With 2017 nearing an end, URI’s Executive Director and North American Regional Coordinator convened a call with URI members in Canada and the US to share highlights from 2017 and a few sneak peeks of what’s ahead in 2018.
A few of the highlights:
URI launched a new website in 2017. Check it out at www.uri.org
4 strategic planning working groups have been active globally, looking at growth and impact, capacity building and leadership, global connectivity and visibility and organization sustainability. You can learn more about their work here.
In Canada and the US:
There were two cluster meetings of URI members, one in Vancouver, BC and one in Sebastian, Fla.
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.
Last week, on April 29, URI leaders marched in the nationwide people’s climate march. At the principle march in Washington D.C., along with sister marches in other cities, they were answering a call to advocate for environmental protection and awareness, particularly with recent political changes in the country.
Fred Fielding, a United Religions Initiative Global Council Trustee and president of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, attended the People’s Climate March in Oakland, California.
“It was a good day to have an interfaith presence, especially around climate change. It’s a moral issue – not just a political issue – how we treat our planet,” he said. “Beyond that, for many folks, it’s a spiritual issue. Interfaith organizations have a role in sharing that wisdom, and the understanding of how we need to relate to our planet in order to care for it and ourselves, so our resources, habitats, and all living things on this planet have a chance.”
Maria Cerniauskas was part of a team of organizers that put together the local march in Johnson City, Tenn. Cerniauskas is also a part of the URI Northeast Tennessee Chapter Cooperation Circle.
“I was born into a world with possibility, where I had a relative sense of security regarding the necessities of life. I didn’t question whether the water was healthy, I didn’t suffer respiratory illness from the air I breathed, I was blessed. That gave me the opportunity to go forward and enjoy life. I want that for future generations,” Cerniauskas said.
This is what motivated her to help organize a day of activities focused on caring for the environment.
“I can’t in my conscious see what’s happening with the planet, see where it’s going, the suffering it’s caused, and do nothing,” she said.
Pastor Paul Slentz passion for the environment and belief that people of faith need to stand up, led him to travel from his residence in Nashville, Tennessee, to the principle march in Washington D.C along with tens of thousands of people. Slentz is a steering committee member of Tennessee Interfaith Power and Light and has worked cooperatively with the URI Nashville Cooperation Circle.
“The reason why I was there is because I feel it is so important that people who care about the Earth speak out. I really think we’re doing such terrible harm, and the consequences are getting clearer and clearer,” he said. “ Also, with the current administration taking action that is so hostile to good care the Earth, I feel that it’s important for all people, especially people of faith, to not be silent, and to speak out and let it be known that we care deeply about this.”
In Washington D.C., Slentz he joined other interfaith groups and Methodist pastors in an interfaith section of the march. As they marched in unbearably hot conditions, a powerful moment occurred in the early afternoon.
“Everyone sat down right at 2 p.m., and then either thumped their chest with their hand or clapped like a heartbeat. Having thousands of people do that at once all at the same time was a very moving moment for me.”
The unity of this moment struck the pastor.
“To know we’re all connected in this struggle together, knowing there are lots of people who are allies, along with everyone else marching in other parts of the country, is one of the most important reasons for having the march. It was definitely an inspiring, encouraging extra boost for the work ahead.”
In organizing a march in Johnson City, Tenn., Maria Cerniauskas and other organizers faced challenges not seen in major cities such as Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles.
“Being in a very conservative part of the country, an overwhelming number of our neighbors voted in the current administration and continue to be very happy with the way things are going. In order to use this as an opportunity for real bridge building, dialogue, and raising awareness around issues that affect everybody, we had to take a very different approach than other marches,” she shared.
They made and marketed their event as extremely child- and family- friendly, which they felt was particularly important given that the next generation is the one who will be dealing most directly with the effects of climate change.
Cerniauskas saw important symbolism in this approach.
“My responsibility is to be a mother to those who aren’t my biological children. I look at all the faces in the parade and think of other parent’s children in other parts of the world that are going to be impacted by the actions of my country. If I keep quiet, I am colluding, and therefore I’m culpable. It’s a moral issue.”
The event in Johnson City consisted of three parts: a family bike ride in the morning, a march, and a tree planting ceremony. Over 700 people participated. In the end, the event was extremely successful in bringing people together to rally around climate justice. Even local law enforcement noticed the turnout.
“One of the police officers commented to one of the organizers that this was the biggest event [for rallying and raising awareness of an issue] event they ever saw in Johnson City. ”
On the other side of the country, Fred Fielding attended the march held in Oakland, California, on a very warm day, not unlike the one in Washington D.C. 2,800 miles away. Along with Fielding, there were other URI members at the event, including people from the California Interfaith Power and Light Cooperation Circle. This event featured 4-5 hours of speakers, followed by a march.
Fielding was guided to participate in climate justice events by his faith.
“As a Christian, I believe we need to be good stewards and act in ways that have minimal effect on the planet…Dominion doesn’t mean to destroy. It means you’re in charge, and you need to take care of things. As a Christian, we need to take care of the planet. It’s the only one we know of and where we can be, and it’s very special for that reason. You look at how, when we decide to take from the planet, it comes back to hurt others in terrible ways. We need to be better and more efficient with how we use our resources, and give respect to all living things.”
Across the country in Nashville, Slentz echoes Fielding’s sentiment.
“I believe we have to have a four-fold response as people of faith: First, to be thankful; second, to take delight in the gift; third, to share it with all people and other creatures on this planet; fourthly, it is our responsibility to protect the planet.”
During these times of anxiety surrounding the safety and future of the Earth, more and more people of faith are learning what their tradition teaches about stewardship and preservation of our planet. As seen during People’s Climate March activities across the country, well-connected, interfaith-based groups can provide hope and solutions in the fight against climate change. URI is seeking to address this by helping grassroots activists connect with one another through an environmental cohort learning group. Click here to read about how participants in this group support one another.
URI’s Environmental Resource Cooperation Circle recently compiled an environmental toolkit with action ideas collected from URI members across several continents. You can view the toolkit at this link. If you would like to get involved in interfaith work and/or the United Religions Initiative, click here to find the Cooperation Circle nearest you.
This piece was written by URI North America Storytelling Intern Ryan Polsky. You can read more of his work here.
Cooperation Circles across Canada, the United States – and the world – celebrated World Interfaith Harmony Week from February 1 – 7. This week is designated by the United Nations to promote harmony among people of different faiths.
Below is a list of events organized by URI members in Canada and the US, listed alphabetically by state/province. You can read about events worldwide on URI’s global blog. To have your event added to this list, fill out this form. You can also check out our Program Bank of event ideas.
The Charter for Compassion observed World Interfaith Harmony Week by presenting five unique “webinar radio” programs at 10 a.m. Pacific Time, 1 p.m. Eastern Time. They will be moderated by Reed Price, Charter coordinator, and former newsroom supervisor for AP and MSNBC.
The Tri-City Interfaith Council co-sponsored a meetup where participants can all talk about and share our faith traditions in the spirit of openness. Guests were welcome to bring bread and a topping from their culture to share.
A member of the URI Global Staff Deepening the Journey Cooperation Circle joined seven women to launch a monthly interfaith conversation group. Women from various backgrounds responded to a neighborhood invitation to gather. Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, and Progressive Christian women came together in a home in Marin County, California, and started to get to know each other. They decided to meet once a month going forward. Next month they will share about their spiritual journeys. “The meeting was simple, authentic, sincere – we wanted to bridge religious divides that exist in our community. We will do this one conversation at a time,” Sally Mahe wrote. ” I was reminded of how enjoyable heart-to-heart conversations are with people I have never met but who are willing to take extra time and make extra effort to bridge religious divides.”
World Interfaith Harmony Week was observed at the United Nations with youth from Cooperation Circles from across North America. They attended the Commission on Social Development and hold interfaith discussions.
We, The World, a URI North America Affiliate, joined with the Committee of Religious NGOs at the Untied Nations for a celebration of the “principles of tolerance and respect for the other.”
Beyond Bridges is an art exhibition of 21 premier Arab, Persian and Jewish artists of Christian, Muslim and Jewish faith backgrounds focusing on what they hold in common. Held at Duke University Chapel and curated by URI Cooperation Circle CARAVAN, “Beyond Bridges” focuses on what “bridges” people to one another, as well as what the three faiths of the artists hold in common across their different creeds and cultures. The exhibition will be on display in Duke Chapel’s main sanctuary (the nave) from February 5 through February 26, 2017. The exhibition is free and open to the public from 8:00 a.m. to 10:00 p.m. daily. An opening panel and reception for the exhibition will be held at the Chapel on Sunday, February 5, at 2:00 p.m.
The Global Clergy Association in Vancouver hosted an interfaith conference on the theme “How Can Interfaith Communication Enhance Harmony?” Read a report of the conference here.
The Surrey Interfaith Council hosted both a music and spoken word concert and ann Interfaith Pilgrimage, which was officially canceled due to a snow storm, but several people showed up anyways and the result was an intimate and transformative day. Click here to read a personal reflection.
Global Interfaith Network to Join Hundreds at Standing Rock for Interfaith Day of Prayer
Standing Rock, ND, USA – December 1, 2016 – A delegation from the United Religions Initiative (URI) will travel to Oceti Sakowin Camp at Standing Rock Sioux Reservation to join hundreds of people of faith for an Interfaith Day of Prayer on December 4, 2016. This comes at the invitation of Chief Arvol Looking Horse, URI member and representative of the Lakota, Dakota and Nakota nations, and 19th Generation Keeper of the Sacred White Buffalo Calf Pipe.
“The hearts of all people’s faiths must now unite in believing we can change the path we are now on,” says Chief Looking Horse. “We, from heart of Turtle Island, have a great message for the world to unite for our children’s future. We are asking the religious people to come and support our youth, to stand side by side with them, because they are standing in prayer. If you can find it in your heart, pray with them and stand beside them.”
The URI delegation will be led by Executive Director the Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr. URI is a global grassroots network of 816 interfaith groups in 96 countries, working across religious and cultural barriers to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for Mother Earth and all living beings.
“From its inception, URI has upheld the fundamental importance of including the diverse voices of Indigenous wisdom-keepers and ensures the full participation of the Indigenous Peoples of Mother Earth in every dimension of our work,” Kazanjian says.
“I am deeply moved by the prayerful and non-violent displays of peace and unity of Indigenous Nations and friends at Standing Rock to protect and restore our Sacred Mother Earth on behalf of the whole human community,” says Kazanjian. “Our prayer is that everyone will see the importance of non-violence and dialogue as the path forward. This day of prayer is specifically focused on our common concern for the environment and protecting our precious planet and water, which is one of the issues that binds together the world’s spiritual traditions. I invite people around the world to send prayers for the Standing Rock community, which we will deliver to those gathered for this sacred ceremony on December 4.”
Kazanjian will be joined by URI North America Regional Coordinator Sari Heidenreich, URI Multiregion Regional Coordinator Frederica Helmiere, URI Environmental Resource Coordinator Katherine Hreib, and Jaya Priya Reinhalter and Fred Fielding, members of the URI Global Council, which serves as the organization’s Board of Directors.
Prayers and statements of support to be presented to the Standing Rock Tribal Council can be submitted by filling out this form or sending them to email@example.com.
Members from Indigenous tribes across the United States and the world – and thousands of supporters – have gathered peacefully at Oceti Sakowin Camp over the last seven months to protect sacred Indigenous sites and prevent the pollution of key water sources. Even as harsh winter weather rages at the camp, more witnesses, representing diverse traditions from around the world, are joining to stand in solidarity with those gathered at Standing Rock. This is a powerful example of strength through interfaith and intercultural cooperation.
URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. We implement our mission through local and global initiatives that build the capacity of our 816 member groups and organizations, called Cooperation Circles, to engage in community action such as conflict resolution and reconciliation, environmental sustainability, education, women’s and youth programs, and advocacy for human rights. Learn more at www.uri.org.
Today we celebrate the United Religions Initiative‘s 16th birthday. Our family has grown to include 787 Cooperation Circles in 95 countries! What a gift to be able to stand with so many at the intersection of our beliefs and our positive social change work.
When Bishop Swing was invited, by the United Nations, to host a large interfaith service in San Francisco, marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the UN Charter, he asked himself:
“If the nations of the world are working together for peace through the UN, then where are the world’s religions?”
This year, URI North America Leadership Council members Fred Fielding, Sukhvinder Vinning (Chair), Adeola Fearon, Johnny Martin, Gard Jameson and former URI North America Regional Coordinator, Sandy Westin reflect on this milestone.
Learn more about the United Religion’s Initiative’s origin story here.
Meet URI North America’s entire Leadership Council here.
A few weeks ago, I spent several days at my first URI North America regional leadership gathering in Nevada. We were hosted by Gard Jameson, a wonderful and hospitable member of our team. (He, his children and wife certainly lived into URI Principle #6 to “give and receive hospitality.”)
Our dynamic family of 10 leadership council members (one who joined virtually), two global support staff and myself spent three very full days dreaming and visioning the way forward for URI in the United States and Canada. We came away with action items, commitments to projects and a renewed grasp of what lies ahead.
But, for me, the most important outcomes were the relationships we built among each other and with new family members.
Our leadership team ate pizza and enchiladas together. We sat in silence together and engaged in dynamic debates. We took turns loading the dishwasher and making coffee. We each shared how we got involved in interfaith work.
There were also the new relationships we built. On Sunday night, I attended one session of the Interfaith Council of Southern Nevada’s Fall Forum. I was absolutely blown away by each of the panelists – all under the age of 27. While there, I met Karen and Lisa, both who welcomed me with open arms.
On our final night in Nevada, the Jameson family hosted a group of about 30 community members who are involved in interfaith work. We sat in a circle and each person shared about their work. We also participated in an appreciative interview led by Sally Mahe.
I could literally see the principles of URI coming to life and feel them facilitating long-lasting relationships.
“I met my soul sister!,” one person said in reporting back her experience with the appreciative interview.
“I just found out she is starting a women’s interfaith dialogue group and I have founded one 13 years ago,” exclaimed another.
The next week, Sally Mahe picked up her phone and heard the voice of a women she met that night. They are now working together on a presentation for the Parliament of the World’s Religions next year.
As watched these relationship unfold, I realized, this is URI — these connections, this sharing from depth of ourselves, this partnering in responsibility and duty, this understanding of each other. It’s done on small scales everyday in each of our lives and ripples around the world through our URI brothers and sisters, who are held together by common principles and practices.
To the Marin County faith leaders gathered together for a program on human trafficking, the message was clear: human trafficking is happening here; it’s happening now; and people of faith must do something about it.
Nearly 40 Christian, Mormon, Pagan, Jewish and Buddhist leaders gathered for the event on October 21 at the First Presbyterian Church in San Rafael, California. The event was organized by the Marin Interfaith Council, a United Religions Initiative cooperation circle.
“There is no greater mitzvah [commandment] than the redeeming of captives,” said Rabbi Stacy Friedman of Congregation Rodef Sholom as she lead the group in a textual study of the Torah. She emphasized that the Medieval Jewish Philosopher Maimonides said everything – even a Torah scroll – should be sold to redeem captives.
She said that, in our community, these captives are those being trafficked for sex or labor.
Diana Doubleday, a leader of the Marin Organizing Committee and a member of Congregation Rodef Sholom, encouraged participants to put aside the notion that trafficking victims come from other countries: in 2012 the California Attorney General’s Human Trafficking Work Group determined that 83% of sex trafficking victims they identified were U.S. citizens.
“Sex trafficking is starting to surpass drug trafficking because [traffickers] can sell a girl over and over again,” said Lynn Bauer of Fairfax Community Church.
Doubleday said people who become victims of trafficking all have one thing in common: they are vulnerable.
“Be aware of people in vulnerable emotional situations,” said Reverend Alison Hendley of the First United Methodist Church in San Rafael.
The most common places to find victims are in the sex, restaurant, construction, hospitality, agriculture, landscaping, fishing, manufacturing and home care industries, said Bauer. Doubleday said people should follow their gut and report anything that doesn’t seem “right” by calling the Human Trafficking Hotline at: 1-888-373-7888.
“Preach on this issue!” she encouraged. “And we can exponentially increase awareness.”
Awareness, or community education, is one of three approaches she recommends to tackled human trafficking. The other two are legal prosecution and victim services.
There are no shelters in Marin County for victims of trafficking.