On Tuesday mornings, Bentley Stewart prepares to share a meal with several dozen of his friends experiencing homelessness. Before they eat, Stewart passes a feather around the circle and asks people to share whatever is on their heart. Some speak of a profound, heartbreaking prayer request. Others read a weather report. One man stands up and sings.
The off-key song is somewhat awkward, somewhat long, and a little wild, but “we’re all a little wild, and if you’re living with the traumatization of living outdoors, of course you’re a little wild,” Stewart said.
During the first concerts, different choirs would participate throughout the festival, performing different songs, before gathering together at the end for a combined piece. When Tiffny Weighall took over planning the festival four years ago, she transformed it into a festival with different types of musical expression.
As five panelists of different religious backgrounds discussed their traditions, women around the room at an iftar held in Syracuse, NY, began to latch onto the thread of commonality that brought them together.
The Women’s Iftar was the first of its kind organized by Women Transcending Boundaries, a URI Cooperation Circle and egalitarian community of women from different faith and cultural traditions that seeks to educate and serve their community. The shared iftar, a meal eaten by Muslims after sunset during Ramadan, was as much of a way to empower women in their community as it was to break fast.
As Regional Coordinators for the United Religions Initiative, one of the core parts of our job is to listen to our members – to understand what their local context, the projects and programs they are working on, their dreams for the future and current struggles. While the phone, email, Zoom and Skype are great tools to do this, nothing can replace the opportunity to do this listening face-to-face. So, we set out on a 9-day trip to visit our grassroots members and like-minded interfaith peacebuilding organizations to build relationships; discern trends; help make capacity-building connections to resources, organizations and individuals; and discern how to URI can continue to grow in response and service to our member’s needs and request. Continue reading “Roadtripping & Learning from Interfaith Peacebuilders Across the Northeast U.S.”
In a world where 19,000 children die around the world, due to effects of malnutrition and disease. In a world where famine is gripping South Sudan and Yemen and tens of thousands are at risk of literally starving to death. In a world where chemical warfare in Syria is a game of blame. In a world where Muslim girls are brutally beaten to death because of “road rage.” In a world where a building that houses hundreds of poor immigrants simply burns them alive. In a world where there are more slaves than ever in the world’s history of slavery. In a world where vans are used as weapons. In a world where men with guns and bombs kill our children while they attend school and concerts. In a world where prisons are an industry and those of color pay for the greed. In a world where the President of what was the most thriving nation on the planet, brags about grabbing women by their private parts. In a world where two men die defending a Muslim woman on a train. In a world where there are more refugees than ever before fleeing their homeland for a better life. In a world where those that are paid to protect us, in actuality, shoot us. In a world where we are closer to a nuclear war than we have ever been …
Instead of looking at the closing of Scarboro Mission after over 30 years of service as the end of an era, Director of Interfaith Work Paul McKenna sees it as an opportunity to take their ministry to college campuses.
Although Scarboro Mission as we know it will disband this year, their work will continue, beginning with the opening of an Interfaith Chair of Studies at Ontario University. The transition from Scarboro Mission as a stand-alone organization into the academic world is being funded by large donations given to Ontario University in Scarboro Mission’s name. These donations will enable the school to set up a “professorship” that will permanently build a study of interfaith, McKenna said.
We are excited to announce that this October, delegates from approximately 25 grassroots interfaith peacebuilding organizations will meet face-to-face on in Sebastian, Florida!
This will be the first time United Religions Initiative (URI) members from the southeastern United States have gathered in-person and we are so looking forward to being together for a time of sharing and learning. We will be hosted from October 27-29 on the campus of Kashi, an interfaith intentional community that is a Cooperation Circle member of the United Religions Initiative.
Leaders in interfaith communities knew they had to meet protest with peace when the largest anti-Muslim grassroots organization in the U.S. announced demonstrations to take place on June 10.
“It was incredible to see the turnout [of counter-protesters] who were there to show solidarity,” said Kate Chance, interfaith coordinator at the Islamic Networks Group (ING), a nonprofit organization that counters bigotry through conversation and interfaith engagement. “I thought it was really peaceful as a whole,” she said of the Unity Rally she attended in San Jose, Calif.
Across the country, interfaith activism is spurring in high schools across the country. These grassroots activists are inspiring their peers to learn about different religions through clubs that promote dialogue and service.
In 2014, Sophomore Jaxon Washburn found himself with a diverse group of friends at Arizona College Prep School in Chandler, Ariz. At lunchtime, they ended up discussing each other’s cultures, backgrounds, and beliefs. These conversations led to a desire to start a formal interfaith club. Soon, the World Religion and Tolerance Society (WRTS) was born.
In April, the United Religions Initiative was honored to win the One Billion Acts of Peace member contest with the prize being for one URI member to attend the Conference on World Affairs. That member was Kari Cameron, Associate Director of the Center for New Americans at Interfaith Works in Syracuse, New York. Below is her reflection on the experience.
Is learning an act of peace? As I attended the Conference on World Affairs I was able to relax and learn for the sake of learning. I had no responsibilities and no agenda. This conference is put on by the University of Colorado and is in its 69th year. Through the generosity of Peace Jam (and my good luck that comes through on occasion in the most unexpected and fabulous ways), I was able to take a short break from my job as a social worker in Syracuse, New York, and visit stunning Boulder for this symposium on just about everything. If a subject involved anything to do with this world and how we live in it, there was a session with a panel of experts. I learned about the politics of the South China Sea, the realms of influence of ISIS, and watched a fascinating documentary that used rotoscopic animation to recreate history.