Canada is known as a mosaic of many cultures, ethnicities and religions. Under the leadership of Derek Koch, spiritual health practitioner (formerly known as a hospital chaplain) at Kelowna General Hospital in British Columbia, representatives from 11 different faith groups, including The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, counselled together for ways to renovate the hospital’s former chapel to provide a welcoming environment for all.
Gordon Oliver, stake director of public affairs in Vernon, British Columbia, represented the Church in the planning of the new chapel area. “It was a thrilling experience to work with the diverse faith groups, which included aboriginal, Bahá’í, Buddhist, Centre for Spiritual Living, Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, Roman Catholic and Sikh communities, along with [members of] the Church. Discussions were always respectful, loving and accommodating,” Oliver said.
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The renovated chapel is now called the Sacred Space and serves the needs of all faiths. There are no visible religious symbols in the room, but each religious group is provided with closet space where religious texts, tools and symbols can be stored. The room is open 24 hours every day of the year, and anyone is welcome. It can be reserved for services, but it is generally open and available.
Rabbi Shmuly Hecht of the Chabad Okanagan Centre for Jewish Life and Learning was also happy to see all the faith groups working together in this way. “Anybody in the community can come [to the Sacred Space] as an individual, open the cupboard and find the book of their faith that provides healing, comfort, solace, meaning and purpose in whatever they’re going through and which can encourage them and give them new life, new vigour to be able to carry on and become stronger from whatever they’re experiencing,” he said.
“For members of the Church,” Oliver explained, “the Sacred Space can be used for offering priesthood blessings, for home and visiting teacher visits, for priesthood leaders to meet with individuals and families, for providing the ordinance of the sacrament to hospital patients, or for families to gather and celebrate, pray, ponder, read, discuss, counsel together or begin the grieving process.”
“Something happened in the process of working together that bound us as a group,” reflected Oliver. “I watched a Muslim leader compassionately shake the hand of a woman Bahá’í leader, a pagan worshipper compliment an aboriginal leader’s prayer, a Catholic bishop warmly congratulate a Sikh leader, and a Mormon receive a hug from a Jewish rabbi.”
Each faith group had an opportunity to offer a blessing or say a few words at the grand opening ceremony on February 17, 2017, at the Kelowna General Hospital. “In a unique way, the ceremony brought all faith groups together in a unified cause, each calling the other ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ in the end,” said Oliver.
“We found strength in our diversity, respect for our differences and cannot wait to meet together again,” said Oliver. “Public affairs work isn’t work; it’s just loving your brother. I’ve never received a hug from a rabbi before.”