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'No longer strangers, but friends'

Interfaith conference helps unify women of all faiths

IRVINE, CALIF.

"No longer strangers, but friends," was the theme of a recent Irvine Women's Interfaith Conference hosted by the Irvine California Stake. More than 500 women from more than 25 different faiths responded to invitations delivered to various faith groups throughout the city. Workshop presenters and keynote speakers were from various faiths.

The doors of the stake center were opened wide and women of faith responded. The event was not for proselytizing. Rather, it was to be "a time for women to share the spiritual goodness within," said Sandra Earnest, second counselor in the stake's Relief Society presidency. "A time to unify women of all faiths and remind them of their inner sense of spirituality."

Mrs. Janelle Slipp of Saddleback Church in Irvine, Dr. Salma Shabaik of the Islamic Center of Irvine, Dr. Juliana Gerace of St. John Neumann Catholic Church and Jill Lutz, Irvine stake Relief Society president, were speakers. Each presented the story of a woman of faith they admire.

Women from more than 25 faith groups gather for the Irvine Women's Interfaith Conference. The conference, hosted by the Irvine California Stake, included workshop presenters and keynote speakers from various faiths.
Women from more than 25 faith groups gather for the Irvine Women's Interfaith Conference. The conference, hosted by the Irvine California Stake, included workshop presenters and keynote speakers from various faiths. Photo: Photo courtesy of Kathe Espinili

"It is the love of God that brought us all here today," Janelle Slipp said in her presentation. "When we choose to obey God's word, I believe we find the ultimate freedom." Dr. Salma Sahabaik noted the event combined faith with social issues. "This is the first time I have even seen a conference with those two intertwined," she said. Dr. Sahabaik, a Muslim, presented the story of Mary the mother of Jesus as a woman of faith, noting that, "God has honored her more than any other woman." In her address, Dr. Juliana Gerace clearly stated, "I am a Catholic and proud to be a Catholic. I love my faith." Looking out over the audience she found it wonderful, "to recognize God in so many others."

Sister Lutz said in her concluding remarks "We all believe in God and that unites us." Sister Lutz related the story of Esther and encouraged all to, "Be women of strong faith and do whatever God asks us to do."

Jill Lutz, Dr. Salma Shabaik, Dr. Juliana Gerace and Janelle L. Slipp spoke on women of faith
Jill Lutz, Dr. Salma Shabaik, Dr. Juliana Gerace and Janelle L. Slipp spoke on women of faith Photo: Photo courtesy of Kathe Espinili

To the rhythm of soft drums, a Sikh women's group sang a song that included the lyrics, "The perfect Lord is the giver of gifts, I am a mere beggar at your door." Selina Joy, a non-denominational presenter, performed a song she composed entitled, "You Gave Me." The combined stake choir from the Irvine California Stake sang, "He Sent His Son."

Women of many faiths gather for a conference, with the theme 'No longer strangers, but friends.'
Women of many faiths gather for a conference, with the theme 'No longer strangers, but friends.' Photo: Photo courtesy of Kathe Espinili
Scott Muir teaches a workshop on tips for parents of teens during an interfaith conference for women of Irvine, Calif.
Scott Muir teaches a workshop on tips for parents of teens during an interfaith conference for women of Irvine, Calif. Photo: Photo courtesy of Kathe Espinili

Workshop topics included strengthening marriage, the uplifting power of community service, transcending trials, iPhone iHome iParenting, taking care of the caregiver, the power of positivity, simple gifts, connecting to the might of God. Peter Vidmar, 1984 Olympic gymnast, spoke on the power of positivity.

Sister Lutz said she was reminded, "I have so much in common with these good women. It confirms the truth that we are all daughters of one loving Heavenly Father who desires the best for us."

Many participants stayed for the luncheon and the opportunity to get to know their new-found friends of other faiths. "I loved the feeling of mutual respect and willingness to meet new friends among all the women I came in contact with," Jillair Robinson said. "I realized that I had had some feelings of prejudice toward some of the other churches, but on this day they were entirely washed away."

"What an amazing show of faith and community," Erin Caldwell, a participant, said. "I learned so much and walked away feeling grateful."

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