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Breaking bread

Progressive dinner unites faiths, cultures

Spokane Faith and Values is celebrating its first anniversary with a progressive dinner and fundraiser Sunday.

Faith Feast will be hosted by three Spokane Valley congregations – the Spokane Islamic Center, the Sikh Gurdwara of Spokane and Millwood Presbyterian Church. A few tickets are still available.

“Part of the experience is going to be immersing yourself in different traditions,” said Tracy Simmons, editor of Spokane Faith and Values, or FAVS.

Spokane FAVS is a nonprofit, nonsectarian online publication. It was the first regional hub created by Religion News, a nonprofit that provides coverage of religion, spirituality and ideas. There are four other regional sites now.

“Our site, out of all of them, has the most traffic, most comments,” Simmons said.

Simmons is the Spokane site’s full-time journalist, 46 others contribute, mostly by writing columns about local and national issues. The site also has calendars and directories.

“The challenge for me has been having the interfaith conversations,” she said. “I’m trying to figure out how to bring people together.”

The progressive dinner fits with the site’s mission, taking the conversations happening online and giving people an opportunity to have them face to face, Simmons said. It also brings people inside different faith communities.

“People might be timid on their own,” she said, but being in a group might make it easier to step inside unknown places.

As she coordinated the event, she said she started with the Sikh temple, which will serve the main course, because part of their practice is to eat together.

“If you come, you share in that meal because you are part of the community,” she said.

Baldev Singh, a volunteer at the temple, said congregation members share meals every Sunday, both before and after services.

“It is a very long tradition with the Sikhs, we call it the community kitchen.”

Everyone sits together and eats the same food, Singh said. It’s part of breaking down India’s caste system.

“The Sikhs have an open-door policy,” he said. “Anybody can walk in there and enjoy a free meal.”

Before the entrée at the Sikh temple, diners will have appetizers at the Spokane Islamic Center.

Mamdouh El-Aarag, a board member at the center, said he is excited “for other people from other religions to come experience the mosque.”

El-Aarag said he and other members of the mosque want to provide a positive view of their religion. “The best way to do that is to invite people in,” he said.

The evening will end with dessert at Millwood Presbyterian Church.

Depending on the feedback she gets Sunday, Simmons said she may organize another progressive dinner.

Simmons has been a religion reporter for most of her career. She said she was drawn to the topic because “it’s such a misunderstood thing in our culture.”

When she was growing up in Albuquerque, N.M., her family had neighbors who were Hindu. Instead of getting to know them, she said her family made assumptions about what their different religion meant, assumptions that she learned were wrong when she started studying religion in college.

Simmons said she’s been surprised at how well known her site is after just a year.

“We’re trying something new. Since it’s the Web, it’s fluid,” she said.

“I’m glad Spokane is so receptive.”