Monday, March 18, 2013

Mormon Studies from M. Mueller

Sunstone Symposium met in Berkeley this weekend at the Pacific School of Religion. Sunstone is a liberal Mormon intellectual magazine that holds at least one Symposium every year. I went to the last one at the University of Utah, being in Salt Lake City at the right time, and now this one also being at the right place and right time, as a GTU grad student!

In the opening plenary on Saturday, GTU Dean Arthur Holder and Mormon professor Bob Rees spoke about the importance of interfaith in the work that they do. Dean Holder spoke about interfaith being central to the GTU mission since the very beginning. A Chair of Jewish Studies was appointed shortly after the GTU consortium of nine Christian seminaries began. There are now programs in Jewish Studies, Islamic Studies, and Buddhist Studies. We are not a formal program but there is a student-run website for Pagan Studies at the GTU. Bob Rees, also a member of the Marin Interfaith Council, spoke about the many blessings he has experienced by interfaith connections at the GTU and elsewhere. He was touched especially by being invited to participate in a student's Protestant ordination, as one of her mentors. Bob was also kind enough to mention me, his Wiccan student pursuing Mormon Studies, and a few people wanted to talk with me on account of that afterwards. He said he thought the folks in the BYU seminar must have found that a hoot! (Yes, they really did love me there.)

There was a strong emphasis on LGBTQ and women's issues this year. There was last year as well but this time the program seemed smaller and had fewer programs outside of these two major topics. However, a Mormon graduate of Columbine High School who was a freshwoman during the Columbine shooting led a program about responding to tragedy.

Saturday morning plenaries were: a conversation on Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union and the academy, a panel "More Paint, Less Corner" on LGBTQ and LDS (Latter-day Saints) issues, and a panel of Roman Catholic and Mormon women in dialogue about women's ordination in their traditions. During the question and answer period, I expressed gratitude for their panel and asked the question, "What can Wiccan women [and others] do to support Mormon and Catholic women?" The four panelists appreciated my question and each responded. There were a variety of answers, including genuine appreciation for support from Wiccan women and concerns that such public support may not help their cause in the Roman Catholic church for example. The women are interested in forming bridges with us but also careful given the seriousness of their requests within the Catholic church. From my perspective, women vying for ordination are in a serious conflict as it is; they need our support not criticism. A young Roman Catholic Woman involved with Women's Ordination Conference asked that we listen with our full hearts, that we hear the bads and the goods...without judgement. There are many reasons why women choose to stay within their faith tradition even when it is patriarchal. The panelist asked that we hear their joys and their sorrows and continue to be in relationship with them. I can best interpret the overall requests as: Support but don't hover.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 7 - Last Day

Monday, March 11 -- I had breakfast with Ari van Buuren (Protestant / Netherlands), who encouraged me to come to the meeting of URI Netherlands in late April.

Their theme will be "Healing the past Sharing the Future".  There will be a visiting delegation from Bulgaria, and the combined group will then attend the annual meeting of the Pagan Federation!  The last day of the meeting will clebrate WWII Liberation Day, the 200th year of th kingdom of the Netherlands, and the 150th anniversary of the abolition of slavery in the Netherlands.  This sounds like fun and I will try to attend.  Unfortunately, this is also around the time when Mayan Elder Apollinario Chile Pixtun will be in the US and I may need to meet with him.  However, I have an initiate who lives in Germany and we could possibly meet at the URI event.  We'll see which works out.

Our general meting now combined the Global Council and the Global Staff - 51 people.  As people were getting settled, I chatted with URI UN rep Monica Willard.  The previous day, we had been discussing the tremendous success of Mussie Hailu's Golden Rule CC.  I had mentioned my paper on problems with the Golden Rule, from both Pagan and interfaith perspectives, and she had requested a copy.  She said that she had received my email with my paper attached last night and read the paper this morning.  She urged me to share it with Mussie.  Mussie's whole interfaith carrer is focused around the Golden Rule, so I hope this won't caue any problems.

The Global Council and the Staff met together.  We read aloud the Rights and Responsibilities of Cooperation Circles.  The URI & CoG have similar problems dealing with CCs / covens that don't report back to the parent organization or who may exist in name only.  We broke into small groups to discuss 1) What were we doing in our Regions to engage the CCs that has worked?  2) Waht could we do to help the CCs "live into" (a popular phrase) the Responsibilities of being CCs?  3) Would it be heplful to require CCs to be "in good standing" in order to vote for Trustees and, if so, what would "good standing" look like?  When wed came back together as a large group, there were many stories and many suggestions, but ultimately the "good standing" issue will have to be dealt with in a review of pour Bylaws.

This was followed by a break during which there was a frenzy of photography as everyone realized that time was running out and wanted to get every possible combination of friends into photographs.  The break was long enough for a final meeting of the Regional Leadership team for the Multiregion: the two current MR Trustees - Audri Scott Williams (Indigenous & Chrisian / USA) & Vrajapati Das (Hindu / India), me as a Continuing Trustee (Wiccan / USA), and now Monica Willard (since the URI's UN presence is grounded in the Multiregion's URI @ the UN CC.  We were joined by Regional Liaison Sally Mahe and Executive Director / Trustee Charles Gibbs.  We finalized a plan to move the Multiregion - and the discussion about the Multiregion's place in the URI - forward:
       1) With the approval of the Global Council, Audri will take a six-month leave of absence for the GC to serve as Interim Regional Coordinator for the Multiregion.  (This will allow her to be paid for the job.)  She will continue to be part of any discussions about the Multiregion, but will not be a voting Trustee.
       2) Since this will leave the Multiregion with only one elected Trustee, the GC will consider appointing an At-Large Trustee with a mandate to serve in the Multiregion (which is what I was in the previous GC term), if and when this becomes an appropriate step to take.
       3) The RLT will seek to expand by aksing the various URI Initiatives (Youth, Women, etc.) to participate on the Team.
       4) The RLT will engage each of the Multiregion CCs in personal communications about how the Multiregion is serving and could serve them better.  We will then engage in such conversations with CCs in then other Regions that are doing work that could benefit by being networked with similar CCs through the Multiregion.
       5) We will explore the reasons that the Multiregion was originally created and whether the current structure best suits those concernes.  This will include discussions with any group evaluating the URI's Bylaws.  This exploration will include the following questions: Where have we seen strong cross-Region collaboration in the URI?  What helped it?  How did / could the URI support this?  Are there alternative structures that could do this better?  What is the reponsibility of the Hub to hold global concepts in the URI, and how can an organization operating with a grassroots / bottom-up paradigm best manage global issues?

Over lunch I found both my major in Religious Studies and my history with the URI & Global Council very helpfull.  One group had questions about Islamic sharia in relation to marriage and the concept of abrogation in interpreting conflicting surahs in the Qur'an.  The Muslims were having trouble explaining these ideas in English and I was able to help.  Another group was curious about Lee Penn and his writings about & against the URI.  (Google him and you'll find them easily enough).  I am probably the onl;y person in the URI who has a cordial relationship with Lee and I could explain the story with what I hope was suitable objectivity.  I reaaly belkieve that we need to expand our traditional views of interfaith to include those who are sure they have the one, true, right & only faith, as long as they are willing to play well with others, not proselytize within the context of the URI, and work together for the common good.

After lunch, we reviewed the goals for this pastb week of meetings and assessed our success:
       1) To build trust, relationships, and cohesion among a diverse group of  Trustees, and among Staff and Tustees. -- Everyone agreed that this had been a great success!  One of the Trustees commented that before coming here he had felt like a local person who was being asked to act globally; now he felt like a Global Trustee, empowered to act locally.
       2) To provide excellent orientation to the new Trustees, utilizing the experience of Charles, Kiran, and returning Trustees; some orientation to be led by Trustees. -- Again, everyone was very positive about this and very pleased with the extent to which folks who had been around longer were willing to share their experiences ands knowledge.
       3) To ensure Trustees understand their roles and responsibilities and the importnace of a positive, engaged leadershipwilling to grow URI; increase resources; and provide leadership, connection, and service to the CCs in their Regions. -- And again, many people commented on how much they had learned.  I reminded people that it would be very usueful to keep our binders of references materials available and bring them to future meetings, rtahre than go home and stick them in a box somewhere.
       4) To lay the foundation for establishing an authentic culture of learning and evaluation within the URI network and to facilitate basic skill-building for the Theory of Change. -- There was somehat less agreement about the success of this, mostly because the corporation-buidling jargon of the ToC is very American and difficult to translate into other languages.  There seemed to be a feeling, however, that the general idea of being able to track and evaluate change in the orgnaization is a goood thing.
       5) To revel in the company of a transformative, diverse global community (to leave feeling energized and connected to a global movement for change). -- There was enthusiastic agreement about this.  Many new friendships had been forged and a disparate group from around the world had become a working Board.

After a review of the previous week - day by day - by Charles, the Global Council got down to those issues that actually required decisions by the GC before we closed this meeting.
       * The South East Asia & the Pacific Region (SEAPac) requested that we move the day & time for our Global Council conference calls.  While we always try to find the optimum day and time for folks in 22 countries, we gareed to move the days and time around to no one country is constantly under pressure.
       * We created an Advisory Committee to the GC to work on a review of the Bylaws and make recommendations to the GC.  This committee will start with Charles, Debra, Kiran, and me.
       * The recommendations about chnages in the Multiregion (see above) were approved.
       * There was a request for a formal letter of thanks from the GC to Charles.  This was easily approved.
       * There were other items of interest to the Gllbal Council, but that didn't require official approval or a decision.

Ech Trustee offered their own reflections on the past week.  Charles said that he would pull together Minutes with Rebecca (Secretary) and me (known taker of notes).

There was a sacred closing followed by a huge round of hugs, and we were Adjourned.

Dinner that night was full of sharing of stories, taking of photographs in variouscombinations, and plans for follow-up meetings of committees, Initiatives, and Regional Leadership Teams.  Eventually, exhustion started to overcome excitement and we all went off to much deserved sleep.

That's it.  There was a LOT more that happened between official meeting sessions and a LOT that was said that I haven't included since I don't have permission of the individuals involved.  (I took 84 pages of notes!) Even so, I applaud you if you have made it through all of these reports. 

Many interfaith reports focus on the high-profile, public events - ceremonies, awards & honors, and such - but the work of inteffaith work is what goes on between those high-profile events.  These administrative meetings on Boards & Councils around the country & the world are what keep the interfaith movement moving.  I hope you enjoyed this peek behind the curtain of the Board of Trustees of the largest grassroots interfaith organization on Earth.  In many ways, it's a lot like attending CoG's Grand Council, but its starts earlier, ends later, has no worshops, and lasts for a week.

As always, I am deeply gratefull to the members of the Covenant of the Goddess for supportin g thsi work.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG National Intefrfaith Representative

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 6

Sunday, March 10, 2013 -- Several people led opening prayers addressing the mob violence in Pakistan only hours before.

Most of the day was spent learning about, discussing, and trying to apply the URI's "Theory of Change" - a map / flow-chart / documnt articulating how change occurs in the URI, how the URI chnages the world, and how we can measure such chnage to tell whether or not we are being effective and whether or not we need to change our strategies in order to be effective.

Many people found the Theory of Change to be very helpful.  I found it to be interesting, but too buried in distinctively modern Western corporation-speak.  I know that those who are challenged with Western administrative systems and/or with English were having a tough time dealing with it.

One key problem I saw was that a box very early in the flow of the flow-chart states that our connections (between individuals and between Cooperation Circles) leads to "Increased understanding of other traditions, cultures, backgrounds."  I have increasingly become aware of the extent to which many of the people in interfaith work in fact know very little about each other's "traditions, cultures, backgrounds".  We become friends.  We know each other's personal stories.  We work together on projects and organizational administration.  All of which leaves very little time for discussing each other's religions.  I majored in Anthropology and in Religious Studies at UC Berkeley, so I am fairly conversant with world religions, even (perhaps especially) fairly esoteric ones.  Even so, I am surprised at how little most of my fellows seem to know about each other's faith traditions.  I guess that the impulse towards interfaith does not automatically translate into study of other faiths.  There was some discussion of this in the group, especially the extent to which prior study of a faith tradition can significantly improve an interfaith dialogue by prompting deeper and more interesting questions.

We met in Regions and looked at how our projects could be evaluated in terms of Inputs (time, money resources, skills), Activities (what we do), Outputs (results that can be tracked and measured, e.g. how many people attended an event), Outcomes (changes to social systems, i.e. did our work matter?), and Goal Alignment (or how does our evealuation feed back into the process?).  Our Regional Leadership Team in the Multiregion found this process more useful than the Theory of Change.  We applied it to the URI @ the UN CC's participation in the UN's International Day of Peace (September 21 - and how the URI's participation could be enhanced.

When we broke for lunch, our Multiregion RLT offered the blessing, using the Waters of the World, which I had brough anticipating just such an opportunity.  We split up and read the blessing, followed by daubing some of the Water on each person's wrists with a swab:

       “In some traditions, water represents the life force; in others it symbolizes the Divine Spirit.  We ourselves are 98% water.  If two people from warring nations come together, they may be in conflict.  But if they pour water from their homelands into a bowl...  One water does not try to be higher than the other – they find a common level.  One water does not try to stay separate from the other and keep only to its side of the bowl – they mix together and become one.  And so, the mixing of waters has come to symbolize our desire for peace and unity.  These waters [elevating vial of water] have been mixed and added to in ceremonies of the United Nations, the United Religions Initiative, the Parliament of the World's Religions, and the Goldin Institute for International Partnership and Peace. They come from over 150 sacred water sources in 44 countries on all 7 continents and from the Seven Seas, and they have been mingled as a blessing for all beings of the Earth, in the hope that we may live in peace. We won’t read the whole list here – it will be available later – but we’ll name just a few...

* the snows of Antarctica
* an Aboriginal sacred spring in the Outback of Australia
* the
Heavenly Lake in China
* the Nile River in Egypt
* the Chalice Well at Glastonbury in England
* the Ganges River in India
* Brigid’s Well at Kildare in Ireland
* the
Jordan River in Israel
* the sacred well at the Ise Shrine in
* Macchu Pichu in
* the Holy Spring at 
Fatima in Portugal
* the Cape of Good Hope in South Africa
* the Yarlung River in Tibet
* the
Euphrates River in Turkey

Nothing we do can make these waters sacred -- they ARE sacred. Come and be blessed by the Waters of the World."

People really liked this and we'll have to send the list of waters around by email.

Over lunch, we had a second meeting to discuss a Global Indigenous Initiative.  This time, we got down to more practical matters of organization.  By the end of the meeting, we had agreed:
       1) It was important to move forward with a truly global Initiative, recignzing and honoring the role that the Indigenous people of Latin America had played in bringing this to the URI and caring for it for so long.
       2) There would be an initial core group consisting of the people those people who had been at these two meetings who wanted to serve.
       3) We, the core group and the Hub working together, would need to identify a point person to hold primary responsibility for carrying this forawrd and convening the group.  This person should be indigenous by both ancestry and spiritual practice.
       4) The core group would identify indigenous individuals known to the URI in each of the Regions who could serve in an expenaded core group.
       5) We needed to recognize that honoring indigenous ways might mean that the process might move slower than we were used to, but that more wisdom would be gathered as a result.

[Some members of the Indigenous Initiative discussions (left to right): Rebecca Tobias (Jewish / Canada), me, Audri Scott Williams (Indigenous Cherokee & Christian / USA), Enoe Texier (Christian / Venezuela).]

After lunch, we heard from all the RLTs about how they had applied the Theory of Change to projects in their Regions.  I got to skip out and take a rest after this, since the Trustees were meeting in their committees - Standing Committee, Finanace & Operations Committee, CC Approval Committee - and as a Continuing Trustee I am not in any of them.

Later, I joined others for dinner.  Sitting at a table with Audri, Maria, Charles, Bill & mary Swing, and Sherif, we were regaled with stories of Charles' long path to the priesthood.  We joked and laughed and enjoyed our time together.  We were eating desert before I noticed I was the only non-Christian at the table.  I could remember similar situations 27 years ago when this would have made me very nervous and unceratin of what to say.  Now it is as natural as sitting down to dinner with my own family... probably because many of these people have become as close as family over the years.

After dinner, Rachael texted me from the lobby to say that she had arrived.  There was a surprise party for Charles on the occasion of his retiring in the works and we didn't want him tipped off by seeing her too early.  The suprise was sprung, Charles was treated to a "This is Your (Interfaith) Life!" slideshow of him participating in interfaith events all over the world.  I cannot think of anyone who has as many friends around the world as this man.  We went around the circle of Trustees and Staff - each person saying what Charles had mnat in his or her life, some with songs, some with poetry.  There was much weeping and passing of tissues.

When it was our turn, among other things I reminded everyone about these posts I always do from interfaith events and conferences.  I told them that everyone in CoG knows him and what he has done for us over the years and Rachael and I presented him with a gift on behalf of the Covenant of the Goddess, so he would always have a bit of us with him wherever he moved to.  When the gifts were opened later on, he was stunned by one of Oberon's Millennial Gaia statues (  

Millennial Gaia, Mother Earth
In fact, evereyone was stunned.  People kept coming up to look at Her, hold Her, and examine all the details of the evolution of life on Earth on Her body.  (In the photo above, Charles is in the middle, with Associate Executive Director Debra Bernstein on the left and founding Trustee Sam Chan on the right.)  This was followed by musical tributes, especially from the Indians and the Latin Americans.  The party continued on for a while, but we were all aware that we had one more day of work to done and so made our ways to bed and sleep (unless you were typing).

The last day to come...

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG National Interfaith Representative

Monday, March 11, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 5 - Circles of Light

Saturday, March 9, 2013 -- Most folks went on a bus tour of San Francisco, especially to visit the URI's Global Office (or "Hub") in the Presidio, just down the hill from the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.  I stayed at the hotel, planning to rest my arm, but ending up typing reports.

After their return and a chance to rest and change clothes, we boarded a bus for the trip back up to San Francisco.  Bishop Swing asked if he could sit with me on the bus for the 40 minute ride up so we could talk more about the role of the President's Council and its future.  This was the longest conversation that I had had with Bill and it was a real pleasure.

We arrived at the Four Seasons Hotel, right in the heart of the financial district (  Most of us were just in coats & ties, etc., but many of the folks from other countries wore quit colorful native garb.  We arrived early so we could practice our part in the candle lighting ceremony.  We (the Trustees and Global Staff) had to line up in a certain order, get onstage - leaving gaps for ritual actions and sightlines so the audience could see what was going on - be introduced to the crowd, light candles, recite some lines, and walk off.  I am always re-amazed to discover how culture-specific the concept of "getting in a line" is. This was beyond "herding cats", since it was more like herding wayward animals of several different species.
[Left to Right: Bishop John Odama (Catholic / Uganda), Zubair Farooq (Muslim / Pakistan), Mussie Hailu (Coptic Chistian / Ethiopia), me, Nasir Saleemi (Muslim / Pakistan)]

We sort of worked things out by the time the guests started to arrive.  This was a crowd of about 350 people, many of whom are already the donor base for the URI, or were likely donors meeting the URI for the first time (table sponsorship ranged from $2,750 to $50,000!).  I asked Bill to point out some folks who were not attending their first interfaith event.  I am a team player in this and I understand that we don't want a potential donor's very first interfaith encounter to be with a Witch.  We build up to that.  And so, I met a very nice couple named Brian & Glenn, who could relate to my experience of being a bit of an outsider.  Brian had come to the CoL dinner before, but it was Glenn's first URI event and I think he found our conversation comforting.

I met "friends-of-Bill" Carol and Charley of Los Altos.  They both looked VERY familiar, but we couldn't figure out where we could have met.  Since I had grown up in Hillsborough, just north of them, we knew a lot of the same places and compared notes on how the housing market had changed.  Carol had been to the CoL dinner before and knew that I am a Witch, but it was Charley's first URI event.  The conversation had just shifted to Wicca when the chimes sounded - telling the guests to get to their tables and the Trustees to get in line for the show.

We all got out with relative decorum.  I stood between Sherif Rizq (Christian / Egypt) and Vrajapati Das (Hindu / India).  One by one, we were all introduced to the crowd.  Then there was a candle lighting, with eight Trustees each saying something like "My name is Despina Namwembe.  I was born in Uganda and I am a Christian.  I light this candle that the people of Europe may live in peace."  To this, all of us, including the crowd, responded with, "May the people of Europe live in Peace.  May peace prevail on Earth."  This was done for all eight Regions, with the candle lighters all being of different religions and from countries not in the Region they lit their candle for.  We ended with all of us reading from a card: "May the circles of light for peace, justice, and healing we light here tonight shine brightly in our hearts, in the hearts of the whole URI community, and through us into the world, that there may be peace, justice, and healing on this Earth.  Amen."  (or "So mote it be!)  That was it.  Simple enough, but many people said that they were truly inspired by the sheer diversity of faith traditions and nationalities represented on the stage (35 people of at least 10 religions from 22 countries), and the obvious fact that we are all friends.

[The combined Global Council - 22 - and Global Staff - 29 - at the Circles of Light dinner]

It turned out that I had been assigned to Carol and Charley's table.  We were finally able to talk about Wicca.  They had a lot of reasonable questions, but Charley's curousity was mostly based on a recent dinner he had had with his son.  His son was in town visiting last month and Charley had taken him to lunch at a steak reastaurant that had been recommended... Spencer's, in the Doubletree Hotel in San Jose, on President's Day weekend.

Yup, Charley and his son had enjoyed wandering through the vendors' room at PantheaCon... taking in the items and people with fascination.  (That may be where I had seen him before.)  He wanted to ask me about everything, but the circumtances made a deep conversation difficult.  He wasn't put off at all, just very curious.  I hope we'll have a chnace to follow-up, and I hope he'll give a good report back to Bill.

During desert and coffee, we were entertained by a vocal musical duo who had come over from Dublin, Ireland, to entertain at this event.  Size2Shoes is (are?) two brothers - Eoin & Michael "Moley" O Suilleabhain - do a mix of traditional pre-Christian Irish music with Gregorian chant with jazz and gangster rap.  It's hard to explain, but they were fantastic!  (Their website:  On eof their songs included a rap segment about Bishop Swing and the URI.  I hope someone recorded it!

Too soon, we had to go back to our hotel.  I was too exhausted gto write, complicated by the time change, so this goes up tonight.  As usual, as an interfaith conference progresses, I start to drop behind in reporting.  It's 2:00am now, and tomorrow (today!) starts at 7:30am.  So if you'll forgive me, you'll hear about today tomorrow.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 4 (part 2)

You probably aren't reading this unless you've read Part 1, so I'm not going to introduce people already met or explain the abbreviations for groups and administrative entities.  Believe me, interfaith organizing is a word-salad of acronyms for long, politicallycorrect, and organizationally precise labels and titles.

We returned from the Indigenous meeting to the main room, where Musa Sanguila (Muslim / the Philippines) was playing the guitar and singing a song about the loss of traditional lands. This was especially moving after the subjects we had just been discussing.

This session was for presentations by the Regional Leadership Teams about their Regions.  Sally started us off with Asia and gave them 25 minutes since their Region is so large, with 208 CCs.  This turned out to be a mistake since 1) Asia has six sub-Regional Coordinators, who each ran long, and 2) after such a long presentation it was impossible to keep all the following RLTs to their alloted 5 minutes.  At the end of their presentation, Bishwadeb Chakraborty - sub-RC for East India, whose name is a delight to say (try it!) and is a magnificent drummer - offered to close with some drumming... without a drum.  He proceeded to open his mouth before a mic and play his cheeks like two tablas, faster and better than I have ever heard anyone but him play real drums!  Biswadeb is both a delight as a person and a miraculous drummer.  I am amzed that his music is not on YouTube.

Europe told about dealing with secular countries uninterested in supporting interfaith organizationsand their own efforts to address rising xenophobia

Latin America & the Caribbean (LA&C) mostly reported on a conference - "Honoring the Spirit of Granfather Fire" - hosted by CISEI (Interamerican Council on Indigenous Spirituality).  LA&C's Regional Coordinator is also CISEI's Director, Enoe Texier (Christian / Venezuela).

Middle East and North Africa (MENA) addressed the problems of the elephant in their rooom - Israel - which has meny of their CCs, but to and from which many other CCs in MENA can't travel.

We tried to keep our Multiregion presentation short, but we waqnted address three key points:
       1) Almost all of the Global Initiatives in the URI about which we heard so much earlier, and almost all of its high-profile projects - the Interfaith Sacred Space Design Competition (,

 Front Page Sidebar Images
 the 1000 Kalema photo competition (!untitled/c240r),
the interfaith ascent of Mt. Everest (,
the online journal The Interfaith Observer (,
and more - either ARE Multiregion CCs or were generated in Multiregion CCs and grew out of the Multiregion to become Initiatives seperately funded by the URI.  In a very real sense, the Multiregion both IS and is the dream of the URI.
       2) The Multiregion has suffered been shortchanged and surffered setbacks like no other Region.  We have had ONE face-to-face meeting of the Region in the last 12 years; most Regions have them every few years or more often.  For two of the past three GC terms, one of our Trustees has been serving as GC Chair AND Regional Coordinator for LA&C, dividing her attention and time.  In addition, we have had both a Trustee and a Regional Coordinator resign in the middle of the term TWICE, forcing us to go through a process of finding new leadership.  One of these occasions was a few months after our one face-to-face meeting, sapping the tremendous momenmtum and enthusiasm that had been generated.  We have had problems finding computer support to maintain a current website (  In fact, we don't have either a RC or a computer person right now!  I think that with these tremendous liabilities, what the Multiregion has achieved for the URI is amazing, but has gone unacknowledged.
       3) There are great opportunities for collaboartive work through the Multiregion, once people understand that the URI's structure allows CCs to be in more than one Region.  A women's CC in Germany can stay a part of the Europe Region AND be part of a Women's MCC (Multiple Cooperation Circle - don't ask) in the Multiregion - local efforts connecting and collaborating globally.  Also, the Multiregion can make the necessary cross-connections for global efforts between Youth & Women, between the Indigenous & the Environment, between Peace & UN Advocay, etc.

I'm not sure our message got through, since we had to keep to 5 minutes, but we'll be sending a letter around to all the Regional Coordiantors and Regional Trustees, making our case and presenting our opportunities.

After a break, I had a short opportunity to report on the Indigenous meeting, which was well-received.  I sense more of a commitmenet to this issue now than ever before in the URI.  Maybe the time is right.

Bill Swing explained ho the President's Council works.  The President's Council is a group of high-level donors who work together to secure funding for an endowment to support the work of the URI.  Tne vast majority ofn the funds that power the central office come through this group.  Then there is the URI Foundation, which invests and manages the funds raised.  A few individuals each from the President's Council, the URI Foundation, and the Global Council form the Joint Steering Committee, which tries to keep all of this coordinated.  Several Trustees expressed interest in being guided in forming President's Councils in their Regions.  Great!  This is then future of URI funding.

Bill shared the prayer (which he wrote) with which they open every meeting of the President's Council.  With only very slight tweaks, it could work for us:

       We make our prayer to the One who is worthy of praise
       at the beginning of time and the end of time,
       to the One whose presence today is Glory in our midst;

       In the disease of religious violence
       inspire us to anticipate the cure of peace
       among believers of all traditions;

       In the face of spiritual arrogance
       that falsely elevates on believer over others
       and sows the seeds of mistaken superiority
       help us to stand in humility before Your throne; and

       In the face of the accepted creed that
       religious rivalries are inevitable and impenetrable,
       make us slaves to the extravagant hope
       that wholeness is possible.

       At this critical time of religious brokenness
       and rising threat, challenge us to be stewards
       of that sacred equilibrium which is at the heart
       of harmonies and families and communities.

       We beg Your blessing that our work
       may be effective in the world
       and honorable in Your sight.

Wow!  Even after decades of interfaith work, I am still surprised when I can be so moved by Christian prayer.

At the end of this session, facilitator Diana Whiteny left for another conference.  The rest of us prepared for a dinner with members of the Prsident's Council and the Staff.  While the GC was full of new faces when I arrived, the assembled Staff is a bunch of old friends, some of whom I've known for 15 years and some even attended my wedding reception.

I walked to the dining room with Osama "Sam" Wazan, talkning about his book and Reza Aslan's theory that Islam is just going through its own "Enlightenment" and the rest of us are just along for the very bumpy ride.  I ended up at a table with Audri, volunteer Ardi Turner, Rebecca, former Trustee Karima Stauch (Mulsim / Germany), Ari avn Buuren (Protestant / the Netherlands), Sally, and Debra.  Rebecca gave an opening in which she focused on the Roerich Flag and its use to protect sacred sites.

Google "Roerich flag" to learn about the flag, its use in international treaties, and Nicholas Roerich's amazingly inspired art.

We got down to a dinner that was large - even by American standards - and chatting.  Wicca kept coming up.  Ardi told about how we first met at the 1998 URI Global Summit and how Deborah and I had been so open and friendly to a volunteer that was supposed to keep to the shadows.  She also told the "skyclad" story from the 2001 North America Regional Assembly.  Ari told about working with Morganna of the Pagan Federation in URI Europe; in fact she serves on their Steering Committee!  Sally told about her initial fear of having Witches in the URI, but how quickly that changed when she saw us interacting with other prominent representatives of "mainstream" religions and developing fast friendships. I told about Dayonis - the senior living Wiccan Priestess on Earth - attending the 2001 Assembly and being greeted and honored by both Bishop Swing and Charles Gibbs... a far cry from being hounded out of the UK by bigotry in 1960.  I also told them about conservative Christian write Brooks Alexander attending PantheaCon first as my guest and later as a presenter, and how our community both was and wasn't what he expected.  (BTW, Brook's book about us is now online at  It was an evening of sharing stories - sometimes outright funny, sometimes amusingly embarassing - with friends with whom I could be open about my spiritual path, my practice, and the quirks of our community.  This is what true interfaith is about.

I am just finishing this in time for the busride into San Francisco for the annual Circles of Light dinner:

You can read more here (, but basically it's an opportunity for the Trustees to impress likely big donors witn the importance and good work of the URI.  I am happy to do my part, since I do truly believe that the URI is our best hope for "peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings".

On that note... Next time I'll let you know how the event went.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG National Interfaith Representative

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 4 (part 1)

Friday, March 8, 2013 -- Today was a day of ups and downs, of fun and sorrow.

 Most of the fourth - 2012-2016 - Global Council of the United Religions Initiative

I got up early to do some research on the computer, then joined Audri & Sally Mahe at 8:00am for a breakfast meeting about the URI's Multiregion.  The Multiregion is the URI's 8th Region, after the ones that carve up the Earth's surface into geographic areas like Middle East & North Africa (MENA) or Southeast Asia & the Pacific (SEAPac).  (Read more about the Regions here:

The Multiregion is for Cooperation Circles 1) whose members are in more than one Region, or 2) that are dedicated to a concept that transcends Regional boundaries, like Women or the Environment.  The Multiregion (MR) has always been a sort of stepchild in the URI and at this Global Council (GC) meeting we were feeling the pressure to prove its worth.  Audri Scott Williams (Christian & Indigenous Cherokee / USA) is one of the three Multiregion Trustees.  The other current Trustee is Vrajapati Das (Hindu / India).  The third MR Trustee, Heidi Rautiounmaa (Lutheran & Indigenous Saami / Finland) resigned after only a few months in office.  Sally Mahe is the Staff person asigned to Regional suppport.  Vrajapati was meeting with other Indian Trustees, so it was just me, Audri, and Sally.  I am not a Multiregion Trustee, I am a continuing Trustee (kind of like an Emerita in CoG, continuing from the previous administration), but they have asked me to help out due to my long history with the Multiregion.  (In fact, Deborah Ann Light, Rowan Fairgrove, and I helped found the Spirituality & the Earth Cooperation Circle or CC, a Multiregion CC that was one of the URI's first CCs and the first ever to donate funds to the URI.)  And so, I akm part of the Multiregions Regional Leadership Team (RLT).  While Audri and I talked about the various ways the Multiregon has been shortchanged over its 12 year existence, Sally stressed the importance of us explaining how the Multiregion can serve its current and possibly new members.

Gathering in the meeting room, facilitator Diana Whitney said that this was International Women's Day.  Ravi Kandage (Buddhist / Sri lanka) read a passage from the Buddha.  URI Associate Executive Director Debra Bernstein and Africa, Great Lakes Zone Regional Coordinator Despina Namwembe (Orthodox Christian / Uganda) led us all in reading a prayer by St. Francis.  It was all very nice, but I couldn't help wondering why we were opening International Women's Day with a man reading a teaching by another man, followed by us all reading a prayer written by another man and directed to a male god.  I expressed my confusion to Monica Willard, URI's representative at the United Nations, who agreed with me and said that she was often confrinted with this kind of cognitive disconnect at the UN.

Monica shared a video from the UN, a song called "One Woman", sung by several women all over the world.  I highly recommend checking this out on YouTube (  This was well, and emotionally, received.

We returned to our work binder for a long reading aloud of "provisional" guiding documents for the Regional Leadership Teams that had been approved by the previous GC.  These addressed the Significance of Regions and RLTs in the URI's Organizational Structure; RLT Purpose; RLT Roles & Responsibilities; RLT Leadership, Governance & Oversight; RLT Fundraising; RLT Qualifications; Key Principles of Good Practice for Individual RLT Members; and so on, for several pages.  This is wonky stuff, and the non-English speakers were having a tough time following along.  I could tell from the way several people pronounced the words that they didn't clearly understand what they were reading.  The follow-up Q&A included a lot of clarifying of meaning.  Some folks talked about the difficulties of travel in their Regions, such as between India and Pakistan in the Asia Region, or between almost anywhere and Israel in the MENA Region.

We had a short break, during which Audri, Vrajapati, and I continued to work on Multiregion issues.  After the break, we heard/saw lengthy presentations on the URI's global initiatives.  A "global initiative" basically means that an issue has been deemed both global and sufficiently important to warrant having its own paid staff, and usually involves several related programs.  Basically, you can learn about these by going to the URI page (, finding the drop down menu "Action Areas", and clicking on each one.  These are:
       * Global Advocacy (or the URI at the United Nations) -- Monica Willard spoke about URI involvement in the International Day of Peace (September 21), International Women's Day (today), the Millennium Devedlopment Goals (MDGs), and more.  She was eager to see as many URI CCs as possible get involved.  GC Chair Kiran Bali (Hindu / UK), who had recently addressed the UN on the URI's behalf said that she had seen with her own eyes how well-respected Monica is at the UN.
       * Youth -- Matthew Youde (Christian / Wales) & Krithika Harish (Hindu / UK) talked about MANY URI related youth programs around the world.  I think that a PantheaCon program on opportunities for Pagan youth to get involved in global interfaith work would be a grerat program!
       * Women -- Debra, Special Projects Manager Michelle Clark, Despina, and Asia Coordinator Qutub Kidwai (Muslim / India) talked about programs addressing women's rights around the world.  However, "women's rights" meant things like "being allowed to got to school or even "existing".  Qutub reported that in India there are so many cases of pre-natal gender screening leading to selective abortion of girls that there are now only 896 women for every 1000 men, and it's getting worse.  Many families extend this to just killing girl children outright.  Despina made the point that "what is a given for women in one region, may be a privilege for women in another".  She thanked the African men in the room for their vision & commitment.  She said that at home in Uganda, she is called a "girl-man" because she speaks out with confidence.  "We need more girl-men," she said.  One of the programs in this Initiative is engaged in trauma-counseling and support for victims of gang-rape in the conflict in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
       * Peace-building & Conflict Resolution -- Laurie Richardson, a consultant for this Initiative, said that we need to integrate our peace-building activities throughout the URI network.

After a short break, we met as Regions to discuss how to integrate these Initiatives into our Regions.  Again, the uniqueness of the Multiregion came up.  All of these Initiatives started as projects of or were rooted in Multiregion CCs.  We don't need to integrate them into the multiregion; they ARE the Multiregion!  We realized that we live in the Hub Office's shadow... once a Multiregion project is recognized as having global significance, the central office steps in a funds it and it becomes much more high-profile, and people forget its Multiregion origins.

(BTW, when I said in an earlier post that the URI Trustees carriy reponsibility for over a million people, I was operating with old data.  Aas of this meeting, there are over 2.6 million people involved in the URI!)

Lunch was taken up with a scheduled meeting to discuss a complicated Initiative - the Indigenous Initiative.  This has always been complicated, tied up with URI unceratinty about how to relate to the various Indigenous groups in the URI, and fluid and shifting administrative structures among the Indigenous CCs.  The meeting included Executive Director Charles Gibbs (Episcopal / USA), me, Alejandrino Quispe (Quechua / Peru), and about 10 others. I don't want to say too much about who was there or what others said, because this was a very emotional meeting.

There was agreement that the URI very much needds and Indigenous Initiative, but that it needs to be a global Initiative.  Charles acknowledged, thanked, and honored the Latin American Indigenous people for leading the way in bringing indigenous concerns to the URI. We went around the table and each person told their own story of being indigenous or connected with indigenous people or sprituality in the URI.  Almost everyone had a lot to say.  Almost everyone was moved to tears, by their own experiences and by the words of others.  Almost everyone had stories of being discriminated against or made to feel devaslued. Almost everyone went on much longer than our meeting structure could allow, but exceedingly important sharing and healing was happening.

Just as we got to me, Charles apologised deeply, but said that we would have to cut things short.  I said that Charles and others all knew me as "the Bylaws guy", someone who sticks to the rules and follows the program, but that he was going to have to indulge me as in this gathering I needed to speak the truth of my heart, things I had never said before in the URI, even if it took longer.  This is what I can remember...

"I am a Wiccan Priest.  Even though we're the 4th largest religion in the US, people know little about us.  Wicca comes out of the pre-Christian indigenous religions of Europe, sepcifically out of the mixing of Anglo-Saxon, Celtic, and Roman religions that happend in Britain.  Like my Indigenous brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, I speak to my ancestors and they speak to me.  I speak to the wind and the waves and to the Earth, and they speak to me.  I speak to my Gods, and they speak to me.  This has been just too strange for this country to deal with.  Witchcraft is still illegal in parts of this country.  Even where it isn't illegal, Witches have had to worry about losing child custody or losing jobs or suffering violence if others found out they were Wiccan.  I have been blessed with living in the Bay Area, where it has been safe to be public.  I have always felt that as long as any of us had to saty in the closet, those of us who could be out had an obligation to do so.  This led to my involvement in interfaith.   Even in the URI, I have been wary of speaking to much of about my spirituality for fear of being seen as just too strange.  Even here, in the URI, we had to push our way in.  There was resistance to our being here.  I am happy to say that once people got to know us, we were quickly welcomed.

In 1998, at one of the planning meetings for the URI at Stanford University, Deborah Ann Light and I noticed that all the decisions seemed to be being made by the "big" religions in the center of the room - Christians, Muslims, Buddhists, etc. - while there were a lot of other religious and spiritual people sort of "stuck on" on the outer edges of the group.  We realized that these people all had something in common: a reverance for nature at the center of or spirituality.  And so we organized a lunch for all of us, not in the cafeteria, but out on the lawn, on the Earth.  The Wiccans were there.  The Hindus, Taoists, and Shinto practitioners came.  The Indigenous people form North, Central, and South America came.  The traditional African practitioners came.  And we were surprised that the scientists came -m saying that they didn't know if they had a religion, but that they DID feel a connection with the Earth.  We looked around and realized that our circle held 15% of the delegates at this conference.  The rest of the conference saw this too.  we went from being a bunch of stragglers to being a "way" of being religious or spiritual.

We stayed in touch, and when the URI Charter signing happened in Pittsburgh in 2000, we formed the Spirituality & the Earth CC, to make sure that there would always be a voice for the Earth in the URI.  We didn't know it, but the Indigenous people of Latin America were organizing at the sme time, but the language difference kept us apart.

In 2002, at the URI's first Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Charles told me and Rowan Fairgrove that the Indigenous people were wondering "What is this 'Wicca' thing?"  We had a dinner with we two Wiccans, about eight Indigenous people - including Alejandrino, Raul, Rosalia, Fany, Sofia, and others - and spent hours explaining about the Indigenous religions of Europe, something they had never been told ever existed.  At the end of that dinner, Alejandrino said to me, "I will go home and tell my children that the Wicca are people just like us."

We realized that what we share in our spiritual paths can be the bridge over our differences.  I may speak to Mother Earth the way Alejandrino does, and she may tell me the same things, but I don't have to worry about land rights, child education, or the loss water access destroying my crops.  We can share with our brothers asnd sisters and provide needed assistance.  One of the things that atrcated me to the Latin American efforts was that they were organizing within the larger interfaith community.  All previous efforts had organized in opposition to other interfaith groups.  The Latin Americans were recognizing the need to be part of a larger family of well-meaning people of faith.

The power of that connection was driven home to me by a story told to me by Mussie Hailu (at the Parliament Assembly that took place at the monastery of Monserrat in advance of the 2004 Parliament of the World's Religions).  Mussie told me that in Ethiopia there is an indigenous, ethnic group called the Tabebe.  The Tabebe possess the power of “tenkwe” – literally “far seeing”.  The Tabebe speak with nature spirits.  People go to the Tabebe to have their fortunes told, for charms, for healing, etc.  So far so good.  They sound a lot like Gypsies, or Witches.

However, if a member of your family falls mysteriously ill, you figure out which of the Tabebe must have cursed the person… and kill them to break the curse.  The government turns a blind eye to this.  In fact, the Tabebe are considered so disreputable that they are not allowed to settle in cities, their children are not allowed to attend public school, and they are not allowed in the hospitals.

When Mussie and his interfaith partner Sr. Laetitia Borg set out to create the first interfaith organization in Addis Ababa – a cooperation circle of the URI – he said that they should reach out to the Tabebe.  Sr. Laetitia, like most people, didn’t see the Tabebe as a religious group and didn’t see a need to include them.  At the next Global Summit of the URI, in Stanford CA, Mussie came up to me and (without any of this back story) told me that I needed to tell Sr. Laetitia all about Wicca.  We had a long conversation over lunch, ended up friends, and did a blessing ceremony together with Charles at the end of the conference.

Mussie and Sr. Latitia went back to Addis Ababa and founded a URI group in Ethiopia.  They included the Tabebe and for their logo they used a variation on an early URI logo that included a pentacle among its religious symbols.

As they expected, religious reps in Ethiopia asked why they were including the Tabebe, and they asked why they were using this symbol (the pentacle, associated with magic).  Mussie and Sr. Laetitia explained that the pentacle is the symbol of Wicca and that Wicca is an international religion that speaks with nature spirits, looks into the future, does magic and healing… just like the Tabebe.

As lightbulbs lit over the heads of religious rep after religious rep, the Tabebe were accepted in the interfaith community, and this acceptance led to changes in government attitudes.  It is now against the law to kill a Tabebe and such crimes are prosecuted.  They can live in cities.  Their children can go to school.  They have access to health care.

All of this directly followed from one group learning about another, and sharing that knowledge, to the benefit of indigenous people half a world away.  THIS is why I believe in the URI and why I think that a truly Global Indigenous Initiative is vital to fulfilling the mission of the URI."

There were tears all around, but Charles said that we really had to get to the next GC session.  He promised that we would continue this conversation at this GC meeting, before we split up and went home.

There was much more this day, but it's late and I'll have tomorrow to write part 2.  Everyone else will be sightseeing in San Francisco.  I don't need that and I'd rather rest up before the big Circles of Light fundraising dinner tomorrow night (  See you tomorrow...

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG National Interfaith Representative

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

Thursday, March 7, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 2

Up at 6:30 to get ready for the first meeting - a breakfast talk with Multiregion Trustee Audri about the future direction of the Multiregion.  The general meeting of the Global Council started at 9:00 with a welcome to more Trustees who had arrived: Ravindra Kandage (Buddhist / Sri Lanka), Ari van Buuren (Protestant / Netherlands), Michael Pappas (Epsicopal / USA), and Osama Wazan (Muslim / USA).  The work began with an overview of the Agenda & Objectives for this week, led by GC Chair Kiran Bali.  This was followed by an overview of the Global Council, led by Executive Director Charles Gibbs.  This part of the discussion focused on Why We Exist and What We Do.  This deceptively simple topic was important for a Global Council that had so many new members and no chance to confer with its outgoing prdecessors before taking office.  Charles told the origin story of the URI...

In 1995, as festivities marking the 50th anniversary of the signing of the United Nations Charter in San Francisco approached, Episcopal Bishop of California William Swing ws asked by the UN to gasther religious leaders for a service at Grace Cathedral in SF.  Bill said "Sure!" and then had a sleepless night.  Through the UN, the countries of the world had been trying to create and maintain peace for 50 years, he thought.  What had the religions of the world done?  He felt a calling to bring the religions of the world together.  After traveling the world and being rebuffed by many religious leaders, he shifted his focus to a grassroots approach.  He hosted several meetings at Stanford University, which former CoG Nat. Interfaith Rep. Deborah Ann Light and I attended an at which we created the Charter of a new kind of interfaith organization - the United Religions Initiative.

Charles explained the long involved process that led from those meetings to the URI Charter signing 2000 at a Global Assembly in Pittsburgh, which former CoG NIR Rowan Fairgrove and I attended.  When the Charter was signed, the URI was in 35 countries with 83 Cooperation Circles ("CCs").  Now we're in 83 countries with 571 CCs.  The early pre-URI had a Board of Directors, largely from San Francisco.  The new URI held elections and installed the Trustees in its first elected Global Council at a Global Assembly in Rio de Janeiro in 2002.  This was followed by another GC in 2005 and a third in 2008.  (I served on all three of these.)  This new fourth GC would be in office until 2016 and inherited the previous 13 years of work.  Charles and Kiran answered questions about the Global Council and being a Trustee.  I pointed out that the early on, as we expanded around the world, there had been a tendency on the part of the Americans to assume that anyone who was enthusiastic about interfaith would share the same approaches to doing interfaith work and to administrative organizing, when in fact we came from significantly different religions and cultures with different approaches to organizing.  We have to be open to difference and to having our assumptions questioned.

Kiran directed us to the binder of materials, where we read together about the Roles and Responsibilities of Trustees with respect to Leadership, Governance, Oversight, Fundraisning, Terms, Qualifications, and Key Principles for Good Practice for Individual Trustees.  These documents had been created and approved by the previous GC. After a short break, we returned to a discussion of the role of the Global Council, breaking into small groups - each led by a Trustee who was not new to the GC - to talk about our experiences on the GC and answer and final questions.  When we regathered to compare notes, we found that many ideas had come up in all of the small groups.  One, especially, stood out: if we really are trying to change the world for the better, then when we come to decision making we must remember that our "constituents" are not just the folks who elected us, or even the Regions we come from or the million or so people in the URI, but the whole world.  This is a lot of responsibility.  There was also talk about the responsibility that goes along with managing the URI's finances.  Finally, we all formally took the oath of office.  (We had done so several months ago on a conference call, but we felt we should do so when we could actually see each other.)

Over lunch, I told Bill and Michael a story about finances and the very first Global Council meeting in Rio de Janeiro in 2002.  We had just been sworn in and were in our first GC session.  One of our Trustees was arguing vehemently that we needed to have another, longer meeting of this GC before the end of the year and that is must be in a country other than the United States.  Our Treasurer (whose name I have forgotten) estimated that this would cost about $45,000.  Over lunch, he was sitting with me and Trustee Bob Walter (Taoist / USA).  "You know," he said, "voting to spend $45,000 when we know we don't have it would be considered `fiscally irresponsible'.  If the Board is `fiscally irresponsible', then it becomes personally liable for the costs incurred.  Except, of course, we are an American corporation, so only the Americans would be liable."  He then pointed around the room at the American Trustees.  "Father O'Rourke, vow of poverty.  Rev. Heng Sure, vow of poverty...", etc. etc.  We were suddenly aware that only about four of us were Americans AND had attachable finances, and were therefore carrying the weight of any serious bad financial decisions of the Global Council.  "If my wife had known this," I said, "I probably wouldn't be here.  It also puts a whole new spin on how I'll look at my fiduciary responsibility on the Global Council."  Now that the URI's annual budget has grown to over $3 million, that responsibility has only grown with it.  Bill laughed, agreed, and said that we should bring this up when we have a general discussion of finances in a few days.

After lunch, we reaffirmed the Officers and Committee Assignments that had been made by conference call.  We also re-appointed Charles as Executive Director, even though he will be retiring in onlythree months.  We then got to a difficult process.  Recently, the URI membership had approved a Bylaws change that would shift us to staggered terms; i.e. four of the Regions would elect new Trustees 2 years from now and the four 4 years from now.  This would continue, with half of the Regions holding elections every 2 years.  This would address the continuity issues that had resulted in me and Elizabeth Lheure being the last "Continuing Trustees".  It was a task to explain "staggered terms", with most of the non-English speakers only understanding "staggered" in terms of drunkeness.  After a random drawing of Regions from a bowl, half would hold elections in 2014 and the other half in 2016.  Africa and Europe volunteered to hold their elections ion 2014.  The rest were drawn randomly: Southeast Asia & the Pacific (SEAPac) and Asia in 2014; Latin America & the Caribbean (LA&C), the Multiregion, North America, and the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) in 2016.  (It was pointed out that, due to a technicality in the Bylaws, I could theoretically serve another 10 years on the GC, making 23 years in all.  Somehow, I don't think so.)

Diana Whitney, who will be our Facilitator, arrived, along with Varjapati Das (Hindu / India), one of the two Multiregion Trustees.  Diana led us through small group exercises to work on communication skills in Global Council deliberations and discussions.  She encouraged us to form groups that were as diverse as possible.  My group included Marianne (a German Humanist), Ravi (a Sri Lankan Buddhist), and Sam An (a Cambodian Buddhist).  We shared stories of successful communications in difficult circumstances and came up with guidelines for future communications.  All the groups shared their results.

Over dinner, we shared storie of past URI meetings and old friends.  Rachael Watcher arrived to visit with Alejandrino and to speak with him, me, and Rebeccca about Indigenous networking.  She also brought a surprise that I'll explain later.  Finally, typing and sleep called.

As usual, please excuse any spelling errors.  I wish blogspot had a spell-checker.

Thanks and Blessed Be,
Don Frew
CoG national Interfaith Representative

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

URI Global Council Meeting 2013, Day 1

Today was the first day of the 2013 meeting of the Global Council (Board of Trustees) of the United Religions Initiative.  The URI is the world's largest, grassroots interfaith organization, with 571 local and multinational member interfaith groups ("Cooperation Circles" or "CCs") in 83 countries, involving well over a million people. The Global Council (or "GC") is made up of 3 Trustees elected by each of 8 geographic Regions of the world (24), along with a few Trustees selected by other means.  I have served as an elected Trustee (for North America), an At-Large Trustee (twice), and now a Continuing Trustee - selected by the outgoing 2008-2012 Global Council to provide continuity and organizational memory.  As it turns out, I am the only Trustee - aside from the Excutive Director the Rev. Canon Charles Gibbs and the Founding Trustee Bishop Bill Swing - to have served on all four of the URI's Global Councils since the signing of the URI Charter in 2000.

The role of providing continuity has never been so important, for a few reasons.  First, a majority of the members of the first three Global Councils had been in on the URI from its earliest planning stages, starting in 1995.  We knew each other and the intricaies of the URI well.  Most of this fourth Global Council are new to both the URI and the GC.  Second, the GC meets often by conference call, but is supposed to have one face-to-face meeting each year - esepcially during the tranistion from one GC to the next.  Due to budget constraints (despite having a $3 million+ annual budget), the GC has not met face-to-face since its meeting in Amman, Jordan, in June of 2010.  This current GC has been operating for more than 6 months without having met their outgoing counterparts or each other.

And so, I arrived at this face-to-face meeting wondering what it would be like to meet and work for a solid week of meetings with people I have never met before.  Of course, some things are familiar.  The San Fancisco Airport Hilton where we are meeting is only about 40 minutes drive from my current home in Berkeley, and just down the hill from where I grew up in Hillsborough.  And as we arrived, checked in, and gathered, there were a few familar faces whom I've mentioned in earlier reports: Charles and Bill mentioned above (Epsicopal / USA), Kiran Bali (Hindu / UK, and the current Chair of the GC), Ciro Gavril Avruj (Interspirituality / Argentina), Alejandrino Quispe (Indigenous Quechua / Peru), Rebecca Tobias-Gonzalez (Jewish / USA), Musa Sanguila (Muslim / the Philippines), and many members of the URI Staff.  The new faces were a blur and it will take me time to learn the name / face combinations: John Odama (Catholic / Uganda), Elisha Bubo Yero (Christian / Nigeria), Zubair Farooq & Nasir Saleemi (both Muslim / Pakistan), Marianne Horling (Humanist / Germany), Sherif Rizq (Christian / Egypt), Audri Scott Williams (Christian / USA), Ros Sam An (Buddhist / Cambodia), and Becky Barad (Christian / USA).

A few more folks will arrive over the nextr few days, but if it seems like a lot of men, you're right.  The percentage of the Trustees who are male in this GC is 68% - up from 61/62% previously.  The URI is concerned about this jump and we'll be discussing how to further empower the URI's Principle of practicing "equitable participation of women and men in all aspects of the URI."  The URI is governed by something called the Preamble, Purpose, and Principles (or "PPP").  The Purpose is "to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings."  (For the other two Ps, go here:

Anyway, today's program started late in the afternoon with welcomes from Bill, Debra Bernstein (Assoc. Exec. Director), Charles, and Kiran.  We were each given URI bags full of stuff to help us through the following week - from pads of paper with URI pens to promotional materials to a 100+ page binder of Bylaws and organizational design materials to a stylish URI bag with nicely wrapped chocolates.

We broke for dinner, but were expected to return for another hour of "appreciative interviews".  I sat a table with Charles, Maria Eugenia Crespo (Catholic / Argentina, and Global Support Coordinator), Alejandrino, Sherif, and two interns I hadn't yet met - Ofelia Trevino & Shima (who's last name I didn't catch).  Fortunately, both Maria and Ofelia speak Spanish, which helped me catch up with Alejandrino.  (I had nine years of Spanish in school, followed by five years of Latin, which left me able to understand a lot of Spanish, but never sure whether I'm using Spanish or Latin words when I try to speak it.)  Alejandrino is understandably concerned about the relationship between the URI and the Indigenous community.  He and I are both on the coordination team of the Earth Wisdom MCC (a group of Earth religion CCs) and have been involved in the URI's Indigenous Initiative.  In fact, several folks approached me from the moment I walked into the hotel about the need for a meeting about this issue (and even before... I spent a lot of time on the phone both this morning and between sessions today with Yoland Trevino about the Pan American Indigenous Council - which came out of the meetings Rachael attended in Guatemala - and what the healthiest and most productive relationship between it and the URI would look like.)  Charles has agreed to hold a meeting on this with all concerned parties during our week here.

Over dinner I was also able to get to know Sherif.  He lives in Cairo, which I have visited several times.  We discussed how safe it is to visit these dayes (Very!), the inability of the US State Department to understand the Middle East, the flawed portrayal in the Western Media of the Muslim Brotherhood and its role in Egyptian society, and the pros & cons of Zahi Hawass' tenure on the Supreme Council for Antiquities.  He expressed interest in reading my paper on "Paganism & Islam: The Legacy of Harran" and I look forward to his comments.

The table enjoyed the story of how it took three visits to Latin America before the local folks understood that my first name - "Don" - was not a title.  Once that was cleared up, they started referring to me as "Don Don".  Alejandrino said something very nice.  Referring to my Lost & Endangered Religions Project, ( he said that he had learned from me that ALL religions have something of value to teach and that we are all diminished when any religion is allowed to die out.

When dinner was ending, Charles said that he could tell that we were all too tired for another formal meeting (some folks had traveled more than 24 hours to get here) and that we had already taken advantage of the dinner conversation to get to know new people.  So we were let go to get some sleep.  Audri asked me if we could meet tomorrow over breakfast at 7:30am to discuss the future of the Multiregion in the URI (  Once again, the Multiregion has had both its regional Coordinator and a Trustee resign in the middle of a term and I have been asked to join its Regional Leadership Team to help pull it back together.  (This may seem like deja vu to folks who read my reports from Tepoztlan, Mexico, back in February 2011.)

Heading back to my room, I was stopped by Kiran to talk about presenting an introduction to the URI Bylaws and by Rebecca to talk about Indigenous networking.  When I finally got back to my room, I was able to unpack, set up my usual travel-altar...

... and work on this report.  BTW, the decoration on the altar cloth is oriented to the directions, the Gods are those of my Coven - Hekate & Hermes Trismegistus - the incense in the East was a gift from Shinto Priest Munemichi Kurozumi, the candle in the South was a gift from former CoG Nat. Interfaith Rep. Rowan Fairgrove, the vial in the West contains the Waters of the World, and the stone in the North is from Coventina's Well at Carrawburgh in England.

I'm sure there are mis-spellings, as it's getting late.  Please overlook them.  More tomorrow.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew