Phil Anderson

phil anderson | FAITH AND VALUES

Phil Anderson has been covering the Topeka religious community since 1989. Always looking for a good story, Phil welcomes your ideas and suggestions.

Bible school a summer mainstay

June 27, 2013

Growing up in the 1960s and ’70s, one of my favorite times of the summer was the first week of June, when I’d go to vacation Bible school.

Lots of my friends would show up, too, just like clockwork.

There was no sleeping in that week, as we’d get up early to be at church around 8:30 a.m. Monday through Friday. We’d run around and play games outside the downtown church as we waited for the vacation Bible school to start.

I remember the excitement in the air as I went to the opening session upstairs in the sanctuary, where all the kids would get together.

Seated in the reddish-brown pews, we kids would make more noise in that sanctuary than we ever thought possible. And, no, we didn’t get in trouble for doing so.

The opening session would include some of our favorite Sunday school songs, led by adults from the church who were dressed like regular people — and not in their finest attire.

Someone might present a story that would be told in installments on each day of the five-day event.

Then there was a contest between all the boys and girls, who would be divided into teams to see how much money could be raised for a missionary or church-based organization.

One year in particular stands out, when each team brought all the pennies it could find, putting them into large cans that were arranged on a kind of scale.

One group of kids would put its pennies into a can, and its weight would carry it down to the table top. Then another group of kids would put money in the other can, and its weight would carry it to the table top.

The screams would get louder and louder, continuing to grow each day.

I can’t remember whose team won, but I would bet all those pennies amounted to a couple hundred dollars before everything was said and done. That was quite a lot of dough back in those days.

As I got older, vacation Bible school moved to the evening hours and was open to both children and adults.

One year, we had speakers who represented Christians working in various secular jobs in the capital city: from business to law enforcement to education. There might have even been someone from the media. Imagine that.

Churches to this day continue to have vacation Bible school in the summer. Many attract a couple dozen kids, while others have 200 or more.

Nowadays, vacation Bible schools often are based on themes from such companies as Group or LifeWay. These vacation Bible schools include everything from T-shirts to games to videos to prizes to curriculum.

But the key to the vacation Bible schools is having enough hard-working volunteers — both teens and adults — who help see the whole thing through, from start to finish.

Though the methods may have changed over the years, the goal of vacation Bible schools remain the same, and that is to bring boys and girls a little closer to Jesus in a way that keeps them wanting to come back to church for more.

Mormon trek proves rewarding

June 22, 2013

When students go back to school in the fall, they often are met with the question, “So, what did you do over the summer?”

For about 120 teens from the Topeka Stake of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the answer might go something like this: “You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

Not many high school-aged teens would think of spending three days pushing and pulling heavy handcarts like those used by Mormon pioneers in the late 1850s across the hills and open fields of western Missouri.

What’s more, these same students had to dress like pioneers of old and endure the hardships they faced -- from losing “babies” to disease to dealing with broken handcarts to running out of food to eat.

But when it was all said and done, many of the students said they had a spiritually rewarding experience, one they wouldn’t change for the world.

Among Topekans to take part on the trip were Sara Hirschi, 17, who will be a senior at Washburn Rural High School; Michael Brase, 18, who just graduated from Washburn Rural in May; and Weston Johnson, 15. who will be a sophomore at Washburn Rural this fall.

A few days after the youths took part in the Mormon pioneer trek, which lasted from Thursday, June 6, to Saturday, June 8, they spoke glowingly of their experience.

Hirschi spoke of the challenges she fought through, not the least of which were walks — four miles the first day 8 miles the second day and six miles the last day.

She recalled how the boys would have to cross a stream, carrying the girls across so they didn’t get wet. And she recounted how the girls had to motivate themselves to do all of the heavy lifting after the young men left, following a reenactment of the Mormon Battalion’s calling up to fight in the U.S.-Mexican War.

Despite the hardships, Hirschi said everyone kept an amazingly good attitude.

“There was no complaining, no arguing,” she said. “We supported each other and kept things positive.”

Brase said the trek taught him about “the meaning of sacrifice,” as the Mormon pioneers “gave up everything” to escape persecution and move cross-country to Salt Lake City.

For Johnson, the trip was about increasing his “testimony” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the Church.

The youth trek, held every four years, took place on historic Mormon land in western Missouri now owned by the LDS Church or church members.

Two dozen adult leaders — including Carol Christensen, of Topeka — also took part in the trek, portraying the roles of “ma’s and pa’s” who led “families” of about 10 youths each.

“The trek wasn’t just a history lesson,” Christensen said. “It was a lesson in gospel-living and how it relates to our lives today.”

Notes: Harmony Kings in concert

June 14, 2013

The Rev. T.J. Parker and the Harmony Kings will have their 52nd anniversary concert at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Antioch Missionary Baptist Church, 1100 S.E. Washington. Also appearing will be the Whitney Singers, of Kansas City, Mo., and the Dynamic Pleasant Tones, of Kansas City, Kan. Concessions will be available.

In other religion news:

■ In His Presence Ministries will have its third annual block party from 1 to 6 p.m. Saturday, June 15, at Holliday Park, near S.W. 12th and Taylor. The event will feature free food, games and prizes.

■ Crestview United Methodist Church, 2245 S.W. Eveningside Drive, will have vacation Bible school from 6 to 8 p.m. Monday, June 17, to Thursday, June 20. A light supper will be served at 5:30 p.m. daily.

■ Tecumseh United Methodist Church, 334 S.E. Tecumseh Road, will have vacation Bible school from 9 a.m. to noon Monday, June 17, through Friday, June 21. The them will be “Everywhere Fun Fair: Where God’s World Comes Together.”

■ True Holiness Family Church, 1244 S.E. Republican, will have a barbecue and fish-fry fundraiser from noon to 5 p.m. Friday, June 21, and Saturday, June 22. Call (785) 233-9545 for deliveries to senior citizens and for orders of four or more dinners.

■ The Topeka City Mission Union will have its annual Gospel Youth Explosion at 6 p.m. Friday, June 21, at Pilgrim Missionary Baptist Church, 531 S.E. 33rd Terrace. The youth and Sunbeam program will be held at 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Second Baptist Church, 424 N.W. Laurent, with the message delivered by the Rev. Edward Patterson, of Macedonia Baptist Church in Kansas City, Kan.

■ The Cash Mob, a group sponsored by Central Congregational United Church of Christ that supports locally owned businesses, will gather at 11 a.m. Saturday, June 15, at Buttercups and Daisies, 631 S. Kansas Ave. After shopping, the group will go out for lunch at a locally owned restaurant.

■ St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, 1234 Kentucky in Lawrence, will have its 32nd annual Mexican Fiesta beginning at 6 p.m. Friday, June 21, and 6 p.m. Saturday, June 22. Carnival games will be offered on Saturday, and a moonwalk will be featured both nights. For more information, visit

■ Stephen Jordan, 19, a new missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, will speak at the 11:30 a.m. Sunday sacrament service of the LDS Sherwood Ward in the Topeka Stake Center, 2401 S.W. Kingsrow Road. Jordan will leave shortly for the Missionary Training Center in Provo, Utah, prior to serving in Rostov-na-Donu, in southwest Russia. He is the son of Bob and Susan Jordan and a 2012 graduate of Washburn Rural High School. He will speak on Sunday about examples of righteous fathers in the scriptures. Also during that Father’s Day program, his father will speak about the role of righteous fathers in the home, and the Primary children will sing a medley of songs. Following the service, a small gift will be given to the men in attendance.

■ A meeting will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday, June 19, at the Topeka Friends Meetinghouse, 603 S.W. 8th, to provide information regarding the systematic persecution of Baha’is in Iran. Seven leaders, several educators and scores of members of the Baha’i community are in prison in Iran for their religious affiliation. Ways Topekans can join in the call for the immediate release of these prisoners of conscious will be discussed.

■ St. John African Methodist Episcopal Church, 701 S.W. Topeka Blvd., will have its annual thrift sale featuring clothes, household items and furniture from 8 a.m. to noon Saturday, June 15.

■ The Topeka Center for Peace and Justice will have its annual Peace Camp from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. July 15 to 19 at Highland Park United Methodist Church, 2914 S.E. Michigan. The weeklong camp is for children who have completed kindergarten through fifth grade. For more information, call the center at (785) 232-4388 or email

■ Grace Episcopal Cathedral, 701 S.W. 8th, is inviting singers to take part in a choir for its annual community Independence Day celebration at 10 a.m. Thursday, July 4. Those wishing to participate in the community choir may attend practices from 7 to 8 p.m. Thursdays June 20 and 27. Call the cathedral at (785) 235-3457 for more information. Music packets can be picked up from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays at the cathedral.

■ TobyMac and musical guests including Brandon Heath, Mandisa, Chris August, Jamie Grace, Colton Dixon and the Capitol Kings will bring the “Hits Deep” tour at 7 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 21, to the Kansas Expocentre, S.W. 19th and Topeka Boulevard. Advance tickets are $27 and $37 and are on sale at Ticketmaster and the Expocentre box office.

Memory of '66 twister still a life-changer

June 8, 2013

Exactly 47 years ago today, an event that would forever change the face of Topeka occurred.

The June, 8, 1966, tornado was a monster in its own right.

It came roaring from the southwest, over Burnett’s Mound, just after suppertime.

The sky was dark gray that evening, to the point of almost being black. Our kitchen door was open, and through the screened-in back porch, I looked outside at a large tree in our backyard. It stood motionless.

We were clearing the dishes off the table. Suddenly, the loud wailing sound of a tornado siren pierced the relative silence of the evening.

We’d heard tornado sirens before, but never once in our lifetimes had a twister touched down in Topeka.

But that evening, we all knew something was different.

My older brothers and father looked outside to the southwest. They couldn’t see anything. Yet the move was made to get the cars inside the garage — something we never did until that evening.

The only vehicle that was left out front on the street was my oldest brother P.J.’s used Volkswagen Beetle. It was deemed the most expendable of all the cars.

The black-and-white television in the living room showed Bill Kurtis, of WIBW-TV, with a concerned look on his face. As he was given more information about the coming storm, he sounded his own alarm.

In what may be the most famous five words in Topeka’s annals, Kurtis exclaimed, “For God’s sake, take cover!”

Wasting little time, we got down in our basement. The small transistor radio — with WREN-AM’s “Fat Daddy” Rick Douglas providing the play-by-play — told the story of the tornado that was bearing down on Topeka.

The tornado was crossing Wanamaker Road — a small country thoroughfare in those days — we were told. Then Fairlawn and Gage. And by then, we could figure out what was coming next.

We heard the storm approaching from the southwest — it must have been over by Washburn University, about five blocks away from our house at 1615 S.W. Central Park.

I was the youngest of five children. In somewhat of a rarity in those days, our whole family was together. I was seated on a small metal folding chair, and everyone huddled over me. We were calmly saying prayers for safety.

The roar of the tornado was deafening. We couldn’t tell where it was, but we knew it was right on top of us.

Then, the noise began to lessen and fade, and we went upstairs and looked outside to see trees uprooted and Central Park, just a half-block to our north, lying in complete waste.

A large tree in our neighbor’s backyard had been uprooted and fell on our garage, causing major damage to both of the cars that minutes before had been parked in it. My brother’s VW in front of the house, meanwhile, escaped with no damage, though trees and limbs had fallen all around it.

Everyone who lived through that tornado has stories to tell about what they remember. To this day, I think many if not most of us still carry a certain sadness that 16 of our fellow citizens didn’t survive.

Had it not been for Kurtis’ exhortation and TV and radio coverage, as well as people’s instincts to “take cover,” who knows how many more would have perished.

It wasn’t until a week or so ago, after watching coverage of the Moore, Okla., tornado, that I realized just how close that massive twister came to our house in 1966.

To this day, I thank God for protecting us that night, and am grateful more death and destruction didn’t occur.

I rarely bring up the June 8 tornado, but I can assure you, it is a date that forever will be etched in my mind.

Don't just say it; show people you care

June 1, 2013

One of the best parts of being married is all the things you can learn from your spouse.

I speak from experience here, because I’ve learned so much about life and how to live it from my wife, Gloria.

She’d never admit it, and practically blushes when I say anything about it, but I know she has taught me many things I need to know.

I will say this: My wife has never preached at me or scolded me or pulled out the “I told you so” card.

Rather, her teaching comes by example — and the way she responds to the many situations that come her way.

One of her favorite sayings, which I might hear about once a year, is “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”

This is one of the few “sayings” my wife uses, as she most often does her teaching merely by the way she lives her life.

Yet I have gone back to this statement more times than I can count, especially when I catch myself becoming critical of somebody.

I have found that most people already know areas where they need to improve and don’t need me giving out free advice. A caring word, rather than a critical one, can be just what people need to hear.

But it goes beyond that. I’ve found that I must do more than just tell people I care about them. I must show them. And sometimes, I can do that best by being silent when it would be easy to say something in one of those “teaching moments” people like to talk about.

I can’t say I’ve mastered the task of showing people I care. Certainly, I haven’t mastered the discipline of being slow to speak and even slower to anger. But I think I’m making some strides in these areas.

To care, ultimately, is to love people — unconditionally and without reservation.

Once that love factor is established, honest communication can begin to flow without fear of being misunderstood.

At that point, it becomes possible to “speak the truth in love,” not in a critical spirit, but in a caring one.

As the Apostle Paul wrote in I Corinthians 13, we can have all the answers and eloquence in the world, but if we don’t have love, we’re nothing more than a clanging cymbal and a noisy gong.

The lessons go on. Our home is my school. I’m thankful I have such an awesome teacher.

Small churches facing challenges

May 24, 2013

No doubt about it, things aren’t like they used to be.

As I’m getting older, I’m learning to go with the flow and roll with the punches as things that once seemed an unshakable part of life are now starting to fade away.

I see this in many areas, including the church world. One of the many areas that appears to be on the verge of major change is that of the small church.

Just like Topeka used to be dotted with dozens of thriving mom-and-pop grocery stores — and even movie theaters — as late as the mid-1950s, the city also used to have small churches in virtually every neighborhood.

Yes, many of those churches started when people didn’t have cars to transport them a half-dozen miles or more across town to go to the church of their choice.

These small, neighborhood churches were built in a day when most folks probably walked to church on Sunday mornings. I can picture the scene in my mind’s eye: Mom, Dad and the kids in tow dressed in their Sunday best as they walk down the sidewalk to their church.

But over the years, neighborhoods changed. People moved away. Others grew old and passed away. Before they knew it, churches that had been full to the brim in 1953 were now all but empty in 2013.

As I drive through neighborhood streets on my job, I pass dozens of small churches nearly every day, many of which can’t have more than 20 or 30 people going to them.

The buildings in some cases are big and old, which means they are costly to maintain. And, most of the time, the congregations are aging, as well, with few, if any, young people attending.

“Unless this church gets an influx of younger families with small children and soon,” I’ll often tell myself, “there’s no way it is going to be around in 10 or 12 years.”

Simply put, churches need people to continue to operate. And without new, young members coming into an aging congregation, the handwriting seems to be on the wall.

Some churches with long histories already have closed — a recent example is the former East Topeka United Methodist Church at S.E. 7th and Lime, which shut its doors a year ago.

I know of a dozen or more other churches that are hanging on by their fingernails.

It saddens me in many ways, this demise of the smaller church. Maybe because I grew up in one, I am able to see their many advantages. My church truly was a family, though I don’t recall anyone ever referring to it as such. We just knew that it was.

Unlike 50 or 60 years ago, people aren’t wed to their denominations anymore. There are other options for people these days, and many will shop around until they find the right church for themselves and their families.

This isn’t to say all small churches are about to bite the dust. I know some that are doing quite well and probably will continue to have a vibrant ministry into the future.

But unless they get an infusion of younger people, many small churches may be faced with closing in the coming years.

This is hardly news to those churches that find themselves in this situation. And I wish it weren’t the case.

But it seems to be part of the shift we are witnessing in modern-day America, including here in Topeka.

It truly is better to give than receive

May 17, 2013

There was a time not so long ago when my newsroom mailbox was chock-full of letters and packages almost every day of the week.

But with the advent of technology, the amount of mail has dropped dramatically during the past decade. So much so that there are some days when I don’t get a single piece of mail.

Still, a good number of area congregations still have me on their newsletter mailing lists, for which I am extremely grateful.

No matter how busy I may be, I make a point of looking at the newsletters for story ideas, and often circle announcements that I will include in The Topeka Capital-Journal’s Religion section.

Once in a while, I will get the added bonus of finding an inspirational writing in a newsletter that seems particularly on the mark.

I found one such poem earlier this month in the First Lutheran Church newsletter.

Here it is:


when I am famished,

give me someone who needs food;

when I am thirsty,

send me someone who needs water;

when I am cold,

send me someone to warm;

when I am hurting,

send me someone to console;

when my cross becomes heavy,

give me another’s cross to share;

when I am poor,

lead someone needy to me;

when I have no time,

give me someone to help for a moment;

when I am humiliated,

give me someone to praise;

when I am discouraged,

send me someone to encourage;

when I need another’s understanding,

give me someone who needs mine;

when I need somebody to take care of me,

send me someone to care for;

when I think of myself,

turn my thoughts toward another.

According to the newsletter, the poem originated from Japan in the 20th century, though the author is unknown.

What struck me about the poem was the way it captures real spiritual growth — where the focus is always upward and outward, never inward.

More than anything, it offers a glimpse at what it means to be an overcomer.

As graduates prepare to receive their diplomas this weekend in Topeka and elsewhere, many will hear commencement ceremony speakers encourage them to chase their own dreams and be all that they can be.

In the midst of pursuing self-fulfillment, I hope the message of this poem somehow won’t be lost.

That our greatest accomplishment comes when we serve our fellow man.

Yes, it is in giving that we truly receive.

Long history of Mothers, from Eve to now

May 11, 2013

Mother’s Day isn’t a religious holiday, but it easily could be.

Look at all the mothers who played major roles throughout biblical history.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t start with Eve, who has been dubbed by some as “the mother of all humankind.”

Yes, Eve has gotten a bad rap through the years. There was that conversation with the snake in the Garden of Eden. And, of course, that apple thing.

Eve had to endure the heartache of knowing her son Cain killed her other son Abel. How devastating that must have been.

Despite the hardships endured by Eve, we want to focus on the positives as Mother’s Day approaches, so we’ll remember her for all her wonderful qualities: as a loving mother, a good wife and a woman who spoke with God.

Another major mother in the Bible is Sarah, the wife of Abraham. Many of us know the story of Sarah, who conceived after the age of 90 and gave birth to a son named Isaac. As a result, Sarah is known as the mother of Israel.

Sarah occasionally wrestled with her faith — sometimes marching ahead of God instead of waiting patiently on him. But in the end, her devotion to God and his purposes remains an everlasting symbol of her faithfulness.

Rebekah is another important mother in the Bible — and she, too, had a penchant for taking matters into her own hands. The wife of Isaac, Rebekah gave birth to twins — one named Esau, the other Jacob.

It was Rebekah who helped Jacob trick his blind father Isaac into giving him his blessing. That caused lots of friction between Jacob and Esau, who rightfully deserved the blessing as the first-born son. Esau later forgave Jacob for his deception.

Jacob would have 12 sons, who became the heads of the 12 tribes of Israel. One of his sons was Joseph, another major figure in the Bible.

Another key mother in the Bible was Jochebed, the mother of Moses. Jochebed showed her godly wisdom by placing her infant son Moses in a tiny boat on the Nile River. Baby Moses was found by Pharaoh’s daughter, who saved him from death that was being meted out to other male Hebrew babies.

Moses would become perhaps the single-most important person in the Hebrew Bible, writing the first five books — Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — and being responsible for freeing the Hebrew people from four centuries of slavery at the hands of the Egyptians and taking them to the Promised Land.

In the New Testament, two mothers stand out: Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist; and, of course, Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ.

Elizabeth also gave birth to her son at an old age. John the Baptist grew up to be a “voice crying out in the wilderness” who prepared the way for Jesus Christ and his ministry.

Mary, meanwhile, was a young peasant girl who became pregnant by the power of the Holy Spirit and gave birth to her son Jesus, whose sacrifice on the cross would save the world from its sins.

Mary is perhaps the most revered mother in human history, as she submitted to the will of God in accepting her role as the mother of Christ.

We won’t mention some of the more notorious mothers in the Bible today — Jezebel comes quickly to mind.

But as we pause to reflect on mothers from the Bible this weekend, we remember our own mothers — and all the sacrifices and acts of love they made on our behalf through the years.

No, our own mothers may not be as famous as some of those in the Bible. They may not be in any hall of fame. But in each of our hearts, they will be treasured and loved forever. And they will never be replaced.

Interfaith series celebrates 'Year of Peace'

May 4, 2013

Acknowledging that most religious people “go to their own little nests” on Sundays, Chris Hamilton sees all the more value in a new program designed to help people of different faith groups come together.

A new series that allows members of various faith traditions to talk about what their religion teaches about peace will continue at 5 p.m. Sunday, May 5, at the Topeka Friends Meetinghouse, 603 S.W. 8th.

The series, which is being led by Hamilton and several others from the local Baha’i community, is part of Interfaith of Topeka’s “Year of Peace” initiative.

The first meeting took place in April, when a member of a local United Methodist church discussed what her denomination teaches about peace.

A representative of the Islamic Center of Topeka is scheduled to speak on Sunday, May 5.

Representatives of other religious traditions — including the Mennonites, Buddhists and Baha’is — will present programs in following months.

“It’s a series allowing people from different religions to present their peace message,” said Hamilton, a political science professor at Washburn University.

Hamilton said he hopes the meetings — which are scheduled for every four to six weeks — will take hold and continue long past the end of the current calendar year.

“Any religion that wants to present their peace perspective is welcome to do so,” Hamilton said. “The door’s not closed. It’s wide open to everyone.”

Hamilton said as important as it is for groups to have a platform to present their peace teachings, it is equally important for people to have a place to hear the messages.

“The peace religions need to have a place to present their message,” Hamilton said. “And the public needed a venue to hear them.”

Hamilton said the Friends meetinghouse only holds about 40 people — which makes for a nice, intimate setting.

But in his wildest dreams, Hamilton would like to see more people than that attend.

Should that occur on a regular basis, he said, the meetings may have to move to a larger venue — “maybe the Mennonite church,” he said.

In the meantime, he hopes people will show up for the meetings at the Quaker church at S.W. 8th and Tyler, where programs will last about 50 to 60 minutes, including a presentation and question-and-answer session.

And, yes, cookies and punch will be served.

If that doesn’t bring in those who are on the fence, nothing will.

Interfaith services: Hope in tragic times

April 27, 2013

In times of distress and disaster, Americans living in what has become an ever-increasing secular society seem to be more open to messages from God’s Word — particularly when delivered by the president of the United States.

The latest tragedy to grip the nation came last week, when three people were killed and dozens of others were injured in the Boston Marathon bombing. The violence later claimed the life of a police officer — and a suspect.

As we were coming to grips with the tragedy, some of us tuned in to an interfaith service at the Cathedral of the Holy Cross in Boston held just three days after the terrorist attack.

I caught the last — and probably best — part of the service, as President Barack Obama delivered a scintillating message aimed at bringing hope and comfort to the hundreds in the church — and millions watching on television.

Two things struck me about Obama’s message: One, the way in which he delivered it — full of confidence and even boldness; and two, what he included in it — several Bible passages that have inspired people through the ages.

For many of us who’ve grown up in the church, the scripture passages were familiar and among our favorites.

Near the beginning and end of his message, Obama quoted from Hebrews 12:1, which encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us.” A very fitting passage on many levels in context of the marathon bombings.

Later in the message, he quoted another passage, this one from 2 Timothy 1:7, which reads, “God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.”

He also alluded to a passage from Isaiah 40:31, when he spoke of the courage shown by Boston residents: “That’s what you’ve taught us, Boston. That’s what you’ve reminded us — to push on. To persevere. To not grow weary. To not get faint. Even when it hurts. Even when our heart aches. We summon the strength that maybe we didn’t even know we had, and we carry on. We finish the race. We finish the race.”

I asked several local clergy and religious leaders what they saw as the merits of interfaith services like the one in Boston, which had representatives from several faith traditions, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

“I think interfaith services held to commemorate disasters allow us to focus on what we have in common,” said Rabbi Debbie Stiel, of Temple Beth Sholom, 4200 S.W. Munson. “In such a venue, we recognize the humanity that we share and our desire to see a world in which people live together with tolerance, compassion and peace. And by our presence at these events we give each other strength and we have a chance to mourn together. I think they can be very moving and inspiring.”

Interfaith of Topeka president John E. Christensen, a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said interfaith services help people of different religions to see all they share in common.

“Interfaith services provide an opportunity for individuals to express their shared concern, empathy and grief in a setting of faith,” Christensen said. “Joining others in asking Heavenly Father to bless and comfort the victims and their families and friends helps us overcome the feeling of helplessness to reach out to those in a disaster far away.”

The services, he said, help “us recognize that, regardless of doctrinal differences in our respective faiths, we share many common concerns. Many people believe that we are all children of the same Heavenly Father and are brothers and sisters in a literal sense. Just as immediate and extended family rally together in time of personal or family crisis, people from different faith communities can rally together and help strengthen a sense of community in a particular locale.”

By joining in common cause with others, regardless of faith background, he said, “the opportunity for friendship is extended. As we get better acquainted with others we can appreciate and understand them and their religious perspectives. Hopefully the interaction extends beyond the particular gathering.”

Christensen noted that “in today’s world of television broadcasting, Internet, and social media, we become aware of disaster and developments around the world almost instantaneously. We don’t have to wait for a meeting or gathering to offer prayers of support and comfort to those affected. But the meeting can help us to encourage one another and build bridges of friendship as we unite in a common cause of concern for others whether in our own neighborhood or a community far away.”

The Rev. January Kiefer, pastor of University United Methodist Church, said interfaith services in times of tragedy have many benefits.

“These kinds of services are always valuable,” Kiefer said. “We need them not only in times of disaster, but in all times. In fact, when we build interfaith relationships in times that are not fraught with crisis, we are then better able to join together more quickly, naturally, and effectively when we do face danger or disaster.”

When people of other faith traditions gather together, she said, “it helps us realize that ‘we’ are not alone. That our ‘we’ is much bigger than we sometimes think. That all of us are sustained and held in the divine embrace and are called to work together to comfort, to seek justice, to extend mercy and to move toward health and healing in all our relationships.”