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Holiday Guide

Religion and The Good of Wood Buffalo

Rick Kirschner
BY Rick Kirschner
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Eid Mubarak, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukka. There’s no doubt that sometime in the fall or early winter many people have heard one or all of the well-known religious greetings during the regular course of their daily routines. Or have seen these words typed boldly on a Facebook post or a piece of colourful literature. These are common religious phrases used by members of our community, or friends of those religious communities to express greetings, fellowship, or blessing to all who will hear. These are words of hope, love, and goodwill. They are words which bring a sense of connection, of community and words that make people feel “at home”.

A quick search of the internet reveals a basic definition of these common religious phrases.

Eid Mubarak or Blessed Eid (Arabic: عيد مبارك) is a traditional Muslim greeting reserved for use on the festivals of Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr. ... However, it is only used during the celebration of the two Muslim holidays.  It is a holy time of sacrifice and generosity to friends, family and the needy.

Merry Christmas is a common phrase used by Christians and non-Christians around the annual Christmas season celebrating Christ’s birth, held on December 25 in the Western world. It is a holy time of generosity, peace, and goodwill to all people.

Happy Hanukkah is a traditional Jewish term used at the lesser Jewish Hanukkah festival, which lasts for eight days from the 25th day of Kislev (in December). This festival commemorates the rededication of the Temple in 165 BC.

While these groups all have clearly different deities and worship styles, they do have at least one thing in common, and that’s what I wanted to highlight today.

What do these major world religions all have in common?

In the Social Cities August report titled Religion and the Good of the City, Milt Friesen, the Program Director at an  Ontario think tank called Cardus, indicates that Religious Institutions are impactful parts of what Cardus calls the “Social Architecture” of a city - the complex network of relationships between people, institutions, and culture.

What these groups have in common: they have all led the way in developing better communities in one way or another. Although many groups are less known for their religious advancement they are all very significant in their impact on the social constructs of communities. Historically religious groups have been the major deliverers of social services, education, and healthcare. Even currently on the local scene, one need not look very far to see the impact of religious organizations on the community of Wood Buffalo.

For example, the Centre of Hope and the Soup Kitchen were created in response of the members of the Fellowship Baptist Church to meet the growing needs of the street population.  The Salvation Army has several programs responding to the real needs of everyday citizens and newcomers to the community as well. The Family Christian Centre responded to the counselling needs of the community with the Legacy Counselling centre. And even The Red Cross was started by a religious organization in an expression of worship and to meet the increasing humanitarian globally.

Information received at the time of writing this article indicates there are approximately 93 religious organizations in this community. All have congregants and participants from all walks of life. These groups, who are often unnoticed by the hurried citizen, have been contributing to the region for decades. They meet spiritual needs as well a number of regional social needs too. They have been here a long time; in fact, some of the first institutions to be formally established in this community were religious groups. John Gilpin the author of Doing what’s Right for Kids-1912-2012, A History of Fort McMurray Public Schools said, “When the public school established the first school here, there was only one small coffee shop, a bus stop, and a church.”

We live in a time where it is often fashionable to treat religious groups as superstitious, socially irrelevant or even fading institutions but I believe Wood Buffalo is an open community where we don’t extinguish but celebrate the expression of religious groups and the great work they do to build community.

This year, when greeted with one of those familiar phrases lets purpose to return the greeting, receive the blessing and commit to building a friendlier community we can all call home.