Interfaith Week celebrates religions’ influence on culture and the arts


Interfaith Week celebrates religions’ influence on culture and the arts


Joran Oppelt, photo by Kelley Jackson

Joran Oppelt founded Tampa Bay Interfaith Week to celebrate all the religions in the Tampa Bay, encourage fellowship, and to heal and solve problems in our community and beyond.

For the fourth year in a row, Interfaith Tampa Bay and Integral Church will host Tampa Bay Interfaith Week, an annual event that Oppelt describes as an opportunity to see how members of your community celebrate the sacred in a casual, open, educational setting. This year’s theme is “I Am Your Neighbor.”

“During Interfaith Week, individuals and families are encouraged to visit the many churches, temples, mosques, meditation centers and spiritual communities across Tampa Bay to gain a better understanding of the people, values, beliefs, practices and cultures that make up our dynamic and vibrant region,” Oppelt says in the event’s press release.

Before forming the Integral Church, Oppelt became known for his leadership and community fellowship in bands like The Gita and Auditorium, and as founder of the Southeast Music Alliance, which helped some notable local bands get exposure. His last role in the secular world was as a marketing executive at Creative Loafing.

“Integral Church has been rewarding in some very unexpected ways,” Oppelt shares with Creative Pinellas in a recent email chat. “I am surrounded by a community of people who are passionate about pluralism and philosophy and learning about world religions and respecting the way other people believe. It has provided me with a sense of purpose within the community and forced me to question some big assumptions I was making about what that community needs.”

Oppelt said he knew the life change from white collar career to grass-roots religious leadership wouldn’t be easy, but the rewards have made it worthwhile. “Serving as president of Interfaith Tampa Bay has been a far different journey,” he shares, “and getting people to come to the table for dialogue or even to share a meal has been as challenging as you would expect. Some people are willing but don’t have the time, and some people will never be willing to have that conversation. But, what serving as president has meant for me is that I get to surround myself with people who are leading by example by showing up and being in the room — even when there are more ‘important’ things to do. That kind of example needs to be set for everyone.”

Doing something about the divisiveness pervading society requires more than “thoughts and prayers,” acknowledges Oppelt. “We (Interfaith Tampa Bay) are fools if we think we are going to single-handedly solve problems between Catholics and Jews or if we are going to reconcile overnight the opinions that Martin Luther had about Jews and ‘Turks’,” he says, “but, we can continue to provide space and a forum, and — one day at a time — bring people together over meals and a mission based on non-violence and religious literacy and community service. This stuff doesn’t just affect religious communities. Understanding how and why other people believe differently than you do affects our personal and working relationships, the way we communicate, everything.”

How does Interfaith Week spotlight religions’ influence on culture and the arts? “The programming for Interfaith Week is different each year, because we are asking for program submissions from the community — and from churches and temples and mosques who are willing to open their doors and host these conversations within their walls. We always have some combination of musical performances, film, dance, arts and crafts, etc. This year we have a week-long partnership with St. Pete Rocks, encouraging people to paint stones containing a message of peace or love or interfaith cooperation.”

Creativity and spirituality aren’t necessarily mutually exclusive forms of expression, according to Oppelt. “What is important to remember, I think, is that all creation is a spiritual process,” he explains. “So, if we are able to showcase even a fraction of the music, art, dance, textiles, literature, etc. from the world’s faith traditions, then we are doing our little part in shining a light on something we all have in common (art asks some pretty big questions about our place in the universe), and a much larger tapestry of diversity that is always here in our backyard but that people rarely notice or discuss. And if we can notice or have conversations about that cultural and religious diversity, then we can move to the next step, which is building empathy and trust and compassion for our neighbor.”

An ecumenically colorful designed stone, courtesy of St. Pete Rocks.

This year, the event will run through Monday, Oct. 9 and include free panel and roundtable discussions at various campuses and venues including such topics as: homelessness/refugees, religious innovation, spiritual community, eastern and western philosophy, universal values, interfaith perspectives on Jesus and more.

This year’s Tampa Bay Interfaith Week will include:

  • An official Interfaith Week proclamation by St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman.

  • An Opening Ceremony at St. Peter’s Cathedral featuring a keynote by Dr. Roy Kaplan, music, interfaith prayers and opening remarks by the mayor.

  • Panel discussions, interactive workshops, film screenings, dance, music, food and more

  • Open houses and involvement from various faith communities including those of the Baha’i, Buddhist, Catholic, Christian, Christian Science, Episcopal, Interspiritual, Jewish, Muslim, Quaker, Taoist, Unitarian Universalist, Unity and more.

Tampa Bay Interfaith Week continues to promote a message of conversation, compassion, peace and pluralism and holds the Bay Area up as an example of a community based on mutual respect, cooperation and collaboration.

This year’s sponsors include St. Petersburg Baha’i Center, Eckerd College Center for Spiritual Life, St. Mary Our Lady of Grace, King of Peace MCC, Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, Unitarian Universalists of St. Petersburg, Pass-a-Grille Community Church.

For more information on Tampa Bay Interfaith Week, visit

RSVP and join the community on Facebook.


All official Interfaith Week events are free of charge and open to the public unless otherwise noted.

Happening All Week:

St. Pete Rocks!
Contact Claudia McIvor at with any questions.

Tuesday, Oct. 3:

Ancient Chanting and Tibetan Singing Bowls
Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater, 2470 Nursery Road, Clearwater
7-8:30 p.m.
(Buddhism, Hinduism)

This performance/workshop with Alex Gopali is an opportunity for attendees to appreciate a culturally appropriate use of Tibetan singing bowls; to experience spiritual transformation; and to consider whether they might like to study this sound-based healing practice. The evening will include a mini lecture and hands-on experience using Tibetan singing bowls.

Interfaith Potluck (Family-Friendly)
Location TBD
6:30-8:30 p.m.
For everyone of all beliefs and spiritual traditions. Join Interfaith Tampa Bay members and the wider community for a vegetarian potluck that will include networking, dialogue and opportunities to get involved in our various events and projects.

Bahá’í Center of St. Petersburg (Bahá’í)
Spiritual Conversations: 7:30 p.m. (Bahá’í concepts like Divine unity, progressive revelation, history of the Faith, equality and more.)

Temple Beth-El (Jewish)
400 Pasadena Ave. S, St. Pete, FL 33707
Jewish Meditation in our Youth Lounge: 6:30-7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, Oct. 4:

“What is Scientology?” Open House
Scientology Life Improvement Center, 336 First Ave. N., St Pete
6-8 p.m.
An open house of the Life Improvement Center’s historic building, film rooms, public information center and community programs. There will be a lecture at 7 p.m. by Scientology minister Debbie Deane, who will offer a description of the Scientology religion and its impact on the community. Attendees can get questions answered about Scientology and view the only filmed interview Scientology founder, L. Ron Hubbard. Gift bags will be given to all attendees.

First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science/Christian)

Testimony Service: Noon and 7:30 p.m.

First Unity Spiritual Campus (New Thought/Christian)

Meditation and Healing Service: Sanctuary, 6-7 p.m.
Energy workers and reiki practitioners are invited to participate in this powerful hands-on healing event featuring music and meditation.

Trinity UCC Campus (Christian) Kids Art Nite 

6-8 p.m.
Resident artist, Morgan Wright, offers art classes to community children each Wednesday. A fun and supervised event for all!

Thursday, October 5:

Interfaith Service Workshop
Unity Temple of Truth Church
6:30-7:30 p.m.
New Thought (Unity, Christian Science, Science of Mind)
This combination workshop/interactive service will include praise music, meditation, a facilitated discussion about planning and implementing interfaith services and corporate prayer. Led by Rev. Dr. Doral R. Pulley.

Spiritual Renewal for Justice Activists
Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater
7-8:30 p.m.
(Buddhism, Hinduism, New Age/Spiritualism)
Standing for love and resisting hate requires the spiritual tools to stay strong. This program is for the social justice activist wishing to draw on the teachings of Unitarian Universalism and the wisdom of other faith traditions, including Buddhism, Hinduism and Earth-centered spirituality. Participants will practice guided meditation, chanting, and consider how the visual arts help take us deeper within ourselves. Led by Rev. Patrice Curtis.

Integral Church (Interfaith)
Metta Center of St. Petersburg, 4554 Central Ave. Unit F, St. Pete
Interfaith/interspiritual service: 6:30 p.m.
Featuring group discussion, storytelling, music and meditation

Shambhala St. Pete (Buddhist)
Interfaith Recovery Night with Eric Rainbeau: 6-8 p.m. Anonymous and confidential.

Friday, October 6:

The Future of Spiritual Community (Workshop)
Metta Center of St. Petersburg
Religion in America is changing. Joran Oppelt – international speaker, author, and founder of Integral Church – discusses the role that interfaith and secular communities play in filling the gap created by shrinking churches and temples; where the younger generation is finding religious life outside of its institutions; and what innovative leaders can do to reconnect with them.

Temple Beth-El (Jewish)
Erev Shabbat Service & Oneg: 7:30-9 p.m.

Saturday, Oct. 7:

Drive-Thru Blessing of Animals
Trinity Lutheran Church
3-5 p.m.
In honor of the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi (a devout man known for his love for all of God’s creatures) Trinity Lutheran Church will offer blessings from a variety of faith traditions for pets and service animals and distribute scriptures about humanity’s stewardship of creation. Simply drive or walk through the parking lot.

Hinduism and the Unity of All Religions
Unity of St Petersburg, 6168 First Ave. N., St. Petersburg
10 a.m.-1 p.m.
(Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism, New Thought)
This program is for everyone who is interested in the world’s religions and what they have in common. By examining the central concepts of the ancient mystical religion and current philosophical forms of Hinduism in India and the West, we see how many of these ideas are also present in other religions and societies. This interactive, educational seminar is taught by Mary Dawn Pyle, a professor of world religions, and includes open discussion, yoga, meditation, and vegetarian snacks.

Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace (Catholic)
Vigil Mass: 4 p.m.

Saint Peter’s Cathedral (Episcopal)
Service: 5 p.m.

Taoist Tai Chi Society / Fung Loy Kok Institute for Taoism (Taoist/Buddhist/Confucian)
1811 Dr MLK Jr St N. St Petersburg
Taoist chanting every Saturday morning: 8:30-9:30 a.m.

Temple Beth-El (Jewish)
Shabbat Morning Worship & Torah Study: 10 a.m.-12 p.m.
Havdalah & Selichot Service: 10:30 p.m.

Sunday, Oct. 8:

 Sukkot Service (Sacred Ecology)
9-11 a.m.
Following a morning service, learn the customs of the weeklong holiday of Sukkot (harvest festival) as well as how we relate to the ecology in our own time. Led by Rabbi David Weizman, there will be an activity in the Biblical Garden, a ritual in the Sukkah (temporary shelter) and tastings of the seven species native to the Land of Israel.

Bahá’í Center of St. Petersburg (Bahá’í)
Devotions and discussion: 10:30 a.m.

Christ Gospel Church of St. Petersburg
Sunday School: 10 a.m., Sunday Morning: 11:30 a.m.; Sunday Evening: 6:30 p.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist (Christian Science/Christian)
Service: 10:30 a.m.

First Unity at Unity Campus (New Thought/Christian)
Service(s): 9:30 and 11:30 a.m.

Good Samaritan Church (UCC/Presbyterian)
Service: 10:30-11:30 a.m.

King of Peace MCC
10:00 a.m. Sunday Service

Shambhala St. Pete (Buddhist)
Sunday Community Practice: 9 a.m.-12 p.m.
Sadhana (Advanced) Practice: 9 a.m.-10:30 a.m.

Saint Augustine Episcopal (Christian)
Service: 9 a.m.

Saint Mary Our Lady of Grace (Catholic)
Regular Mass: 8 and 11 a.m.

Saint Peter’s Cathedral (Episcopal)
Service: 8 a.m. and 10:15 a.m.

St. Petersburg Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)
Traditional silent Quaker worship. Adult Discussion Group: 9:30 a.m.; Meeting for Worship: 10:30 a.m, First Day School for Children: 10:40 a.m.

St. Teresa of Calcutta Catholic Community
Mass: 10:30 a.m.

Trinity Lutheran ELCA
Sunday Worship 10:00 a.m.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Call church for times of service: (727) 525-3924

Trinity UCC Campus Center (Christian)
Lao Ministry of St. Petersburg: 10 a.m.-12 p.m. (Laotian)

Anointed Word Fellowship: 10-11:30 a.m.
Trinity United Church of Christ (Contemporary): 10:30-11:45 a.m.

Iglesia Pentecostal Cielos Abiertos: 1:30-4:30 p.m. (Spanish)

Unitarian Universalist Church of St. Petersburg (Unitarian/Universalist)

Discussion Group: 9:30 a.m.
Interfaith Service: 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalists of Clearwater

Open Issues Discussion Group: 9:30 a.m.
Interfaith Service: 10:30 a.m.

Unity Temple of Truth Church
Service: 10:00 a.m.

Vedanta Center of St. Petersburg
Service: 11 a.m.

Monday, Oct. 9:

Jesus/Isa: Christian, Muslim and Jewish Perspectives on the Man from Nazareth
University of Tampa, Sykes Chapel, 401 W. Kennedy Blvd, Tampa
(Christian, Islam, Judaism)
12-1:30 pm
Panelists: Rabbi Richard Birnholz (Congregation Schaarai Zedek), Imam Hassan Shibly (CAIR), Rev. Dr. Russell Meyer (FL Council of Churches). Lunch provided. Donations will benefit Irma relief. RSVP to

More events are being added; keep checking the calendar at

Time, dates, locations and programming subject to change.


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