Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Thanksgiving with Our Homeless Population


Most years the Marin Interfaith Street Chaplaincy presents an interfaith religious service on Thanksgiving Eve.  These events include music and singing, poetry and drumming, stories and prayers.  Some of the speakers come from the homeless population and some are religious leaders.  I’ve participated in many of these services as a representative of the Pagan paths.  (Technically, I’m Witchen, but I try to present the broadest and most diverse faces of Paganisms.)

In the past I’ve chosen to highlight Demeter, for several reasons.  One is that many Americans are familiar with the Greek and Roman myths; often they’ve heard of about Persephone’s descent into Hades and subsequent reunion with her mother Demeter in the Spring.

I also find that short talks that end with a song tend to be more memorable, leaving people with a song in their head.  The song called “Demeter’s Song” contains words, such as “the lover’s smile and the worker’s arm,” that are relevant to contemporary life.  People can relate to them.  They are not obscure or other-worldly. The song is not laden with appeals to a divine entity; rather, it’s sung in the first person and tells who she is, sort of like a brief introduction in a conversational group.

So I briefly tell how the land became barren during the time of Demeter’s grief and search for her missing daughter, and how the hens begin to lay, the orchards to bear fruit, and the people’s hunger is then assuaged when mother and daughter are reunited and Demeter again assures abundance.  I conclude with a duet with my partner Corby of “Demeter’s Song.”[1]

At the time in the service where offerings are proffered and the collection plates are passed, people pile gifts of new sleeping bags and packages of socks at the base of a harvest-bedecked altar.

Afterwards we gather in another room for casual conversation and refreshments.  During this after-gathering both homeless people and other religious leaders have told me how much they’ve appreciated this talk and song about Demeter.  For, although the service is broadly welcoming of all forms of religious expression, the fact of the matter is that, like society at large, it’s overwhelmingly Abrahamic in manifestation.  This year, in fact, there wasn’t even a rabbi or an imam there.  Except for a Buddhist and myself, all speakers came from one or another Christian denomination.  So it’s really great for me to learn how my offering was perceived.

This year’s service came shortly after the terrorist attacks in Paris.  The discord around the world, especially in the Middle East, seems to be expanding.  Only the completely oblivious can remain unaware of these unfortunate developments.  This situation has been on my mind, and I’m sure it’s been on the minds of those at this event.

I was ready to rehearse our harmonies on “Demeter’s Song” again this year, but another song kept nagging me.  Another song about another goddess in another time and place.  I pondered the notion of speaking of something so unfamiliar and remote.  Then I decided to go for it.


I spoke about a goddess named Inanna, who showed herself to the people of the Fertile Crescent thousands of years ago, about 4000 Before the Common Era.[2]  I talked about how the people of her homeland in Mesopotamia (literally, “[land] between rivers,” the Tigris and the Euphrates), now considered to comprise modern day Iraq, Syria, and Kuwait, live in such distress.

I told of Enki’s gift to Inanna of the 10,000 Me, all the gifts of civilization (music, medicine, agriculture, writing, mathematics, weaving, pottery-making, et al.).  I spoke of her journey to visit her sister Erishkigal in her underworld realm of heat and dust, and how she divested herself of her possessions at each of the seven levels or portals, beginning with her shigurra crown, then her bejeweled breastplate, until she arrived before Erishkigal naked.  I said that some consider Salome’s dance of the seven veils to have been a reenactment of Inanna’s descent, but that I was not prepared to argue the merits of that contention; I wanted to emplace her and give them something to think about.

Then I invited them to join me in a spell, a spell to reawaken the spirit of Inanna and all the wonderful gifts she represents – joy and abundance, beauty and prosperity, peace and creativity.  Like the Christian prayers for peace and healing of those gathered, we would do a “working” using our voices in song.  I said that if they were uncomfortable at the thought of performing a spell, they could view what we were about to do as simply a sing-along.

The song I used is a call-and-response in which every line is sung and then repeated by everyone; in other words, each line is sung twice.  They didn’t need to remember anything; all they had to do was to sing back the lines as I sang them. 

I explained that the words and images are from those ancient times when Inanna was worshipped, translated from the original cuneiform into modern English by the late Sumerologist Samuel Noah Kramer, and thence turned into a song.  They are not the words of romantic fantasy.

I asked them to think of the plight of the peoples of the Middle East and to envision them enjoying the gifts of Inanna and the pleasures of life -- safe homes, plenty to eat and drink, dancing.  With our song we would work towards reawakening these qualities among the people of her homeland.  And so we sang:


Barge of Heaven[3]

Your crescent shaped barge of heaven,
So well belayed, so well belayed.
Full of loveliness like the new moon.

Your fertile fields well watered
The hillock lands well watered too.

At your mighty rising
The vines rise up and the fields rise up,
And the desert blooms in green
Just like a living garden.

In the heat of the sun you are shade,
A well of water in a dry dry land.
Swelling fruits to feed the hungry,
Sweet cream to quench our thirst.

Pour it out for me.
Pour it out for me.
Everything you send me I will drink.

I had called for us to sing this through three times.  At the first round, some of the congregants’ responses were tentative.  Responses grew more convincing during the second repetition, until when we arrived at the third repetition, my words and their responses were full-throated and powerful.

I concluded with the words, “By all the power of three times three, as we do will, so mote it be!”

This year at the after-gathering I was a bit apprehensive.  I wasn’t sure if I’d pushed too hard against the prevailing mindset.  The feedback I got, however, reassured me that what we Pagans can bring to the common table of interfaith resonates and carries meaning.  Annie, the wife of the street chaplain who organizes this event, said, “You rocked!”

May the welcome reception I received for this spell-working encourage others who represent a public face of Paganism to make our presence known in a constructive way.

This was my Thanksgiving spell.


[1] Corby and I also sing this song as a form of grace before family holiday meals in our complex multi-religious and atheist families.
[2] You have to say “Before the Common Era” because most people think of BC (instead of BCE) as “before Christ.”  However, it’s more accurate, at least in a broad inter-religious context, to use BCE.
[3] Words adapted from Sumerian text (tr. Thorkild Jacobsen, Diane Wolkstein, and Samuel Noah Kramer)  Music by Starhawk, arranged by Lunacy.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Parliament Report - Rachael Watcher

Dear All:
(Note: This is being posted about a month and a half late because for a while our Interfaith Reps could not access this blog to make their reports.  So here is what I tried to post in October and just made it on the Blog now.)

Whew! What an October eh? I think I broke something trying to keep up. On October 10th I got to the LA airport only to discover that Raul had been held up by the Mexican equivalent of the TSA, missed his flight and had to sleep on the airport floor awaiting the next flight out. He got here around 11AM on the 11th and the next two days were spent on planning and talking business. My Spanish was a bit rusty and had to keep looking up words on the phone. Thank the Gods for smart phone technology.

On the 13th, we left for the Parliament driving a mere 5 hours to arrive in Los Vegas for the night. Price line gave us a great hotel at $59 a night. It was full of cowboys, as the national rodeo was in town. Raul was so excited to see real cowboys, identifiable by their very bowed legs, worn levis and real hats on square. He kept wanting me to take pictures of him with everyone he saw. You should have seen me trying to explain that an indigenous person (translate that as indian) wanted to have his picture taken with a ‘real cowboy’. He kept asking if they really were cowboys and what did cowboys do these days; they were slow talking in typical cowboy style, kind and getting a chuckle out of the irony, reminding me of my own grandad. This close to Samhain I’m sure that he was with us and smiling.

Greg took him to the strip after dark to see all of the lights and got a pic of him with two models, dressed (I use the term advisedly) as bikini clad cops. I told him not to worry, that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas…for a moderate price of course. We teased him unmercifully for the rest of the trip, but he was a good sport about it.

He was amazed at the ease with which he found people who spoke Spanish during the trip. He was always able to find someone who could translate the menu for him or give him directions or explain something.

We got to Salt Lake the next day around three and I immediately tried to contact the person who had the arrival information and meal cash for Arvol Looking Horse and his wife so that I could pick them up at the airport. I failed that in every respect. Anna meantime had come over to see how we were settling in and I texted Paula, Arvol’s wife to notify me when they arrived in a final desperate attempt to catch them before they had to wait at the airport for an indefinite period. Thank heavens she had the foresight to check her phone right off of the flight and responded not more than 15 minutes later telling me that the plane had just landed. I asked Anna to come with me as I had no idea what the Looking Horses looked like and could not leave the car unattended. Of course she didn’t either but with typical Anna organization immediately wrote a sign with “Looking Horse” on it and set out to find them while I drove the car to a type of parking I had never seen before. There is a holding lot at Salt Lake airport that has huge LED signs giving the status of each flight so that you can see when your flight has landed while sitting in your car. Very Cool! After some searching and bag claim issues Anna called and said that they were ready for pick up so I drove over and picked them up and back we went to their hotel.

Not half an hour later Paula called and said that they were walking over to my place so that we could all go to dinner. Every restaurant in or near downtown was full and we ended up driving out of town to a Golden Corel, which is a cross between a Home Town Buffet and a steak house. The food however was pretty good, the steaks cooked to order if that was what you fancied, and of course it was all you could eat. Anna, and Raul were with us along with Greg and Arvol’s daughter, Makasha, a lovely 18 year old who only came in order to spend time with her father so there were seven in a van really made to seat five. I had to cram Anna in the back on a cooler while Greg sat cross legged facing her; a feat he reminded me later that he’s getting a bit old for. Further, as this is a working and not a passenger van, there are no windows past the front seat. None the less Paula did a masterful job of backseat driving. I got a kick out of it.
The next morning I picked them up again and we headed over to the opening of the Parliament with the lighting of the sacred fire at dawn (which was, in typical pagan fashion, two hours late). Arvol remarked that dawn fires were usually lit at dawn, with a wry smile, and I returned that it seemed perfectly in keeping with most pagan events. He just laughed.

The rest of the parliament was really a juggling act, trying to translate for Raul and Alejandrino, and trying to meet all of my obligations while also trying to get to the indigenous tracts. Raul and Alejandrino, found someone to translate for them part time, and Katia, a member of Don’s coven helped out a couple of days, so that they got to feel a bit more independent. I’ve no idea why, with the university there, they did not have volunteers offering to serve as translators but that didn’t happen.
 Alejandrino and Raul
Another puzzle was trying to track the indigenous events. Lewis Cardinal, the head of the indigenous program gave the indigenous people a room in which to handle their own programing, and in typical style they would decide to change something and post a sign with about half of the necessary information. I kept running into an Ojibwa gentleman who introduced himself as White Dove, who was pushing his friend in a wheelchair, and who was also trying to decipher all of the handwritten signs. It was a fun time in general.
Lewis and Arvil
Early on, I ran into Lewis again and introduced him to Raul and Alejandrino. He was pleased to meet them and told me that they should march in the First Nations parade and the opening plenary. When we got there I found that I knew several folks and we passed the time visiting. You may remember my mention of Tokyia Blaney, the young woman who attended our indigenous gathering for the URI. She and her father were there, and Fran├žoise Paulette, a Dene from above the Arctic Circle in Canada also. You may remember that Elder Paulette was the one who needed a circle formed for morning rites at the Parliament in Melburne but was unsure how to proceed, and whom I was able to help in that respect. We chatted, I introduced them to Raul and Alejandrino and we spoke of the importance of holding the energy strong and not letting it dissipate, as we thought we were at the end of the que. As it turns out, a situation that I was not aware of at the time, many indigenous traditions from all over the world were behind us and only the Americas were represented before us.

I should say at this point that I kept trying to put Raul and Alejandrino in line and then step out to sit down but Lewis kept putting me back in line and saying to stay there. I still have no idea why he was so insistent unless he just felt that Raul and Alejandrino would need a translator. I felt a bit strange marching but the people marching with me seemed to think that I was ok there so I gave up and marched along.

Much of my time was spent in reestablishing networks and bonds. I could not go down the hall without being stopped several times, often by people whom I could not remember for the life of me. Going to the bathroom was always a challenge, hoping to make it in time. At one point though going to the bathroom proved a serendipitous moment. I met a woman with whom I had been trying to connect since she has spoken at an indigenous talk on prophesy. She is carrying the waters of the world for an elder doing international work. As it turns out she lives about half an hour from me and is very excited to exchange waters with Don and our Waters of the World project.

I was actually surprised at the number of folks that I knew who made it to the Parliament and much of our time was taken up with lunches and dinners in order to have a bit of time to meet outside of the noise and chaos of the Parliament. Even Imam Mallek, head of the Parliament, stopped to chat and meet Raul and Alejandrino. He and I know each other through NAIN and Carpe Diem, and I thought it kind of him to take the time to say hi.

The last two days Alejandrino insisted that we get up at 5AM to do a live radio interview back in Ayacucho Peru which took all of about 5 minutes and of course there was no going back to bed so the day was up and running. I would hardly see Greg all day, and then we would be meeting with someone for dinner. By the time I fell into bed as soon as I could get there I was exhausted.

We left early on the day after the Parliament heading out to Bryce Canyon after dropping Alejandrino at the airport. We wanted to show Raul what we worshiped on this sweet Mother Earth. He scarred the Hel out of me. He would stand right on the edge of a three hundred foot drop to take a picture then turn around with his back to it for someone to get a picture of him. I asked him if he were mad, and he just laughed and reminded me that he is from the Andes.

That evening we stayed outside of Zion and hit it the next morning then on to the Rez and the Grand Canyon. He was really excited to see real Navajo people and talk with them about experiences shared among the two groups. A young girl recounted that though things weren’t like that anymore her mother had told her how it used to be. It was clear that she couldn’t quite relate, but she is learning Navajo to honor her grandmother. He bought something for his wife and daughters there and took a picture of himself holding the ornament along with the person who made it.

When we got to the Grand Canyon we were so fogged in that you practically couldn’t see your hand in front of your face. A crow came out of the fog and begged me for food so I fed him a French fry and Raul was delighted. The crow chittered at me for a bit, I answered back, fed him another piece of fry for the conversation and we drove on. Further down the road we were able to get under the cloud cover and Raul got a good look at the canyon for the first time. Once again he had to stand right at the edge of a drop right to the bottom in order to take a picture. I am now almost entirely grey!

We got home at noon the next day and all of us spent the rest of that day resorting luggage, washing and catching up on email. I copied all of his pictures to disk and cleaned his chip as well as buying another for him. That should keep him for a while.

As we chatted about plans in general I discovered that he is very involved in a national indigenous organization working to improve indigenous rights and reserve territories, customs, and language.
He swore that he would write a report on that. I have his pictures.

The last day of his stay an indigenous friend of ours took us to the Mission San Juan Capistrano. Raul wanted to see her again as they had served on the first URI Global Council together, and he had also wanted to see where the Swallows came when they left Argentina. The mission has been preserved in a state of arrested decay with beautiful gardens and fountains. It’s a major tourist attraction and there are translation machines in a dozen languages including Spanish so Raul could get a comprehensive explanation of much of the mission.

Adaelia pointed out to us where the natives had implanted crystals and shells into the mud of the walls putting their own magic into the building and making it theirs despite the teachings of the Franciscan Priests. We both cried at the thought of a people taking back in the land in such a magical, spiritual way, and the only way they had.

Raul was appalled at what he perceived as a waste of food. A long grape arbor filled with grapes now drying and useless, cactus plants loaded with Tunas going unharvested, and a Guava tree dropping ripened fruit by the bushel. Those we ate, and then ate some more. They were the small green oblong variety of Guava, not at all like the ones you see in the stores, with white meat much like fig inside; very sweet.

We afterward went to lunch and Raul asked many questions about the “Sweet Pea” people. Adelia explained that they still had 80% of their language and one fluent speaker of a close relative in that language group so people were learning to speak it again. She showed us her peoples baskets and the plants who’s fibers were used to make them. We talked about the imprisonment of the women by the mission and forced marriage to Mexican men from Mexico. We also talked about the fact that the Mission curators were making changes and trying to be more honest in their portrayal of the Mission’s treatment of the first people. Of course all of the people with indigenous blood who live in the area are allowed to enter the mission for free and bring guests so our visit was free.

After a lingering meal, we finally headed back to the LA airport and dropped Raul off. He was headed to a two day meeting in Buenos Aires with the indigenous rights organization that I spoke of earlier before finally returning to JuJui and his family. I just heard yesterday that he had returned safely and would write us a report soon.

Raul has also written a report which I am currently translating and it should be here soon in English and Spanish. Without the generous contributions of the Covenant Raul would not have been able to attend this event. 
Hugs to All 
R

Sunday, November 8, 2015

United Religions Initiative, Global Council meeting, Salt Lake City, October 2015



United Religions Initiative, Global Council meeting, Salt Lake City, October 2015

(Just so you can put faces to names...)


* Sitting on Floor, L to R: Musa Sanguila (Muslim / the Philippines), Ros Sam An (Buddhist / Cambodia)

* Seated in Chairs, L to R: Kiran Bali (Hindu / United Kingdom - GC Chair), Dr. Kazi Nurul Islam (Muslim / Bangladesh), Rt. Rev. William "Bill" Swing (Episcopal / USA - President & founder), Alejandrino Mejia Quispe (indigenous Quechua / Peru), Vrajapati Das (Hindu / India), Ciro Gabriel Avruj ("Spiritual" / Argentina)

* Standing, L to R: Prof. John Kurakar Christian / India), Petar Gramatikov (Bulgarian Orthodox / Bulgaria), Swamini Adityananda Saraswati (Hindu / India), Rev. Victor Kazanjian (Episcopal / USA - Exec. Director), Prof. Genivada Cravo (Spiritualist Christian / Brazil), Elder Don Frew (Wiccan / USA), Rattan Channa (Sikh / Kenya), Audri Scott Williams (Christian & Indigenous / USA), Chief Phil Lane Jr. (Yankton Dakota & Chickasaw / USA), Bart ten Broek (Protestant / the Netherlands), Sherif Awad Rizk (Christian / Egypt), Ravindra Kandage (Buddhist / Sri Lanka), Ed Bastian (Buddhist / USA), Elisabeth Lheure (Baha'i / Spain), Peter Mousaferiadis (Greek Orthodox / Australia), Marianne Horling (Humanist / Germany), Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Traditional / Nigeria), Becky Burad (Christian / USA)

* Not in Photo: Sam Wazan (Muslim / USA)

* Not Present: Tareq Al-Tamimi (Muslim / Palestine), Most Rev. John Baptist Odama (Catholic / Uganda), Ashraf Samir (Muslim / United Arab Emirates), Rebecca Tobias (Jewish / Canada),

I am sure that there is not a more diverse or global Board of Directors in the world today!

(And 27 present out of 31.  Not bad.)

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Friday, November 6, 2015

United Religions Initiative, annual Global Council meeting, Day 5 (last day)



United Religions Initiative, annual Global Council meeting, Day 5 (last day)
October 14, 2015
                                  
(Note: When a person is mentioned for the first time, their name is in boldface.  More information about each person can be found on the URI web site at: http://www.uri.org/about_uri)

Wednesday started with a blessing from the Africa Region.  Rattan read something from the Sikh scripture, the Adi Granth, and Elisha told a story about being a tribal chieftain in Nigeria.

I sat next to Swamini, who asked if I was doing better and suggested Reiki.  When I told that Reiki and other magical approaches were the only ones that had helped, she said "Oh!  Of course.  You're a Wiccan.  You're open to good things."  I smiled and thought that would make a good slogan: "We're Wiccan; we're open to good things!"

After singing "Happy Birthday!" to Sue Martin (Christian / USA - Director of Development), Sally asked us to do something for the CBS Christmas Eve special.  Apparently a song will feature in the special.  It's sole lines are : "I will be your standing stone.  I will stand by you."  (No one seemed to notice how Pagan this was.)

Sue, Becky Burad (Christian / USA - Treasurer), and Bill led a session on long-term sustainability.  Bill told a story about another major, global interfaith organization that was already almost 70 years old when the URI got started.  They didn't think that the URI would amount to much.  Now, while they have a lot of global connections, they don't do very much because their funding can only support a staff of two.  "Whatever we do," Bill said, "we'll need staff to support it, and funding to support the staff.  If we don't have a President's Council to secure the funding, we could be in the same shape in the future."  Bill talked more about the President's Council and its role in the URI.

Bill said that he had two and a half goals in his retirement:
            1) Write a book about the beginnings of the URI (or else someone else would write it).  That's just been accomplished.  A Bishop's Quest: Founding a United Religions is available on Amazon.
            2) Create an endowment to fund the basic operating costs of the URI.  That probably needs to be ~$50-60 million and it's in the works.
            2 1/2) Write a book called The Sacred and the Silly, collecting some of the ridiculous stories from his years as Bishop and URI founder.  He has about 150 pages done.

Bill asked us to consider the support of the URI in three large categories:
            1) The "URI budget" really means the Global Support Office, the Global Staff, the costs of Global Council meetings, and underwriting Regional Assemblies.  But there's also...
            2) The money being raised by the CCs themselves to support their activities.  We did an assessment of this in 2000.  If we excluded the handful of CCs whose own budgets were in the $100k to $1 million range, then the CCs were raising about 5 million on their own.
            3) With a Staff of 26 people serving over 700,000 members, it was obvious that 90% of the work in the URI was being done by volunteers.

Bill said that, with the growth of the URI since 2000, if we did an assessment today (which needs to be done!) of funds and in-kind donations circulating in the totality of the URI it could well reach half a billion dollars!

Bill asked how the URI network does this:
            1) Self-sufficiency.  The 745 CCs raise their own funds.  This makes the URI unlike every other global interfaith organization.
            2) Circulation.  Now, it mostly moves from the center outwards.  He suggested the creation of a Global Council Assembly fund.  If everyone contributed a little bit towards getting the Trustees together once a year, that would take a large burden off of the Global Budget.  He also said that we need to encourage more CC to CC giving.  (I volunteered that the Spirituality & the Earth CC has been doing that since the founding of the URI; paying for English lessons for Latin American Trustees, travel costs for indigenous representation at interfaith events, and more.  I also explained about the use of youcaring.com to raise money to bring Raul to the Parliament of the World's Religions.)
            3) Equity.  We need to balance the value of money and labor so that everyone's contribution is honored.  We also need to understand the relative value of a dollar in different parts of the world.  I suggested that, rather than try to track currency exchange rates, we think in terms of the cost of something like a loaf of bread in different parts of the world.

In the discussion of all of this, several people brought up the need to more clearly explain to prospective CCs the benefits of membership.  I brought up our "What CoG Already Does for You" pamphlet and suggested that we include among the benefits of membership the opportunity to share in the vision of the URI and the opportunity to make a difference in the world at a larger scale through supporting the work of other CCs.  When I interviewed 14 CCs in 2002 at the URI's Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, each of them explained how they raised money in very different ways in 14 countries around the world.  In addition to their direct fund-raising activities, every single CC added how important it was to be part of a larger, global network - to be able to speak to donors with the gravitas lent by such a network and to know that they had the intangible support of hundreds of thousands of people who believed in and encouraged their work.

When we had to cut short this discussion to move on in the agenda, Sally mentioned to me that in an open discussion, the white men always speak up first, giving them more input into the meeting before we have to cut it short.  I added that it's always the white, native-English-speaking men.  This is a cultural problem that we need to address.  The fact is that we do have limited time to spend on a number of topics, so how can we make sure that voices that are not inclined to just jump in will always be included and heard?

Becky said that all of the Trustees were very generous and that we should be proud.  She reminded us of the traditions of giving in our various faith traditions.

Sam An said that Interfaith Youth of Cambodia CC is not registered with the government, so it is illegal for it to receive donations.  This is a problem in most of the world.  It's not just an issue of being a non-profit and giving donors a tax-deduction, its that it is illegal for an organization to receive money from outside unless it is registered with the government, and registration can be a long and difficult process.  Many countries' government are very suspicious of non-business organizations.

Kiran agreed that the dynamics of giving are very different from place to place.  In most of Europe, individuals do not give money to charities - governments do that.  Currently, in the UK, there is a lot of concern re: violent extremism.  If a group can sow that it is doing something to address that, then there is government funding available.

Elisha talked about how CCs were able to work together to create a Christian / Muslim Tolerance Project that brought peace to an area of northern Uganda.

I said that it's great that we can share stories of successful fundraising efforts here, but we need to share them across the URI network.  Can we create a section of the global website dedicated to sharing information between CCs about successful fundraising, perhaps sorted by Region?  There was interest in pursuing this when we are back home.

Sue reminded us that the global organization does not receive support from corporations or religious groups.  This has been a policy since the beginning, to avoid the appearance of undue influence.  She, like many of us, believes that there are interested donors around the world; we just need to find them.

For the next phase of the discussion, Becky directed our attention to the Essential URI Handbook, pages 6-7 - Global Council Roles & Responsibilities.  There was an effort to make the wording of the Handbook as simple as possible, to ease translation into many languages, but some needs to be looked at and understood clearly.  Under the section on "Leadership, Governance, & Oversight":

2. Accepting accountability for both the financial stability and the financial future of URI.
3. Approving URI’s annual budget, audit reports, and material business decisions; being informed of, and meeting all legal and fiduciary responsibilities.

Becky explained that this was all about accountability.  The Global Council is responsible for all resources and assets, management, insurance, employee benefits, outside audits, etc.

11. Collectively, GC Trustees will play an active role in fundraising for URI.  Individually, Trustees will consider URI a giving priority and make annual gifts commensurate with their capacity. So that URI can credibly solicit contributions from donors, URI expects 100% of the Global Council to make some annual financial contribution.

Sue explained that it's always very important to be able to say to a prospective donor that 100% of our Board contributes to the organization (whatever the individual amount).  She said that the main reason that people don't give to a good cause is that they haven't been asked.  She explained "planned giving".

When Sue started to talk about the URI endowment, Sam asked for an explanation of "endowment" for the group.  Victor did so, and Swamini added that this is often called a "corpus fund" in other parts of the world.

Genivalda brought up an idea she had mentioned before called "$1 for URI".  We should ask each CC for $1 - "although you can give more" - so everyone feels that they are participating in supporting the global URI.  Also, imagine going to donors and being able to say "Do all of our Trustees give?  Not only do they, all of our Cooperation Circles do as well!"

Our discussion on funding identified four broad sources:
            1) Corporations - We should approach those with a mandate to address social obligations.
            2) Individuals - We should identify and approach those with a personal interest in using their money to support social good.
            3) Earned Income / Goods - We should consider how the URI could become a global marketplace.
            4) Government - We should identify sources of governmental funding.

We broke into four groups to look at these, one group for each source this.  My group looked at Individuals and included Vrajapati, John, Biff Barnard (Christian / USA - President's Council), Kazi, Peter, and me.  Highlights from our group...
* Reach through our CCs to find people with funds.
* Establish a Fundraising Resource CC in the Multiregion to investigate the different "cultures of giving" around the world and collect advisors knowledgeable in local fundraising to assist CCs.
* Approach existing members better.
* Get clarity re: who are we asking for?  Global Operations?  The Endowment?  The Regions?  Specific CCs?
* Perhaps we should try to establish Regional Endowments?
* Investigate the laws from country to country to ensure that the fundraising methods we recommend are in fact legal.  What's legal in one country may not be in another.
* Establish guidelines for building a case-by-case fundraising strategy.
* Revive and circulate some of our earlier guidelines restricting funding from corporations or single-faith religious groups.

Highlights from the other groups...

Corporations:
* Develop a "message" of what the URI is and how it benefits corporations through the activities of its CCs and through creating a more stable social environment of goodwill and cooperation between religions.  Let's face it - religions being at peace is good for business (well, most businesses).
* Some sort of "stamp of approval" from the URI would help local groups approach corporations.

Earned Income
* The URI could host a Global Marketplace where goods produced by CCs around the world could be sold.
* We should encourage the CCs in the telling of stories.  Almost all CCs have compelling stories of their founding, their challenges and successes, and more.  Perhaps we could assist with getting such material published.
* We could investigate employing our expertise to provide interfaith education in schools.
* We could look into how goods could be exchanged between CCs.

Government
* It was noted that government grants are usually for particular projects.  Concern was expressed that such funds may come with strings attached.
* Some Trustees already work with USAID and have advice on writing grant requests.
* Someone pointed out that, in explaining the amount of work put in by URI members, if each person's in kind work was valued at just $20 a year, that adds up to $14,000,000!

Someone suggested that the Global Council should become self-funding.  Another, that the CCs could participate hosting educational trips for donors.

All of this just took us to lunch!  Over lunch, I sat with Sherif, Elisha, Bart, Petar, and Elisabeth.  We talked about the refugee problems coming from the Near East and the effect on Sherif's & Petar's countries (Egypt & Bulgaria).  We also talked about the state of interest in secession in Elisabeth's Catalonia.

After lunch, Liam had a short time to finish his presentation from the day before.  I was both sorry I had missed it and sorry he only had a short time today, as it was one of the most interesting and useful.  He was addressing how we can tell if the network is working - how well the organization is serving its constituent parts and how much the whole & the parts are having an impact on the world in relation to the three "interrelated & mutually reinforcing"  goals of the URI:
            * to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation;
            * to end religiously motivated violence;
            * to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.

(It was way more comprehensive and densely packed than I could get down in my notes, but afterwards he agreed to send me his notes.)

Some of the measurable indicators that the organizational network is working:

* Number of new CCs generated each year and geographic coverage of CCs.
* Number & % increase in youth & women leading and participating in CCs.
* % of CCs that partner with other CCs to carry out joint initiatives / activities.
* % of CCs receiving support such as CC exchanges, trainings, participation in URI events to raise the CCs' profile.
* Total number and % of CCs / people who have been trained in peacebuilding.
* % of CCs sharing resources and information with one another.
* Numbers of CCs linked to funders or resources.
* Number and quality (scale of 1-5) of URI partnerships with institutions such as police, military, schools / universities.

I've listed the above at some length for a reason.  Early in the history of the URI, I pointed out - often and to anyone who would listen - that the structure of the URI and the structure of CoG were extremely similar.  (So much so that, to this day, I keep slipping up and call their Global Assembly "Grand Council" or our National Board "the Global Council".)  This should come as no surprise since the URI was trying to create a structure that would "allow for the maximum autonomy in the local unit, while providing for networking at the global level)".  Where have we heard that before?  This is why I chair the URI's Bylaws Committee - I am very familiar with these structures.

Early on, they had a lot to learn from us.  We'd tried the same things already and had discovered the pitfalls.  After 15 years of experimenting at a global level with 745 local units, I sometimes think we can learn from them.

Some things obviously don't apply, of course, and others have to be scaled down, but try reading the list above substituting "coven" for CCs and "CoG" for URI.  Is there insight here for CoG's future?  Could we be the URI of the Craft?  Just food for thought.

Where the analogy really breaks down, however, is in the activities of the CCs in their communities.  The URI CCs are promoting interfaith in a way that covens usually do not.

Some of the measurable indicators that Cooperation Circles are (not could be, are) having an impact:

* Communities celebrate each other's religious and/or cultural holidays and events (through CC events).
* Religious leaders engaged in dialogue (through CC events/activities).
* Establishment of CC-sponsored interreligious councils to solve disputes.
* Reduction of interreligious/intercultural violence (in community of a CC).
* Number of children in schools with curricula and activities promoting interfaith harmony (CC-School initiatives).
* Tolerance for building of religious shrines of minority religions (in CC community).
* Media promotion of interfaith harmony (positive stories of interreligious cooperation, reduced use of stereotypes, voices of minority heard, etc.).
* Children from different faiths/cultures play together.
* Cleaner environment (through CC activities).

Some of this still applies to covens, but would have to be re-interpreted intro a Craft / Pagan context.

There's more, but this gets the idea across, I think.  Maria added that w do a comprehensive interview with a CC when it joins, and another a year later, so we at least can see how much impact belonging to the network has had on a CC over the course of its first year.

There was a LOT of discussion of this information - other indicators to consider, how to collect info about them, how to verify the perceived impact, etc.  Liam reminded us to go look at the CC profiles on the URI website to learn more about what our CCs are doing around the world.

I URGE everyone to go read a few of these.  The work of CCs in Africa in particular is truly inspiring: http://www.uri.org/cooperation_circles/cooperation_circle_profiles  I am very proud to be making whatever small contribution I am to facilitate the work of such CCs.

During a short break, Bill said that he would be giving out and signing copies of his new book - A Bishop's Quest - at the back of the room.  The book tells the story of the founding of the URI from Bill's point of view.  Many of you may remember the struggle we had over the inclusion of "Earth" in the URI's purpose statement back at the founding of the organization.  Bill's comments on the Preamble, Purpose, and Principles of the URI on pages 225-234 of this book shed some light on his understanding of these events and make interesting reading for Pagans.  Whatever its history, the URI is completely supportive of environmental issues now and the Environmental Resources CC - founded by Bill Swing - was the first Resources CC to be created.

When we reconvened, we opened with a blessing from the Southeast Asia & the Pacific Trustees - Musa, Peter, and Sam An.  We then started the actual business meeting of the Global Council. 

Last year, when we first were given copies of the Essential URI Handbook, I noted that one of the "Key Principles of Good Practice for Individual Trustees" was #7 - "A Trustee keeps GC deliberations confidential."  I asked how that applied to my reports and the ensuing discussion reached no conclusion.  As a result, I errored on the side of caution and asked folks to look at my existing reports and see if they were okay.

No one voiced objections to me, which means either they didn't object or didn't look.  Either way, I'll continue to proceed with caution, which has the added advantage of reducing what might be too much detail in my reports anyway.  :-)

Kiran opened with a moment of silence.  She then went around the room and asked each Trustee for their thoughts on the material covered so far.  Items of greater and lesser import came up:

* Questions about how we would be proceeding with finalizing the Strategic Plan for the next few years.
* A recommendation that, in the future, we have our meetings at the same place as our hotel rooms, to make it easier to grab catnaps.
* Will there be a press release about this meeting?  Yes.  (Note: Hasn't happened yet.)
* We have a challenge in working on long-range tasks that will take several years when half of our Global Council is new every two years.  We always have to start over to some degree.  Staggered terms may have helped with continuity, but it has created other problems.
* It's very difficult to find times for Global Council conference calls when we have folks in 13 time zones!  Some of us are always having difficulty staying awake.
* Several people talked about the miracles of getting us all together at all and of the work that we do in such a short time.

* Victor talked about how we create powerful bonds when we come together and then try to maintain them over long distances.  The tech we have is helpful, but inadequate and we need to keep exploring new tech and new ways to not only maintain, but empower, community.  (I couldn't help but think much more true this is of the Multiregion.)
* Bill noted that, in addition to our one face-to-face meeting each year, we have three conference calls.  What if, for each of those calls, one Trustee from each Region was brought to San Francisco for a mini-face2face as well as the call?  It could be a different set of Trustees each time, rotating through the Trustees from each Region. 
* Is there a way that the CCs could participate more in the work of the Global Council?
* One of the non-English-speakers pointed out that they really need the face to face communication, as seeing the facial expressions is a big help in understanding the English.  Victor said that he has been in very effective video conferencing and that this was something we could look into.
* We will be going into elections in 2016 for four Regions: Latin America & the Caribbean, Middle East & North Africa, Multiregion, and North America.
* Biff, on behalf of the President's Council who were with us, thanked the Global Council for the experience and for the work we do.

We took a 10 minute break and took a group photo.

After the break, we studied and passed a draft budget that will go back to the Finance & Operations Committee for tweaking as the year comes to an end, then come back to the GC for final approval at the end of the year.  The projected 2016 budget at this point is a little over $3.4 million.  Given the size of the organization, that's fairly lean and trim.  Phil said that, based on his experience with other large non-profits, he was stunned that we were doing so much with so little. Victor said that he expected our budget to grow to around $4.5 million by 2020, given our current growth in CC membership.

Phil asked how many of the Trustees do not have internet access?  Just one.  How many are on Skype?  Almost all.  How many are on facebook?  Almost all.

After this (and aware that our time was getting short), Victor and I gave a brief report on the status of our Bylaws Committee.  We have partnered with the Mills Legal Clinic at Stanford Law School, which is taking on our Bylaws, pro bono, as a seminar project.  They have all the reports from the Bylaws Committee so far and will go over our existing Bylaws - mindful of our needs and intentions, California non-profit law, and precedents of best-practices - and come back to us with a binder full of recommendations.  Our Bylaws Committee will then go over those recommendations and report back to the Legal Clinic, which will then prepare a final report for our Global Council.  Our existing Bylaws Committee includes: Kiran, Victor, John Weiser, John Kurakar, Genivalda, Vrajapati, and me as Chair.

This concluded our business session and the official 2015 annual meeting of the Global Council.  We had about an hour to relax and chat with munchies before the evening program.  At 7pm a bus arrived full of members of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament of the World's Religions, many of who I recognized from previous interfaith events.  Andras was there, but not Phyllis.  She was busy preparing the Womens' Assembly that was starting the next day.  Andras stood out as the only representative from a "non-Big 5" religion.

We went around the room and everyone introduced themselves.  In my opinion, the Parliament Trustees were surprised at the diversity - of both religion and nationality - of our Trustees.  Later, over dinner, I think they were also surprised at the scope of the actions in the field of our Cooperation Circles - in conflict transformation, economic development, education, health care, nuclear disarmament, refugee and displacement issues, women’s empowerment., etc., etc.  I think they thought we were just a bunch of dialogue groups.  Just my impression.

One of the conversations I had over dinner was with Suzanne Morgan (http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/programs/sacred-space-15).  Back in 2004, I was one of the organizers of the first Interfaith Sacred Space Design Competition (www.interfaithdesign.org).  The Parliament was one of the sponsors of the competition.  Suzanne was the representative they sent to be one of the Jurors of the competition.

The other conversation I had dinner was with Dr. Kusumita Pederson (http://www.parliamentofreligions.org/users/dr-kusumita-p-pedersen).  We talked about the Spirituality & the Earth CC and the Lost & Endangered Religions Project (www.religionsproject.org).  She was interested in the work we do in south India.

Eventually, they caught their bus back and we caught our shuttles back to the hotel.  And so ended a very long day of interfaith... and the Parliament would start the next morning!

More to come…

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative