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The Cathedral of the Madeleine: Pillar of Utah Christianity

By: Anne Wallace

Salt Lake City’s Cathedral of the Madeleine stands as the heart of Utah Catholicism.

Large and beautiful, its gothic architecture stands out in an area otherwise filled with sprawling apartment complexes, houses, businesses, shopping malls and other urban delights. It seems almost as if it beckons each by passer to stop and look, to take a break from temporal concerns and to remember and ponder his or her spiritual heritage.

With its open door policy, everyone is always welcome to walk right in and experience the peaceful quiet it contains.

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How did this pillar of the community come to be? When first dedicated, the cathedral wasn’t as grandiose and richly adorned as it is now; many changes and improvements have been made over the years. Construction originally began in 1899 after the first Utah Bishop, Lawrence Scanline, worked tirelessly to strengthen and grow Roman Catholic membership in Utah. Within 10 years, the original membership of 90 had swelled to over 4,000.

The growth of the Catholic Church in Utah during this time period was so fast, the Catholics had nowhere large enough to hold their first Christmas Mass. But through Bishop Scanline’s unique and friendly relationship with a local member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they held the first Christmas Mass in the St. George LDS Tabernacle. The cathedral was completed and dedicated in August 1909.

Over 100 years later, the Roman Catholic population in Utah has increased to around 350,000, but the cathedral still remains at the heart.

Deacon Lynn Johnson, one of the many faithful and hardworking members of the cathedral’s present day congregation and staff, explained more about the history and significance of the cathedral itself.

“When you go into a cathedral, it’s not so much something you’re looking at as something you are reading,” Johnson explained.

Each element of the architecture and design is crafted thoughtfully and purposefully, and has spiritual significance and symbolism.

“A gothic cathedral is a constant reminder,” Johnson continued. “God is not somebody that’s out there. He is very much a part of our lives. He is present. He is at work in our lives constantly. The cathedral is a symbol of that presence, that God is real, and that we are His children.”

Each architectural element and décor of the cathedral is meant to signify and remind onlookers of eternal doctrines. The spires are meant to represent the need to lift one’s gaze upward and keep in mind this earth is not the end of the journey, that there is something greater to strive towards and something greater awaiting. The candles represent Christ, how he is the light of the world. They are also a reminder of the ancient persecutions Christians faced and the candles and oil lamps they used in the catacombs to avoid that persecution.

The deacon explained the rose window is meant to teach “God is at the center of our life, everything else will flow in your life nicely; but if you push God off to the side somewhere, you’ve got a problem.”

The seating area is referred to as the nave, a metaphor for the church and the congregation being on a ship, heading for their eternal destination. Sometimes it has also been likened unto a womb, where the congregants can receive protection, comfort, and nourishment from their mother, the church.

The side windows have a special purpose in both ancient and modern times. Thousands of years earlier many congregants did not have the opportunity to receive a formal education and didn’t know how to read. They did not have personal access to holy scripture.

“Catholics learned about their faith aside from being at mass and hearing sermons,” Johnson said. “It was in the art that you learned about what you believed as a Christian… The life of Jesus is in the art in the cathedral.”

In this way, the windows are meant to be scripture; they are meant to not only be seen, but also to be read.

Everything in a cathedral has symbolism, and oftentimes, practical applications dating back to the very beginning of Roman Catholicism. According to Johnson, all these complex symbolisms and applications serve to demonstrate one key message: “The cathedral is just saying God’s here.”

Quick facts: Judaism

By: Madison Butcher

Contrary to popular belief, Judaism is not just a black and white religion with a list of do’s and don’ts. The religion has a wide variety of beliefs and different branches. On one end of the spectrum are Orthodox Jews. On the opposite end are Reformed Jews. Both have a similar foundation, but with the progression of society, the branches have veered in different directions. With that said, this is a very general outline of the Jewish religion as a whole, rather than individual sects.

Jews are monotheistic, meaning they believe in only one God. The nature of God is the creator of all things. He is impossible to describe due to the fact that he doesn’t live in this realm of earth life. The Jewish God is a god of mercy and forgiveness. He communicates with his followers through prayer and many other ways. The Jews also believe in a Messiah, a being that will come to earth to establish God’s kingdom on earth.

Jewish believers use the Hebrew Bible as their source of truth and knowledge. The Torah, meaning “law” or “instruction, is a essentially a compilation of the first five books of Moses, which makes up the Hebrew Bible. Jews also use the Talmud as scripture, a text that entails the laws of Jewish religion.

A large part of Jewish culture and religion revolves around food. According to Jewish law, foods must be kosher. Kosher can be defined differently for various people, but generally it forbids eating pork, shellfish, and birds of prey. It is also important to note that being kosher also entails how meals are prepared. Eating kosher is a sign of the interconnection of God and the food that he gives his people.

The Jewish culture is filled with many different holy days including Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Passover and Hanukkah. On top of these holy days, the Jews have strict laws regarding how to worship on the Sabbath. Saturday is considered the Sabbath day and is generally filled with rest, worship and spending time with family and friends. Worshipping at the synagogue is not limited to Saturday’s only. Throughout the week, most synagogues have different services and activities for their members to participate in.

Judaism is not a proselyting church. The process to be converted into the Jewish religion is an extensive process and can take up to several years of studying and learning. The foundational belief is that the Jewish bloodline comes through the mother to her children. Obviously, this belief is dependent on the particular branch of Judaism.

Overall, Judaism is a fairly complicated religion that roots its beliefs to the beginning of religious time. With the rise of anti-Semitism in our society, the media and world has created an image of the religion that may or may not be true. It is important to study the facts and learn more deeply about the Jewish religion and the culture as well.

Source: “Religions” by Philip Wilkinson

Quick facts: Islam

By: Anne Wallace

The word Islam in Arabic translates “to submit” and the word Muslim translates to “one who submits.” This simple translation gives key insights to the purpose and central doctrine of Islam, to submit oneself fully to Allah, which is just the Arabic word for God. There are two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, but both follow the same central beliefs. The division comes from a dispute over who was the proper successor (or Caliph) after the death of the Prophet Muhammed.

Muhammed was born in 570 A.D. in Mecca, and began receiving his prophetic revelations, which now compose the Islamic book of scripture, the Qur’an, in 610 A.D. when he was visited by the Angel Gabriel. The Qur’an is divided into two parts: the revelations the prophet received in Mecca and the revelations he received after migrating to Medina in 622 A.D. to escape religious persecution.

Islam is based mostly upon five pillars. The first is Shahada, which means testimony. In order to become a Muslim, one must recite in Arabic “There is no god but God, and Muhammed is the messenger of God.” The second pillar is Salat, which means prayer. Muslims will often say ritual prayers five times a day, and men will attend a prayer service on Fridays at the local mosque. The third pillar is Zakat, which means charity. Muslims believe firmly in sharing their wealth and helping the poor. The fourth pillar is Sawm, which is fasting. Muslims participate in Ramadan, which involves fasting from sunrise until sunset in order to experience a heightened sense of spirituality and closeness to God. The last pillar of Islam is Hajj, which means pilgrimage.

Muslims who are financially and physically capable will visit Mecca, the Holy Land, during their lifetime in remembrance and honor of the journey that the Prophet Muhammed made in 622 A.D. They will also visit sacred sites in the Holy Land, such as the Kaaba, and participate in holy rituals such as casting stones at a column that represents Satan.

Many misunderstand “Jihad,” what is sometimes called the sixth pillar of Islam, to mean holy war. Jihad simply means the struggle. It is meant to depict the individual fight against sin and temptation to choose righteously and follow God. It is the internal and sometimes external struggle one has to overcome evil.

Faith in word and action: Pastor France A. Davis

By: Sydney Jorgensen

It was Sunday morning in February on the west side of Salt Lake City. Hundreds of people shuffled through the front doors of Calvary Baptist Church, greeted by friendly faces and warm smiles. Ushers stood at the entrance of the sanctuary as people came through to take their seats. Hugs and handshakes went all around as the music began in preparation for the service.

Rows filled, people stood and sang as worship begun. After devotion and selections of praise music, this time performed by the children’s choir, Pastor France A. Davis preached about the importance of serving and following the Lord.

“We believe that when one comes to church, one comes to meet God, and that you ought to come offering and being your very best,” Davis said.

Following the sermon and benediction, the members of the congregation exited the sanctuary. Pastor Davis stood by the door with an individual handshake or hug for each person who left.

“All people have multiple needs, including a spiritual need,” Davis said. “Regardless of where a person comes from, meeting those spiritual needs is essential.”

A “state treasure”

“He is a very articulate person,” said Ronald Coleman, a member of Calvary Baptist. “He communicates with people from a variety of walks of life. We are very fortunate to have him as a resident in the state of Utah. He is a state treasure.”

Coleman, an expert on African-Americans in Utah, met Davis in 1973. As professors at the University of Utah in the ethnic studies program, Coleman and Davis began a lifelong friendship.

“I’ve grown some in terms of my faith, I know I have, as a result of my association with him,” Coleman said.

It wasn’t long after the two met that Coleman started attending Calvary.

“I had been away from church membership for a number of years and I started attending Calvary, primarily because I had young children and I was a single parent,” Coleman said. “Sitting in the service one Sunday, it just resonated with me personally. I found myself accepting the invitation to become a member.”

Coleman described Davis as not just his pastor and colleague, but an older-brother figure, even though Coleman is older than him. Davis even married Coleman and his wife, also a member of Calvary, after Davis successfully “put in a good word for him.”

As the longest-running pastor of what was established in 1892 as Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, Davis has been helping members of his congregation for nearly 43 years.

But when Calvary’s 23rd pastor came to Salt Lake over 40 years ago, he didn’t intend to stay longer than a year.  

“I had no idea I’d still be here,” Davis said. “I’ve stayed because I’ve sensed there is a need and I, with my training and preparation, came help meet those needs. People trust me to be their leader.”

Born and raised in Georgia, Davis finished high school and went to college at Tuskegee University in Montgomery, Alabama. He then moved to Florida and served four years in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War.

Davis returned to school and earned degrees from several institutions, including the University of California, Berkeley, Westminster College, Northwest Nazarene University, Salt Lake Community College and Dixie State College. He went to the University of Utah in 1972 and began teaching soon after. In 1974, he became pastor of Calvary Baptist Church.

“All of my nine degrees were preparatory for ministry,” Davis said.

Davis taught communications courses in news writing, radio and television as well as ethnic studies and African-American studies. He retired from the U in 2014.

As Davis has become a “bridge between various religious and social entities,” Coleman doesn’t know of any place where the pastor can’t go to listen and express his opinions.

“He being a resident in the state of Utah is invaluable to individuals who do not live in this state and have certain perceptions of Utah and Utahns,” Coleman said.

Community outreach

Jeanetta Williams, president of the NAACP Salt Lake Branch & NAACP Tri-State Conference of Idaho, Nevada and Utah, has known Davis for more than 20 years.

“He’s a man of integrity and good character,” Williams said. “He is a person who is concerned about what’s going on in the country as well as the state of Utah.”

Davis was appointed to Utah’s Board of Regents in 2008. A large part of Davis’ involvement in the community is his focus on education, what he calls “the tool to help with mobility.”

“Education is essential. It is the pathway to a better way of life. Without thorough preparation, you are not ready to take on the tasks that are before you, no matter what they are,” he said.

For the last 125 years, Calvary has been providing reading and writing programs as well as scholarships for youth to attend college, David said. Today, Calvary additionally offers several educational programs ranging from tutoring to computer and finance classes.

“We encourage students to get as high as a formal education as they can and to get on-the-job training in every area they possibly can,” Davis said.

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Williams said Davis has always emphasized education, not just in word, but in action.

“Not only does he talk about people needing to get an education, he makes sure he raises funds for scholarships,” Williams said. “He makes sure students see him as a role model. He even went back and got his doctorate degree.”

Williams said involvement in legislative issues is just one way Davis helps the community as a whole.

“When you say ‘Calvary,’ most people will always think of Pastor Davis and his accomplishments in the community,” Williams said. “People will think of his willingness to not only serve as pastor of Calvary, but be a spokesperson for different issues in the community.”

The future of Calvary

“In spite of invitations to go and have larger congregations in more metropolitan areas, we’re a better community because he has been here for 43 years,” Coleman said.

Coleman has witnessed firsthand how Calvary has brought the community together despite different political, social, economic and cultural backgrounds.

“Calvary will continue to be a light in the midst of darkness, in the midst of an area and community where there is much need, where there are many hurts people are experiencing,” Davis said. “We will continue to feed the sick and the homeless and the hungry. We will continue to provide housing for the elderly and physically handicap. We will continue to provide educational programs as well as meet spiritual needs.”

“Whatever causes people to hurt, Calvary, now and in the future, will be in the heart of whatever those problems are.”

To learn more about the history of Calvary Baptist Church, view this interactive page or read this brief history.

Why learn about other religions?

Pastor France A. Davis (Calvary Baptist Church)

“It’s important to learn about other religions so we can learn to appreciate differences and help people who do things different than us, to celebrate those differences. That’s absolutely essential. That’s absolutely essential.”

“Utah is perhaps more critical for that than most other places because we have a dominant religious group that outnumbers the whole community. Without tolerance and some sense that others have a place, a meaningful place, we would be in real serious problems.”

“We have to agree to disagree on some things. We have to be able to acknowledge differences and appreciate them based on the way other people see things.”