Many faiths, one community
February 15, 2011
By Christopher Huber
Issaquah is a melting pot of major religions from across the globe
The loud rock music echoes from the concert-worthy stage as worshipers lift their hands and sing in the main auditorium. Greeters smile wide and shake hands as families filter in through the main entrance. While the adults find their seats for the service, their children shoot down colorful slides into the KidZone, a place of fun and adventure that takes up the whole downstairs.
This is a typical Sunday morning at Eastridge Church.
Like Eastridge, dozens of churches and places of worship contribute their own cultural and religious style and flavor to make up the fabric of faiths in Issaquah.
In addition to the evangelical Christian faith Eastridge attendees practice, Issaquah residents attend Christian churches of a variety of denominations, including St. Joseph Catholic Church and School. Many others keep their Jewish faith alive at the Chabad of the Central Cascades near the Issaquah Highlands.
Issaquah is also home to growing Hindu, Muslim and Baha’i contingents, and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints plays a major role in numerous community service events and activities.
While some might have an idea of what people of other faiths believe, religious leaders provide some substance to an important aspect, for many, of life in Issaquah. They discuss what they believe and dispel some common misconceptions.
Eastridge Church is considered Evangelical, said lead pastor Steve Jamison. Evangelical Christians believe in salvation through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, he said. Evangelicals also believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God.
Jamison acknowledged differences between Catholic and Evangelical worship styles, but said they share the same underlying belief in Jesus Christ’s divinity.
Approximately 2,000 to 2,200 people attend on a given weekend at the Issaquah campus of Eastridge, Jamison said. The church hosts concerts and large community events throughout the year and strives to be a solid place to raise a family, he said.
A misconception he said people might have is that Evangelical Christians are labeled as being against things. That’s the opposite of what he said the message should be.
“The message of Christianity is a completely positive message. Through Christ, we have an amazing invitation to God to be forgiven,” he said. “Sometimes it gets painted with a really broad brush. The greatest message … the message of Christ, is a message of hope for everybody.”
Catholics believe in God’s plan of creation and salvation, as revealed in both the Jewish scriptures (Old Testament) and the New Testament, said the Rev. Bryan Dolejsi, of St. Joseph Catholic Church and School.
It differs from Evangelical Christianity in that Catholics believe the Roman Catholic Church is the unbroken line from the apostles of Christ — the original church — he said. To Catholics, the Pope is a living representation of the apostles.
“The Pope is the Vicar of Christ,” Dolejsi said.
St. Joseph originally opened as a mission, located near Flintoft’s Funeral Home, in 1896, Dolejsi said. It now serves approximately 1,300 households and holds five masses each weekend, drawing about 1,500 people weekly. During the week, the church’s school serves about 340 students, he said.
One misconception Dolejsi said some people have is that Catholics worship Mary. He said Catholics don’t worship her, but simply hold her in high regard since she was the mother of Jesus.
“We honor and respect Mary, but we only worship God,” Dolejsi said.
Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints believe in the one God-head, and have faith in Jesus, who atoned for sin, said Greg Mackay, president of the Bellevue stake, a group of 11 LDS congregations in Issaquah, Sammamish and Bellevue. And believers become more like Jesus by doing good works, he said. They believe in modern-day prophets and that the Book of Mormon and the Bible are both the word of God.
The LDS church is completely run by volunteers, Mackay said. Two locations serve the Mormon community in Issaquah — one along Southeast Duthie Hill Road and another on Sixth Avenue.
One common misconception people might have is that Mormons are not Christians, he said.
“We may be one of the most misunderstood religions in history,” Mackay said. “We work pretty hard to help everybody understand that we are focused on Jesus Christ and the Christian faith.”
The foundation of the Jewish faith is that they were God’s chosen people, and that it was the religion from which all other monotheistic religions stemmed, said Rabbi Berry Farkash, head of Chabad of the Central Cascades, on Black Nugget Road. The Torah — made of the books Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy — is the central text of the Jewish faith.
Chabad of the Central Cascades serves hundreds of families from east Bellevue to North Bend and even Ellensburg, Farkash said. It is primarily an educational center for Jewish families unaffiliated with a synagogue. The center provides various youth classes and holds religious and cultural events throughout the year.
“We create the setting to give people the opportunity to reconnect to their origins,” Farkash said.
One misconception Farkash addressed is that people think Judaism is exclusive. It’s not, he said.
“We know that all (monotheistic) religions emanated from Judaism,” he said. “It is a message for the entire mankind.”
Muslims believe in the one, unique, incomparable and merciful God, who created and sustains the universe, according to the Sammamish Muslims Association. They believe in prophets — including Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus — who brought God’s revelations to the world, and that Muhammad is the Messenger of God.
Currently, practicing Muslims in Issaquah and Sammamish might attend prayers and services at the Islamic Center of Eastside in Bellevue. Others may attend various annual celebrations held at Mary, Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Sammamish. But soon, the Sammamish Mosque will open along Southeast 20th Street, according to Wassim Fayed, of Sammamish.
Those who believe in the foundation of Islam then seek to practice it through prayer, charity, fasting and the Haj — taking a journey to Mecca, if financially or physically able, in one’s lifetime — Fayed said.
One misconception Fayed said people might have about Islam is related to the treatment of Muslim women. He said Muslim women are highly regarded.
“Islam teaches us that women are to be respected as … the building blocks of society,” Fayed said.
Whether or not you understand the concepts of Hinduism, there’s no denying its impact on suburban culture, and sometimes the traffic. One of the newest and largest Hindu temples in the state, the Vedic Cultural Center in Sammamish, draws thousands of followers during its religious celebrations and Indian cultural festivals throughout the year.
Devotees adorn the building inside and out with lights and vibrant flowers. Inside the temple during these events, worshipers — with the women and girls dressed in richly died saris — chant to Krishna while leaders and youths sing and play unceasing worship music. Some decorate the deities, placed on ornate wooden altars, while others enjoy the free Indian cuisine downstairs.
Those who follow the Krishna Consciousness — a Hindu tradition — believe in one supreme God (Krishna) who is the origin of everything in existence, said Harry Terhanian, the center’s co-director. Love and devotion to the Lord is the goal of life by which a human attains the pinnacle of his or her potential, he said. Followers receive God’s mercy through acts such as eating according to God’s suggestions in scripture (the Bhagavad-Gita).
Towering above 228th Avenue Southeast in Sammamish, the Vedic Cultural Center is one of the most noticeable religious structures in the Issaquah area. Serving about 300 families in Sammamish and Issaquah, the center is home to more than just the temple for followers of the Krishna Consciousness. Its facilities and staff offer numerous weekly cultural and spiritual education programs, and also play host to a variety of grand festivals and celebrations annually.
Terhanian addressed a misconception that Hinduism is polytheistic: “God is eternally a person that possesses infinite and inconceivable powers.”
The basic principal of the Baha’i faith is the unity of mankind, said Saba Mahanian, a longtime Issaquah resident and member of the local Baha’i Spiritual Assembly. According to the Baha’i faith, all religions have been progressively working throughout history toward a point of unity.
Baha’u’llah, whose name means “glory of God,” founded the Baha’i faith in Persia in 1844. Baha’i is an independent, monotheistic religion and is based on Baha’u’llah’s writings and teachings. It has more than five million adherents in 236 countries, according to the Baha’i U.S. office of communications.
Currently, the Issaquah Baha’i organization has about 25-30 members, Mahanian said.
“All religions are from the same divine source,” he said. “There needs to be a progressive evolution of faith.”
Many of the community religious leaders said they are seeking ways to work together and promote understanding and community involvement. Also, during the difficult economic times, Jamison said he has noticed more people coming to church or seeking spiritual growth.
“There’s lot of great churches in this community,” he said. “We feel like there’s some real spiritual hunger being expressed.”