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The unexpected voices of faith that took center stage in 2015

POSTED: December 30, 2015 6:59 a.m.
Kelsey Dallas/

Although popular figures such as Pope Francis continued to dominate faith coverage in 2015, there were also many chances for "little guys" to shine.

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Every year during the holiday season, my childhood church dedicated one Sunday to a children's program. My friends and I would fill the platform at the front of the sanctuary, being careful not to crush the wings of kids dressed as angels or get poked by the shepherds' staffs.

Sometimes we forgot our lines, and the songs were almost always sung off-key, but we felt like superstars. Every eye in the congregation was on us as we passed around the microphone.

Those performances showed my church leaders' willingness to share the spotlight with the often unheard voices of children. They popped into my mind recently as I thought about my work on the faith beat over the past 12 months.

In many ways, 2015 was a year in which unexpected people took center stage, such as Kim Davis, the Kentucky clerk who said religious freedom laws should protect her choice to refuse marriage licenses to same-sex couples, or Sister Alicia Torres, a Catholic nun who won an episode of the Food Network's "Chopped" cooking competition.

People of faith like these women shared their stories on news segments, in the streets of cities wracked by racial tension, and on social media. They added color and context to our coverage of topics such as same-sex marriage, interfaith activism and climate change.

Of course, some religious voices continued to dominate conversations, such as Pope Francis, who visited the U.S. in September. But even he recognized the value of listening to often unheard voices, making time for seminary students and Catholic families between his high-profile meetings with politicians.

Skyler Sallick and Nimai Agarwal were two of my favorite unexpected faith heroes in 2015. I met the pair of 16-year-olds while I was working on an article about KidSpirit, an online forum where teenagers read and write about moral issues.

Both Skyler and Nimai have led KidSpirit editorial boards, hosting gatherings of classmates to discuss what they call the "big questions." They described these experiences while participating in a panel at the Parliament of the World's Religions in October in Salt Lake City, and they were two of only a handful of teenagers who got a turn at a microphone during the event.

"(Young people) have deep thoughts, and we can articulate them in interesting ways. A lot of times, adults are interested because they didn't realize we have the ability to interact that way," Skyler told me.

Faith leaders such as Pope Francis and institutions such as the Supreme Court affect how religion is practiced and legislated. But faith lives in the hearts of individual believers, who all have valuable, spiritual insights to share.

Next year, I hope everyday people will continue to surprise me with their wisdom about faith as I work to ensure that every voice is heard.
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