By, Keith Runyon

Here at the Center for Interfaith Relations, we’ve undertaken a job that combines archaeology, oral history and elbow grease. That’s right: elbow grease.

Since the Center’s offices moved to its present location at 415 W. Muhammad Ali Blvd. in 2004, minimal organizing and archiving has been done in the storage space. Perhaps the delay in dusting off the storage closet is because CIR does so much with a lean staff; sometimes taking a back seat to producing results that the community sees. As we look toward 2015, which will mark the 20th anniversary of the Festival of Faiths – that’s a lot of history tucked away!

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Nevertheless, this clean-up, fix-up, paint-up effort is long overdue, so we’ve rolled up our sleeves. In digging through paperwork, artwork, inventory, and archives of the CIR’s history, we have come across hundreds of photographs from past Festivals of Faiths. Since I am the old-timer around here (I had the privilege of attending the first Night of a Thousand Stars and Thanksgiving Service back in November 1994), I agreed to go through the scrapbooks and label everyone I recognized with Post-It notes. It was a challenge to the memory, but it was amazing how many of the faces and good times I did recognize. It was also a reminder of how many people in Louisville have contributed to this remarkable annual effort. Louisville’s Mayor Greg Fisher says, “My business as Mayor is to focus on the common heart that people have here in our city, so when I see our groups working together as citizens and volunteers, a lot of those relationships were made here at some of the Festivals.”

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1. Owsley Brown III, Lloyd Kelly & Roanne Victor (1995)

2. Archbishop Kelly & Christina Lee Brown (1994)

3. Archbishop of Canterbury Robert Runcie & his wife Rosalind Runcie, & Christina Lee Brown (1995)

4. George & Mary Lee Fisher (1996)

5. Sarah Reed Harris with daughters Emma & Alice Harris (1996)

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On a number of occasions, the Festival has been an event for modeling cooperation and understanding.  The November 2005 Festival of Faiths was themed Faith and Cooperation. In reminiscing on that year’s Festival, the highlight that comes to me was the performance of a young choir of Palestinian and Israeli teen musicians. Before an audience at the glittering “Night of a Thousand Stars,” they made music together as a concrete demonstration of the potential for peaceful coexistence based on mutual respect, acceptance and understanding. As the world watches in horror the current strife between Israelis and Palestinians in Gaza, memories of that beautiful evening in 2005 are inspiring, but also haunting. What and where, we ask, are those teenagers today?

Much can happen over the course of two decades. Most all institutional memory can be lost in the crush of day-to-day busy-ness. The spadework we’re doing this summer at CIR should enrich and inform the decisions and actions we take in the future.

What are your fondest Festival of Faiths memories? We would love to hear from you in the comments section below, or email


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Keith assists the Center for Interfaith Relations with Media Relations, and has been a Festival of Faiths attendee since the program’s inception in 1996. For forty three years he was a writer and editor for the Courier-Journal in Louisville before his retirement in 2012. He also appears as a commentator for WFPL-FM, Louisville’s public radio news station.

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