The United Religions Initiative is the largest grass-roots interfaith organization in the world, with over 450 member groups (Cooperation Circles or “CCs”) in over 70 countries involving over 1,000,000 people. Next week, on Saturday, June 26, the URI will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding.
Back in July 2000, after several years of planning meetings in many countries and of Global Summits held at Stanford University in California to write the URI Charter, representatives from scores of interfaith groups met at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh PA for the last preparatory Global Summit, culminating in the Charter Signing Ceremony.
On the first day of the Summit, one of the Native American representatives, an Oneida named Gary Smith, came to me and said that whenever a great force for good tries to enter our world, there are always forces working against it. The founding of the URI was one of those times. The Native Americans associated with the URI had been working to protect the founding, but they needed assistance and they were asking the Wiccans to help work magic to protect the URI’s founding. This was the first time in interfaith, to my knowledge, that Native Americans asked Witches to cooperate on working protective magic. I spoke with the other Witches present – Deborah Ann Light and Rowan Fairgrove – and we coordinated our ritual efforts with the Native Americans.
I went on to work with Gary in a number of URI contexts, and he was a member of a CC I helped found: the Spirituality & the Earth CC. Sadly, Gary died in August 2002.
The 2000 Global Summit was also a notable step forward for Witches when it came to the ceremony all attending did together on the campus to bless the URI founding.
The night before I had been asked to perform a “traditional Wiccan foundation blessing” as part of the ceremony. I said “Of course!” and went back to my dorm room to write one. ;-) As I worked on the blessing, I decided that these interfaith folks had known Witches – had know me – long enough that I could be true to my own path and dispense with the all-too-common vagaries of “the Lady and the Lord” and get more specific.
Accordingly, when my part of the ceremony came, I invoked, by name, Hekate and Hermes – as deities watching over crossroads, travelers, and new beginnings – to bless the founding of the URI. I was overjoyed to notice Bishop William Swing, the URI’s founder, raising his arms in invocation with the rest of us. This, to me, was truly a sign of acceptance and I reported it as such in an interfaith report to CoG.
This was noticed by the conservative Christians who are opposed to Christian participation in interfaith work and was picked up and spread all over the internet as proof of how dangerous interfaith work can be for Christians.
Check it out for yourself. Google “Bishop Swing”, “URI”, and “Hekate” and see what you get. Several pages of links, I’ll bet.
Since 2000, the URI has grown and prospered. CoG’s participation has grown and prospered. I have served two terms as a Trustee on the URI’s Global Council. Several CoG members have participated in URI Cooperation Circles, including:
* The Bridge CC
* Expressing the URI in Music & the Arts CC (www.interfaithdesign.org)
* Gifts & Resources CC
* Interfaith Center at the Presidio CC (www.interfaith-presdio.org)
* Marin Interfaith Council CC (www.marinifc.org)
* Multi-Regional Cooperation Circle Support MCC
* Spiritual Alliance for Earth CC
* Spirituality & the Earth CC (www.urimulti.org/index.php/cooperation-circles/multi-spirituality-earth.html
* Think Peace Media & Communications CC (www.thinkpeaceradio.net)
* URI Council for Women CC (www.urimulti.org/index.php/cooperation-circles/multi-uri-council-women.html)
* URI Women’s Coalition MCC (www.urimulti.org/index.php/cooperation-circles/uri-womens-coalition-mcc.html)
* Women’s Interfaith Network of the URI CC (www.urimulti.org/index.php/cooperation-circles/multi-win-uri.html)
The URI remains, in my opinion, one of our best hopes for peace in the world and CoG plays a vital role in the life of the URI.
Every year, my coven celebrates Samhain. Our ceremony usually includes a trance journey to the island of the Dead to speak with the ancestors. I often encounter recently passed interfaith friends on the shore. A few years ago, right after his death, I encountered Gary Smith on the shore. He was intent upon impressing upon me that that the protective work we did at the founding of the URI wasn’t a one-time thing; that such work needed to be done on a regular basis, especially on the anniversary of the URI’s founding: June 26.
I have tried to live up to this, and have shared Gary’s message with those folks in interfaith who wouldn’t be too taken aback by messages from the dead about magical protection rituals. On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the URI’s founding, I feel moved to share Gary’s message with the wider Neopagan / Pagan / Indigenous community who might read this blog and invite you to share – in whatever way your path does so – in the magical / spiritual protection of the URI, that its work “to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” might continue to grow and prosper. So mote it be!
BTW, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, there will be a URI 10th Anniversary Reunion at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio on Saturday, June 26, 4-6pm.
Thanks and Blessed Be,
National Interfaith Representative