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VARIED FAITHS OFFER LOOK INSIDE RITUALS

Prayer leaders will join together for a common good, the event organizer says.

The Rev. Olivia Christel came to the Unity faith as a Southern Baptist who converted to Mormonism and later became a Buddhist. She found comfort in the Unity movement, which is based on Christianity and the teachings of Jesus but also incorporates meditation and Reiki hands-on healing.

"We don't have dogma. We don't have a lot of rules," said Christel, director of sacred service at Unity Truth Center in Port Richey. "We believe there are many paths of God."

So when she was assigned this year to organize the local Unity World Day of Prayer, it seemed only natural to bring together people of various faiths in common prayer.

On Thursday, nearly a dozen prayer leaders of different faiths will pass through Unity's garden and gather in the church sanctuary - adorned with stained glass butterflies and doves - to share their own faith's unique prayers, as well as songs, meditation, chants and other spiritual practices.

"The energy of these combined prayers is going to lift us all up, even those who aren't here," Christel said. "We truly believe in the power of prayer ... like ripples on a pond."

Participants will include an American Indian shaman, a Tibetan lama, a Muslim imam, Christian ministers and a Jewish cantor.

"In coming together we are all working toward the same goal," said the Rev. Suzie Chamness of Spirit of Life Metropolitan Community Church, who will speak Thursday about the history of other worldwide prayer programs.

The United Nations International Day of Peace, for example, is Sept. 21.

"The most important thing is compassion toward one another and universal tolerance," said Richard Weissman, who runs the Ratnashri Sangha of Tampa Bay, a Buddhist dharma center. He helped bring Yogi Lama Gursam to the area, in part for Thursday's event.

Unity Church will ask for a "love offering" on Thursday, all of which will be donated to two local organizations: the Church of St. Jude for Homeless Veterans and Joining Hands Community Mission.

The Unity movement began in the 1800s and is based on prayer and healing. "Not too many people have heard of us, unfortunately," Christel said. "We don't go out and knock on doors. People hear about us because they're seeking a different way."

Unity World Day of Prayer started 16 years ago with a small group of people joining hands in prayer, and has spread to a thousand Unity churches around the world. This year's event in Port Richey expands the event to people of other denominations.

"The time was just right; it just fell into place," said the Rev. Barbara Williams, minister of the Unity Truth Center.

She said there are three phases in the path toward truth: tolerance, accepting and embracing. "The third step is what this celebration is," she said.

At first, Christel said she was stumped about how to organize this year's event. So she prayed about it and wondered, "How can we work together for the common good?"

Then she joined the West Pasco Ministerial Association, an ecumenical outreach organization that includes seven local churches, and she said, "Here it is ... God has answered my prayer."

She made dozens of phone calls and everyone she spoke with was excited about the idea, she said.

"It's like we were all waiting for an opportunity to come together this way," she said.

Pastor Drew Willard, chairman of the West Pasco Ministerial Association, said he's looking forward to this event and others like it.

"One goal we've had with the West Pasco Ministerial Association is to encourage ecumenical and interfaith understanding so there is common ground, if not common doctrine, and a common spirit that encourages us to work together," he said.

Cantor Deborah Jacobson with Temple Ahavat Shalom in Palm Harbor has participated in similar events and was more than willing to be part of the one in Port Richey when Christel called her.

"I believe in religious leaders uniting and praying together for the peace and well-being of each other and our planet," she said. "I believe we are all children of God, and only good can come out of something like this. It's very powerful and it unites us."

"Faith in Motion" is a weekly feature about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Story ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to Mindy.Rubenstein@me.com.

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FAST FACTS

If you go

The Unity World Day of Prayer will be celebrated from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday at Unity Truth Center, 5844 Pine Hill Road in Port Richey. People can bring their prayers to the event or send them to prayer@unitytruthcenter.com.

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