can feel comfortable expressing their religious beliefs.
“One of the big things the club works on is religious liberty for everyone — there is no proselytizing or coercion within the group,” Walton said. “We defend others that are being persecuted for their faith or who choose to not be religious.”
The ISA will be holding its first event Tuesday, February 24th At St. Mary’s Episcopalian Church on 50 West 200 North in Provo. The evening will consist of a free pancake dinner and tour of the church, as well as an informational meeting to learn more about the faith. The dinner will begin at 5 p.m. and goes until 7:30; and although the dinner is free, donations will be accepted. If you are interested in attending, need a ride to the activity or have any questions pertaining to ISA feel free to e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.