Space is sacred to Chicago architect Suzanne Morgan, who is leading an effort to bridge religious divides among local faith communities. The "Sharing Sacred Spaces" project will offer tours of some Christian, Buddhist, Islamic and Jewish houses of worship in the area to help foster tolerance and introduce people to faith traditions. The Midwest Buddhist Temple, 435 W. Menomonee St., kicks off the program Sunday. Other events will continue through May. "We shape our buildings, and our buildings shape us. This space becomes sacred through the meaning it has for (congregants)," said Morgan, facing the shining Buddha statue during a recent interview at the temple. "We want to use sacred spaces to create a dialogue." Visitors to the temple will be invited to tour the building and its environs, stopping at stations to learn about the shrine, the Kansho Bell — used by the temple to signal the beginning of a ritual or service — and the giant rice cooker and wok.
Morgan, a Protestant who was trained in liturgical design at the Catholic Theological Union, said she has toured many religious sites. Rarely, though, do tour guides discuss faith traditions while explaining the construction of a centuries-old cathedral or soaring stained-glass windows. But architecture can help tell the history of each religion. For example, the exterior of many Jewish synagogues, Morgan said, are not as recognizable because Jews have been persecuted."They wanted to blend in," she said. "On the inside, you can tell it's a synagogue. But on the outside, you may not know."
In addition to the Buddhist temple, visitors also will be welcomed at Chicago Sinai Congregation; Fourth Presbyterian Church; St. James Episcopal Church; First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple; Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist; Old Saint Patrick's Roman Catholic Church; and the Downtown Islamic Center. At the project's conclusion, Morgan said, religious leaders will be asked to pledge support for other faiths in the case that any of the participating churches, temples or synagogues become targets of hate or violence. "We want them to stand shoulder to shoulder with the other (faith communities) so it begins to build a bond," she said. If the project is successful, its organizer, the Council for a Parliament of the World's Religions, could expand it to the Chicago suburbs and 70 cities around the world that are members of the group. The Rev. Ron Miyamura, spiritual leader of the Midwest Buddhist Temple, said strengthening relations among different faith communities is vital to fostering a peaceful society. "It is ignorance and fear that creates so many of the problems of the world," he said. "However, when we can understand our neighbors, we can tolerate differences. And when we get along better, we can accept differences which build peace and harmony."