Bridging the divide

Leaders hope discussion will defuse differences

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¤ "Exploring the Sacred: Does Religion Divide Us?" panel discussion led by the religious leaders of Steamboat¤ 6:30 p.m. Thursday¤ Community Center next to the Bud Werner Memorial Library¤ Free¤ 879-8080

— For more than a year, the religious leaders of Steamboat Springs have been meeting to discuss and understand one another's belief systems. On Thursday, for the first time, they will open the discussion to the community. This initial dialogue, they hope, will become the basis for quarterly panels dedicated to facets of spiritual experience.

The series is called "Exploring the Sacred," and this discussion will focus on the question, "Does Religion Divide?"

"I think clearly it does divide," said Tim Selby of the United Methodist Church of Steamboat Springs. "Part of the question is, 'Should it divide us, and in what way?'"

The panel discussion will be led by members of the Interfaith group, as they call themselves, which includes Pastor Larry Oman and Pastoral Associate Selby of the United Methodist Church, Bishop Paul Stewart of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Pastor Jon Bixby of the First Baptist Church, Father Ernest Bayer of Holy Name Catholic Church, Rabbi Joe Goldman of Har Mishpacha, Steamboat's Jewish community, and Tim Olmstead of the Buddhist Center of Steamboat Springs.

Each person will give a brief background of his religion and perspective followed by a few minutes to address the question, "Does religion divide?"

At any point, members of the audience can make comments or ask questions.

The discussion will be moderated by Marchele McEntee and Tim McCarthy, who are responsible for bringing the local religious leaders together to form the Interfaith group.

The idea, McEntee said, was based on the Parliament of the World's Religions, an international effort to open a dialogue among world's spiritual leaders. McEntee attended the 2004 meeting in Barcelona along with 8,000 others.

When McEntee returned to Steam--boat, she and McCarthy led the first meeting of the local Interfaith group, which continues to grow in its outlook and mission.

In Steamboat, there are more than 20 places of worship offering different paths of spirituality.

At first, the group met once a month at a different place of worship with the leader of that location's faith leading the discussion. Once they had completed the rounds of each faith, the group continued its monthly meeting at the Egg & I Restaurant.

The discussions often are lively, but never heated.

"We've been able to come together and appreciate each other's beliefs," Stewart said. "All of us, even non-Christians, are looking to a higher power. We're all striving for a higher place.

"Someday, there could be a real need where we need to come together to support the community in a time of crisis, and we've already taken the first step," Stewart said.

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