Friday, March 8, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 3

Thursday, March 7 -- Everyone has been trying very hard to get to know every other person here.  I had breakfast with Osama "Sam" Wazan (Muslim / USA) and Ravi Kandage (Buddhist / Sri Lanka).  Sam has given each of us a copy of his book, The Last Moderate Muslim.  The few folks here who have read it have given stellar reviews.  He was interested to hear a brioed version of the story of my 28 years in interfaith work (18 in the URI), while I was intersted in his experince as a Muslim in the United States.  Ravi told us the history of religious conflict in his country, especially between the Sinhalese people in the south and the Tamils in the north.  He was careful to distinguish between the majority of peace-loving Tamils and the violent Maoist Tamil Tigers.  I was glad to hear this, since my Lost & Endangered Religions Project ( does a lot of work with Tamil religion is Tamil Nadu in southern India.

When we gathered for the morning session, Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan) opened with a prayer and a candle lighting.  Diana Whitney asked us each to sum up our feelings about THIS Global Council were so far.  There were many expected statements, but one stood out... the Honorable Elisha Buba Yero (Christian & Indigenous / Nigeria) said that he sees something in all of us, a "burning flame in each of our hearts", a desire for one goal: "to make other people as happy as we are".

We started engaging with the URI's Strategic Plan 2011-2014, a 16-page plan for how the URI would operate and how we would measure success thaqt had been adopted by the previous Global Council in 2010.  The Plan focuses on four "strategic priorities and goals":
       1. The Global Council: Increasing Strength & Sustainability
       2. The Hub (i.e. the global staff): Building URI's Operational Capacity for the Future
       3. URI in the World: Managing Regional Growth; Promoting Impact & Sustainability (incl. at the UN)
       4. URI Global Initiatives: Developing the Capacity of Emerging Interfaith Leaders

Associate URI Director Debra Bernstein led us through a PowerPoint presentation on how much had been achieved in each of these areas and how much work remains to be done.  (Rather than go through all of this, just go to the URI site at for a LOT of info about URI activities around the world.)  We worked on this for about three hours.  At one point, I stepped out to take a rest back in my room, as my hand had started shaing badly.  (Long story, if you don't already know it.)

Over lunch, several people who knew I would be leading a discussion of the URI's Bylaws later wanted to speak with me about their own issues with our Bylaws.  I duely made notes of matters to take to the Byalws Committee we wre about to create.

Executice Director Charles Gibbs will be retiring in June.  After lunch, were were introduced to some of the members of the Search Committee, including former Trustee Rabbi Doug Kahn (Jewish / USA), and to David Chang, representing the executive search firm carrying out the search for candidates.  We reviewed the job description (online at  The job description is very impressive.  I commented that the Vatican would be lucky to get our second or third runner-up for their job search!  Several people commented that "spiritual authenticity" is a prime requirement in a new Executive Director.  We'll be accepting applications for another three weeks, if you think you can do the job well.

During a short break I spoke with David about my own concerns re: the ED search.  1) When most of the URI's CCs meet in Regional Assemblies, the second language they have in common is English.  Only in Latin America is this not the case.  If the new ED speaks English & Spanish, s/he'll be able to speak with 90% of the URI and we'll take an important first step towards the URI's stated goal of being fully multi-lingual.  2) While peace-buidling and conflict-resolution skills have been emphasized since 9/11, we have moved beyond the immediacy of that crisis and more and more people are turning their attention to the growing threat of climate change.  The new ED will be dealing with environmental issues at least as much as issues of religious violence, and this should be reflected in the experience and skills we seek in a candidate.

After the break, we broke into small groups to look at the responsibilities of Trustees to support the fundraising efforts of the URI.  We discussed fundraining techniques that had worked in our CCs and our Regions, and brainstormed approaches the URI mught try.  My group included Michael Pappas (Episcopal / USA), Ciro Gabriel Avruj (Interspirituality / Argentina), and Marianne Horling (Humanist / Germany).  It was interesting to learn that since in both Argentina and Germany churches are supported by governement taxes, these countries expect religious organizations to be supported by the state.  As a result, they can find donors for projects, but no one would ever think of donating money to support an organization.  However, interfaith groups, not being churches, can't get this governement money.  When the small groups compared notes, the differences in the cultures of giving around the world were striking.

The Global Staff arrived for a GC / Staff dinner and it was great to reconnect with old friends, many former Trustees who are now Staff: the Venerable Dr. Jinwol Lee (Buddhist / Korea), Karimah Stauch (Muslim / Germany), Fr. James Channon (Catholic / Pakistan), and Enoe Texier (Indigenous / Venezuela), among others.  Monica Willard also arrived, the URI's representatve at the United Nations, where we are an NGO.  We spoke briefly, but she said that there were several developments at the UN we should discuss.

This was enough... The end of a very full day.  More to come.

Thanks & Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG National Interfaith Representative

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