St. Joseph is filled with many different religious organizations, with Christianity coming to the town as early as 1843.
The city has since expanded its diversity, and there are denominations such as Islam, progressive Christianity, Western Buddhism and Judaism in St. Joseph today.
Leaders from the region met at Missouri Western this week to discuss what religious diversity and inclusivity looks like.
Ramahdan Washington, president of the Islamic Center, says he has been practicing his religion for more than 40 years.
“Before the mosque was here, I’ve been here for 40 years and I would go worship in Kansas City,” he says.
He says there has been an opening response within the community to Islam.
“There has been a warm reception to Islam because you know there’s not that many Muslims here, but our presence here is not normally in violence or conflict with anybody,” he says. “We live a very peaceful life, and the community has been very, very welcoming to us since we’ve built the mosque here.”
Brian Kirk, pastor of First Christian Church, believes there is religious diversity in town, but he says we need to challenge each other as a community.
“The challenge would be that we need to do a better job of talking to each other and learning from each other,” he says. “In my particular expression of Christianity, we’re very involved with other denominations because we feel like they have a piece of the story to tell us and we have a piece to tell them.”
Babara Oshell, a Jewish woman and member of the Temple Adath Joseph, believes religious diversity is important because of the U.S. Constitution.
“Our first Bill of Rights says that we have freedom of religion, that this is not a Christian, or a Muslim, or Buddhist or a Jewish state. Government, it has not defined a religion,” she says. “It is an inclusive religion, as a country in which all religions are OK, and it was founded that way from the very beginning.”
Victor Dougherty, the director of the Unity Temple on the Plaza in Kansas City, says Western Buddhism, which focuses primarily on meditation, can be practiced in small, local areas.
“For folks out in these areas where they don’t have a place to come together, it’s actually not too difficult to create a sangha,” he says. “A sangha as a community is where people to like to meditate together.”
With different beliefs, the leaders agree that religion is a way of life, rooted in treating others kindly and being sincere.
“Whatever you believe in, you must be sincere in that belief,” Washington says.