Toronto festival spotlights the family

The Church was joined by 21 other faith groups under one roof in Toronto recently to share their beliefs and teachings on how to strengthen the family.

The event, held Dec. 3-4 in the prestigious Royal Ontario Museum, was billed as the "Festival of the Family." An estimated 10,000-12,000 participated in the celebration.Elder J. Bruce Smith, regional representative for the Toronto Ontario Region, said: "It was thrilling for me to mingle with this multi-faith assembly and realize that we were united in our reverence for and our concern for the family. I was impressed with the combined power for good and the synergy emanating from this convergence of good people."

Barbara Hall, newly elected mayor of Toronto, said in opening the celebration amidst balloons, face painting, and clowns: "Our diversity is our strength in our community and by working to find consensus, and building bridges to overcome differences, we can and will make a difference. We will build together so everyone can enjoy the fruits of our joint labor. I want to work with the faith communities. I recognize your enormous commonalities, and you can be a model for the rest of the world to emulate."

The festival was international in scope, built around the theme of the booth sponsored by the Church's public affairs: "Strong Families Can Hold Our World Together."

The event blended religious diversity, representing cultures and religions from around the world.

The festival idea began to take shape in late 1993 when missionaries William B. and Donna Smart were serving as directors of public affairs in Toronto for the North America Northeast Area. The United Nations had declared 1994 as "The International Year of the Family," and the Smarts, looking for an appropriate way to celebrate the family, turned to their contacts in the interfaith community.

Being led from one faith to another, the Smarts finally met Sue Tennent, director of the World Inter-Faith Education Association of Canada, who was also looking for a means to celebrate the family in 1994. When the Smarts suggested the celebration should be on the family, the idea took root and was launched. A steering committee was organized with the Smarts co-chairing with Ms. Tennent. When the Smarts completed their mission in June 1994, Ms. Tennent became the chairman.

Many obstacles were overcome. The original venue became unavailable and another had to be found. Many organizations that had indicated financial support early on backed out after learning that the festival was a multi-faith religious project. Many hopes failed to materialize, but the dream proceeded.

Concerning the development of the project, Elder Smith said: "Our participation in the `Festival of the Family' established our place as a major religious body in the diverse faith community of this great cosmopolitan city. During the planning process, members of the steering committee soon saw our representatives as leaders. Our counsel and direction were sought throughout the year of planning that preceded the festival."

In addition to the leadership role played by the Smarts, others providing leadership included Sam and Carol Baker who served on the steering committee; Don Harris, regional director of public affairs, who organized booth staffing; and Ronald and Eve Wild who organized, set up and staffed the family history booth. Presidencies of the Toronto Ontario Stake and the Mississauga Ontario Stake provided support throughout the festival.

The Church provided two booths. One, by the Church Public Affairs Department, became the focus of the festival and was used by the media for articles emanating from the festival. The Family History booth had a line of people waiting at all times throughout the festival, and turned out to be the most attended booth at the event.

Each participating faith was given the opportunity to stage an educational program on its faith and culture in the 300-seat auditorium of the museum, and each faith group was provided classroom space to present workshops. The Church took advantage of both opportunities.

Brother Wild, Toronto Stake family history director, presented a workshop on tracing family ancestors and provided each student a copy of the Church's latest booklet on tracing family ancestors.

The Opus Nine, a group of nine singers, all members of the Church who sing for fun and relaxation in community affairs, presented more than 30 minutes of musical selections for the festival entertainment.

John Covey of Provo, Utah, was the keynote speaker for the festival and drew the largest crowd in the auditorium, as well as spending considerable time giving radio and TV interviews.

The Merriam Family - father Alan, mother Joanne, and children Angela, Daniel and Katharine - of the Mississauga Stake presented a 50-minute family home evening presentation that drew attention from all segments of the festival.

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