Joshua Maria Santos, a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, greets church attendees after services on Sunday.

Local organization encourages attending services from a different faith than usual this week

During the month of November, a Cache Valley interfaith organization is inviting community members to attend worship services for a faith other than their own in an effort to build unity among valley residents.

“It’s for purposes of building understanding, creating a sense of community and inclusion, (and) creating opportunities for people to become acquainted with people they wouldn’t otherwise,” said Richard West, a member of interfaith group Cache Community Connections. West is also part of the area communication council for The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

According to West, it’s been a few years since Cache Community Connections has hosted Faith Exchange Welcome Weeks in November. This year, he said the tradition is being resurrected because of the community value he and others believe it has.

“The idea is that if we’re going to have a truly welcoming interfaith community, it’s really important for people to feel welcome in all faith communities,” West said.

In an effort to spread the word throughout the valley, West said he and other members of Cache Community Connections have invited local governments to read proclamations regarding the event in their council meetings.

Cache County Executive Craig Buttars said he sees this initiative as a way to overcome misconceptions that can occur between different faith groups.

“I believe the more that we learn about different beliefs and social structure as a community, the more we understand people and where they are coming from … it just helps us become closer as a community,” Buttars said.

Joshua Maria Santos, a priest at St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Church, moved to Utah from California a few years ago and said when his friends from there talk about the animosity they see between faith communities, he is proud to say that hasn’t been his experience in Utah.

“We eat together and we pray together,” Santos said. “And it’s a beautiful sight for me to see.”

According to West, there isn’t an official list of religious communities in the valley participating in the welcome weeks, but he said all of his experiences with the churches throughout the valley have been positive and he can’t imagine that people who choose to learn more about another faith wouldn’t be welcomed with open arms.

His wife, Sharon West, agreed.

“Just go,” she said. “Introduce yourself and tell them you are there to be friends.”

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