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Church Leaders Minister in Indiana, Meet with Civic and Faith Leaders

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“It was delightful to be here with the gracious people of Indiana. I truly felt their ‘Hoosier hospitality,’” said Relief Society General President Camille N. Johnson during a weekend ministry to Indianapolis, September 8–10.

President Johnson and Elder Vaiangina Sikahema, first counselor in the North America Northeast Area Presidency, met with the lieutenant governor and civic leaders at a Statehouse event on Friday, ministered to Latter-day Saints in multiple devotionals and participated in the 11th Annual Indy Festival of Faiths on Sunday.

The weekend events were preceded by a Religious Liberty Forum hosted by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in coordination with the Center for Interfaith Cooperation on Wednesday, September 6.

 

“Come and See”

On Friday, legislators and government officials were invited to learn about the values and contributions of members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Indiana. The “Come and See” event was hosted by Indiana State Treasurer Daniel Elliott, who is a member of the Church.

“We are still a fairly small part of the tapestry of faiths here in the State of Indiana, but most people don’t realize the richness that our members offer to the state,” said Elliott about the 46,000 Latter-day Saints living in Indiana.

More than 350 Latter-day Saints were invited to the reception, where they displayed booths detailing the Church’s humanitarian efforts in the state, Latter-day Saints’ involvement in Indianapolis’ interfaith council, information about the Church’s Relief Society women’s organization, plans to host a Light the World Giving Machine during the 2023 Christmas season, sacred art by Indiana-based Latter-day Saint artist Jacob E. Dobson and the first middle school community service JustServe club in the state.

About 25 lawmakers attended the “Come and See” event. 

Lt. Gov. Suzanne Crouch met with President Johnson and Elder Sikahema before the event.

President Johnson and the lieutenant governor talked about the mission of the Church’s Relief Society to care for those in need, including the service efforts of some 16,000 Latter-day Saint women who live in Indiana.

“It was the best part of the meeting simply because here is a woman who represents and leads other women globally,” said Lt. Gov. Crouch of President Johnson. As a token of appreciation, Crouch gave President Johnson a jar of pickled jalapenos that she personally prepared.

“To know that we have [faith-] based organizations like the [Church of Jesus Christ] and leaders like [President] Johnson who are actually leading the way and setting the example … throughout Indiana is incredible,” added Lt. Gov. Crouch.

“I hope that those who attended today will see the Church as a trusted collaborator. We share a common objective, and that is to bless the lives of families here in Indiana,” said President Johnson.

Lt. Gov. Crouch also spoke during the reception and highlighted the community service Church members have provided to clear debris after tornadoes and the humanitarian aid for some 7,000 Afghan refugees housed at the Indiana National Guard’s Camp Atterbury in the south-central part of the state from September 2021 to January 2022.

“And it’s not just limited to Hoosiers,” Crouch said to Latter-day Saints in the audience during her keynote remarks. “When the Afghans were at Camp Atterbury, you all made it a point to support and to give through clothing, through hygiene kits, through 1,700 pairs of shoes. You all were taking care of the ones who couldn’t take care of themselves.”

Senate Democratic Leader Greg Taylor was another keynote speaker. He talked about the importance of community understanding and awareness.

“I didn’t know anything about The Church [of Jesus Christ] of Latter-day Saints. I start out by telling you that because my talk is going to be about how we can make that different … that while we may all look different, may believe differently, there are some basic tenets to who we are that we should all know about,” Taylor said.

Taylor shared his personal mantra of “becoming comfortable with being uncomfortable” and the understanding he’s gained about Latter-day Saints through his association with Treasurer Elliott.

“I’ve really come to grow and understand the service part of this religious organization,” said Taylor. “Your sole purpose is service through faith.”

“And your pastors don’t get paid; they’re really volunteers. That is unique in my opinion to a lot of things, and it’s something that I learned about the [Church of Jesus Christ] that I did not know,” Taylor said.

“[Senator Taylor] is of a different faith than we are … yet it was our similarities, our common bonds and our shared values — that’s the reason that he came and participated in that event. It was just wonderful to be in the Statehouse with so many people of faith,” said Elder Sikahema.

Festival of Faiths

On Sunday afternoon, President Johnson and Elder Sikahema participated in the 11th Annual Indy Festival of Faiths, held at the historic University Park in downtown Indianapolis.

To kick off the event, people of various faiths including President Johnson and Elder Sikahema joined in a drum circle.

“What a fabulous unifying experience. All of us were beating to the same rhythm and that’s the point, that we really are answering to the same God,” said President Johnson.

The festival is sponsored by the Center for Interfaith Cooperation and seeks to foster religious understanding and connection by bringing together various faith traditions. More than 50 booths featured dozens of religious traditions and denominations, drawing thousands of attendees.

“This is an opportunity for people to come down, in a neutral setting, to get to know one another and to celebrate,” said the center’s executive director, Charlie Wiles.

“I think it was wonderful to lock arms with people and have them know us and we know them,” Elder Sikahema said.

The Church of Jesus Christ hosted a booth, and a 100-person choir and orchestra performed popular hymns on the Sacred Arts stage.

“What always blows me away with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the stage presence. You bring a choir 50 strong, and this year you have an orchestra, so you always set a very high standard,” said Wiles.

The Church also sponsored a booth for the community service platform JustServe. Festival attendees had the opportunity to assemble welcome bags with personal essentials for the domestic violence center Sheltering Wings.

“This project is so impactful,” said Jenna Harris, communications and annual giving officer at Sheltering Wings. “So often we see survivors come in with just the clothes on their backs and [their kids], and so these welcome bags that have toothpaste, shampoo, hygiene products — that’s just taking the weight off of the shoulders of our survivors.”

Elder Sikahema and President Johnson also ministered to Church members in various devotionals and meetings for adults and youth during their visit and were taken on a tour of the famed Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

“It has been a phenomenal whirlwind weekend. It’s been so packed with so much goodness and the people here. We felt the ‘Hoosier hospitality’ all weekend long; it’s been fantastic,” Elder Sikahema said.

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