Saturday, July 12, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 - Day 6

(The meetings have been continuing relentlessly, resulting in a backup of reports.  Even after the GII meeting ended, folks stayed in town, with follow-up meetings and hospitality commitments for Rachael and me.  And other groups' meeting started up again.  Last Sunday I was guest speaker at San Francisco's First United Lutheran Church.  They are doing a summer series asking representatives from various faith traditions: "How does you faith tradeition call you to care for the Earth?"  This was an easy one for a Witch.  My talk and guided meditation were well-recieved.  Yesterday was a board meeting for the Interfaith Observer -  Anyway, reporting on the URI Global Council and Global Indigenous Initiative continues...)

Friday, June 27

I had breakfast with Sherif and Peter and heard stories about last night.  Peter said that one of the tires on his bus had blown out and the bus had jerked up and down and swayed to one side horribly before stopping.  Images had flashed through his mind, including our conversation about earthquakes that day during which I had been gesturing mystically with my left hand.  “That Witch was casting an earthquake spell!”, he had thought before the bus stabilized.  I explained about the surgical accident leaving me with nerve damage and he seemed relieved, partly humorously, but partly seriously.  ;-)

After breakfast, Peter roped me into joining chorus practice for the talent show on Saturday night.  If you walked past too slowly you became part of the chorus.  He is very good at getting amateur singers to produce beautiful harmonies.  We’ll see how the performance goes.

Today’s opening blessing was by the Middle East and North Africa Region (MENA), but there was only one MENA person present:
* Sherif Awad Rizk (Christian / Egypt) – Trustee
MENA has 67 Cooperation Circles.  There are an additional two Trustees and four Staff who could not be at this meeting.

Sherif played a beautiful recorded sung prayer and followed it with three readings from the New Testament, including Sherif;s comments on how they applied to our work in the URI:
* John 8:3-11 – about the woman accused of adultery, about whom Jesus said “Let he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
* Matthew 19:13-15 – about Jesus saying “Let the little children come unto me.”
* Luke 19:1-10 – about Jesus staying at the house of Zaccheus the publican.

Victor told us that today was the last Friday before the beginning of Ramadan this weekend, so our Muslim participants would be taking a bus to a local mosque for special prayers.

Today’s morning was focused on the Youth and two of our Youth Leaders – Matthew and Krithika – led the program.  They showed us videos of the work of several members of the URI Youth Ambassadors CC (a Multiregion CC, BTW).  Check out the URI’s amazing work led by Youth at:  We heard about work led by Youth helping young people in the Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, Bosnia and Herzigovina, and Kenya.  Matthew pointed out how critical it is that all of the programs are not Elders helping Youth, but Youth helping Youth in a much more empowering way.

Krithika led an exercise using a “Body Map”.  Sande, Regional Coordinator (RC) for North America) laid down on a big piece of paper and Krithika drew her outline on the paper.  the paper was then taped up in a big easel and several areas were identified and connected with comments called out by the group about what we think about young people, which were then written down on the paper.

* Head / What do young people think?
            Adults have it all wrong.  Why can’t I get a job?  We can change the world.  We don’t care about artificial distinctions between people.  The world is in chaos.  Everything is possible.  The world is a social network.  The world is full of opportunities.

* Ears / How do young people listen?
            They listen critically.  (Several parents shook their heads.)  They listen through the heart.  They pay attention only to people they trust.

* Heart / How do young people feel?
            Passionate.  Excluded.  Hopeful.  They want a more joyful structure to work in.  They are very angry and aggressive when they don’t get what they want.  (Several parents nodded their heads.)  They seek to transcend norms.

* Mouth / How do young people speak?
            Through music with a beat.  On the internet.  Focused.  They speak their minds.  Unaware of limitations.  They speak innocently, with strength, full of potential.

* Eyes / What do young people see?
            They don’t distinguish formal and informal.  They are casual.

* Hands / What do young people do?
            They are quick planners.  They want to get right to a task.  Commit quickly.  Sex, drugs, and violence.  ( !? )  Act before thinking.  Inspire others.

I’m not sure why we had to draw a big outline of a body to do this, but there you go.  At this point I noticed that my notes were getting blurry as my pen slipped when I cam close to dozing off.  The schedule here really doesn’t match mine and I’m not getting enough sleep.  I though of slipping off to get a nap, but didn’t.  I am SO glad I stayed, since what happened next was very significant for the Multiregion.

Matthew asked us to break into small groups to discuss and answer three questions:
            1) What does Youth leadership look like in your Region?
            2) What more could the Global Council (GC) do to support Youth in your Region?
            3) What could the Youth Leadership Team (YLT) be doing to support the URI?

They were about to break us up into random groups of five.  I asked that the Multiregion be permitted to stay together as a Region since our situation is unique:
            1) Unlike the other Regions, we rarely are able to speak face-to-face.
            2) The URI Global Youth CC ( and the Youth Ambassadors CC are both in our Region, so our responses would be very different and probably useless for any other Region.

There was resistance to altering the plan, but with the support of Victor, we got our way.  This was a good thing as the resulting meeting was critical for the Multiregion’s relationship with Youth moving forward.

Vrajapati, Audri, Patrick, Matthew, and me (and sometimes Krithika as she floated from group to group) first looked at the current situation.  The Youth CC (including the Young Leaders Program) overlaps with the Youth Ambassadors CC.  Both are CCs in the Multiregion.  However, the URI’s work with Youth has been so important to the organization that it has for a long time had Staff – currently Matthew and Krithika – being paid by and working closely with the Global Support Office in San Francisco (the GSO, or what used to be called “the Hub”).  This relationship has been closer than with the Multiregion.

However, Matthew shared that there is work he does as a Staff person and work he does on his own time, unpaid, as a member of the CCs.  We all asked how the Multiregion could support THAT work and so build a closer relationship.  Matthew shared that many of the Youth already have a global perspective that is trans-Regional and would be excited about having a closer relationship with the Multiregion.

Audri suggested that we start out with getting more of the stories of the Youth accomplishments on the Multiregion website.  I said that we need to educate the Youth in the CCs about their connection with the Multiregion and the possibilities there.  Matthew said that the URI Global Youth CC may be becoming a Youth MCC (i.e. a “Multiple Cooperation Circle”, with at least three CCs as members) in the Multiregion.  Patrick said that if that happened, his Europe Youth Leadership CC would be interested in being part of it (  Audri said that her Trail of Dreams CC has a Youth program called Beyond the Global Divide.  Individuals from that group would probably be interested in joining the Global Youth CC or, if the Global Youth CC became an MCC, the Beyond the Global Divide group might just spin off and become a CC member of the Youth MCC.

At this point, Vrajapati said that we needed Youth on the Multiregion’s Regional Leadership Team (RLT).  I said that it seemed that Patrick had already stepped up and asked if Matthew would be interested.  He was interested and would consider it.  He also aid that Rachael was already in communication with someone from the Youth Ambassadors CC and that we should talk to her about someone from that group joining the RLT.

Patrick pointed out that there was no reason that Elders couldn’t join the Youth CC if they supported their work.  This got us into a discussion of how, 14 years after the signing of the URI Charter, some of our “Youth” now had kids of their own.  We thought we should break down this sharp distinction between “Youth” and “non-Youth”, since we already have more of a continuum from “Young People” (like High Schoolers), “Youth” (like college age into 30s), “Elders-in-Training” (late 30s into 40s), and Elders (old farts… my words, not theirs).

I said that the Multiregion has always led the way… The first CC to make a cash contribution to the URI was a Multiregion CC.  We were the first Region to do Seed Grants.  All of the URI’s early “Initiatives” started as Multiregion CC projects.  The new “Resources CCs” are all in the Mutiregion. … Why shouldn’t we lead the way into the transition to Youth leadership in a Region?  We already, more than any other Region, rely on electronic communication to keep our Region connected.  We should be preparing to pass it on to upcoming leaders who grew up with the technology.

We wrote everything up on a sheet for the wall so others could read it and as notes for Matthew and Krithika.

When we re-gathered, we all heard about the new Resource CCs.  These are CCs that focus on providing resources and assistance to the rest of the CCs.  They have a somewhat closer relationship with the GSO, which helps them find financial support.  The now-forming Resource CCs are:

* Women – Despina and Kutub
            They said that we should always think of women in “gender planning”.  How will women be included / accommodated in programs, budgets, child care at events and meetings, other familial obligations.

* Talking Back to Hate – Sarah Talcott-Blair (not here)
            This is a campaign to reduce hate-speech.  More info at:

* Global Indigenous Initiative (GII) – Audri and Alejandrino
            See the Facebook page at:  Alejandrino said that at the Latin America Regional Assembly in Ayacucho, Peru, in 2004 I had said to him (in a conversation about the Lost and Endangered Religions Project) that “No religion has to disappear.”  This is the risk faced by indigenous traditions all over the world.  Through the GII, the URI can help make sure this doesn’t happen.  He asked all of us to make connections with the indigenous people in our areas at home and pass those connections along to the GII.
            Audri asked us all to support the work of the GII and to sign a banner that would go from this meeting to the GII meeting, and to please include our well-wishes.

* Environment – Bill
            Bill explained the history of the Environment CC and how it became a Resources CC.  He said that they are in the process of producing an assessment of the resources available in the URI and of those CCs with an interest in environmental issues.  Bill also told us that the 2015 Circles of Light annual fundraising dinner would have the Environment as its theme.
            During a break, I spoke with Bill’s Assistant, Debbie Jasso, and asked if they were including spirituality in their assessment of resources, since almost all folks practicing or supporting Earth spirituality are also concerned with the environment.  She seemed as little surprised at the idea.  I pointed out that when we were creating the Earth Wisdom MCC a few years ago I had gone over a database of all of the URI CCs looking for those who might be interested, indicated by who they included in their minimum of three “religions, spiritual expressions, or indigenous traditions” or what they mentioned as areas of interest.  The membership question was not straightforward since, unlike something simple like “Christianity”, Earth spirituality might be listed on a membership for as “Nature religion” or Earth-centered spirituality” or Eco-spirituality” or the name of a specific indigenous tradition or Shinto or Wicca or any combination of the above and many more.  It took a practitioner to recognize the many possible permutations.  I found that over a third of the URI CCs included some form of Earth spirituality in their membership.  She was surprised and we promised to follow-up on this after the meeting.

* United Nations – Monica, Patrick, Mussie
            The URI has been a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) at the UN for many years.  Monica is one of our representatives at the UN in New York, while Patrick Nickisch is our rep at the UN in Geneva.  Almost everyone present felt some connection with the UN through the URI and had done some sort of program connected with the UN through their own CC.  Monica said that the two legs supporting URI actions at the UN are the International Day of Peace (IDP) and Interfaith World Harmony Week.  The IDP is September 21st each year and IWHW is the first week of February – both coinciding with Wiccan Sabbats.  Monica showed a video of URI IDP and IWHW events at the UN, with Mr. and Mrs. Ban Ki-Moon in attendance.
            Patrick told us about URI work at the UN in Geneva, mostly around global access to clean water.
            Mussie told us about work with the African Union in meetings at the UN.  He is know for his work with the Golden Rule CC, but is also involved with the Green Rule Initiative, collecting environmental statements from the world’s religions.
            Monica asked us each to make commitments to do something in support of the IDP this year.  I said that I would approach my fellow organizers of the annual People of the Earth conference about making the event an IDP event this year.

Over lunch, I spoke with Victor about the need to provide some sort of basic briefing of new Trustees to the effect that they should be prepared to encounter and work with people with different assumptions not only about administrative structures and decision-making processes, but also of personal space and appropriate physical contact.  We all come from very different cultures and should be prepared to address these differences before they become problems.

After lunch, Kiran said that the contingent from Southeast Asia and the Pacific (SEAPac) was still at the mosque and so she and Victor would be doing the opening blessing in their place.  As part of it, they distributed gifts of lavender and cedar.  After this, the Global Council and Global Support Staff once again divided for separate meetings.

In the Global Council Meeting, Kiran led us through reflections on what we’d experienced in the meetings so far.  These included:
* Many Trustees said that the sessions hade been very productive for understanding where the URI is now and charting a course for what is being called “URI 2.0”.
* Several of the new Trustees appreciated how the staggered elections allowed them to meet with more experienced Trustees.
* Several people appreciated arriving in the Bay Area a couple of days early, to get over jet lag and adjust to the local time.
* Trustees expressed their clear sense of responsibility to the Regions that had elected them and their commitment to honor that responsibility.
* One Trustee said that although this is his first GC meeting, after the last few days it doesn’t feel like the first.  He feels that he knows us all.
* Many Trustees shared personal stories of inter-religious violence and how building interfaith bridges had given them hope for a better future.

We heard reports from the various Global Council Committees, including the new Trustee appointments: Finance and Operations, Audit, CC Approval, Standing Committee (our Executive Committee, including the Officers and the Chairs of the others Committees.

We broke into small groups of 2 or 3 to discuss what it would take for the Global Council to more effectively perform its role in the URI.  When we shared the fruits of these discussions, several trends emerged:
* We need to strengthen the connections between Trustees and the CCs in the Region that elected them.
* We have “Energizing the Network” materials for Regional Coordinators and CCs, but not for Trustees.  We need this.
* Trustees are overloaded with email.  We need to ensure that Trustees are actually receiving the crucial messages sent to them.  (I have brought up CoG’s AIR vs. DD list system several times, to no avail.  I’ll try again with URI 2.0)

After dinner, I crashed early.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

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