Sunday, July 13, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 – Day 7 (Last day, Talent Show, and finally: lots of pictures!)

Saturday, June 28

I had breakfast with Victor and Peter.  Peter had been the Creative Director for the opening, closing, and evening plenary sessions at the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Melbourne, Australia (  We discussed how the closeness of the relationship between the URI and the Parliament has waxed and waned over the years and what we could do to make sure the relationship remained close and strong.

After breakfast, during the short break before the next Global Council session, Peter held chorus practice.  He would grab just about anyone who walked by and include then, necessitating a rearrangement of singers and parts.  I kept getting moved back and forth between baritone and tenor (even bass, sometimes) and got thoroughly confused.  Peter is a very talented conductor, but we were mostly very amateur singers.

We gathered together as a joint GC/GSS meeting and were joined by several members of the President’s Council: John and Maria Weiser, Biff Barnard, and Bill Fuller.  At Kiran’s invitation people called out the names of those not with us.  Some were absent due to health issues – like North America Trustee Rebecca Tobias (Jewish / USA).  Some were unable to get visas in time – like MENA Trustees Tareq al-Tamimi (Muslim / Palestine) and Ashraf Samir (Muslim / United Arab Emirates).  Some had passed on and were now considered to be members of the “Celestial CC”.  Some had business conflicts – Like NorAm Trustee Sam Wazan (Muslim / USA).  Some were Trustees whose terms had ended and were no longer on the Global Council – like former GC Chair Yoland Trevino (indigenous Maya / Guatemala and USA), former Trustee PK McCary (Christian / USA), and former Exec. Director Charles Gibbs (Christian / USA).  Many people remembered family members and those yet to come who would be sitting where we were then.

The opening blessing was offered by the contingent from South East Asia and the Pacific (SEAPac):
* Dr. Potre Diampuan (Muslim / the Philippines) – Regional Coordinator, offered a Muslim prayer.
* Mr. Musa Sanguila (Muslim / the Philippines) – Trustee, did the same.
* Mr. Ros Sam An (Buddhist / Cambodia) – Trustee, read a Buddhist teaching.
* Mr. Peter Mousaferiadis (Orthodox Christian / Australia) – Trustee, acknowledged the first peoples of his native Australia and o the place where we were meeting.  He then sang a Kyrie Eleison from his tradition, followed by leading us all in an “Omm…”
They have 36 Cooperation Circles and two more staff persons who couldn't attend.

Kiran invited us to imagine that it is the year 2020 – only six years away – and what the URI would look like.  Highlights…
* We are celebrating our 10 millionth member.  (Currently, about 2.5 million people participate in URI programs.)
* There is a Cooperation Circle in every city.
* We have 10,000 CCs.  (The CC Approval Committee said it would need more members if we were going to grow that rapidly.)
* There is a URI TV channel.
* There is a “Royals CC”, made up of royal families from around the world.
* We’ve reached our goal of a $100 million endowment to cover our basic operating expenses. (Our current annual budget for the Global Support System is about $3.2 million.)
* Everyone knows about the URI.
* We have finally bridged the gap to those who have opposed us.
* There are fewer headlines about religious violence and more about religious peacebuilding.
* The work of the Global Indigenous Initiative has integrated the indigenous voice into the URI.
* We have a global interfaith university.
* The URI has won the Nobel Peace Prize.
* Any CC can easily reach any other CC.
* Funders and investors seek us out.
* The Regions are strong and self-sufficient.
* The Multiregion holds a Regional Assembly on Mars. ;-)

We then broke into small groups to come up with three concrete steps we could take towards making these dreams a reality.  My group included Despina, Qutub, Musa, Peter, Diana, and Swamini.  (Despina’s first suggestion was that we create a “Trustee-for-Life” position so we could keep me on the Global Council.  I was very flattered.)  We came up with:
1) Investigate and understand local cultures of giving and fundraising (rather than just projecting outwards from the Bay Area) and so provide locally relevant and useful assistance to CCs around the world.  (This followed-up on conversations we had started at the previous face-2-face GC meeting we had in 2013.)
2) Create a global action in which each CC can participate with achievable and inspirational results (like the “72 Hours for Peace we did at the turn of the millennium) which we can promote to demonstrate our ability to create global change.
3) Develop a global marketing strategy that can be applied locally.
Other groups had very similar ideas, but many mentioned greater engagement with academia, including offering some sort of certification in interfaith work.

Bill gave us all an explanation of the President’s Council (  The President’s Council is mostly made up of “friends of Bill” and their fundraising efforts have been the source of 80-90% of the URI’s global funding.  (The CCs themselves are self-funding.  The global budget covers the Global Support Office in San Francisco, the Regional Support Offices and Regional Coordinators around the world, and Regional support for things like Regional Assemblies.)  At the age of 79, Bill said, he and the rest of the President’s Council are giving serious thought to th3e long-term funding of the URI.  It had long been Bill’s hope that the President’s Council could put together a $100 million endowment, the interest income on which could cover the global budget, so the Global Support staff could focus more on developing local sources of funding for CC efforts around the world.  This has proven to be harder than expected. 

However, as we have grown, “we have touched more and more hearts”.  Two years ago, one man promised Bill that he would donate $1 million a year to the URI for the next five years.  When Bill told the story to another man, that man also promised to donate $5 million to the URI, but figured “Why wait?” and just gave it to us all at once.  So… we are in a much more comfortable position for the next five years than we have been in the past, but “the cliff is out there”.  We have three more years.  Now, when we have successfully transitioned from our first Executive Director (Charles Gibbs) to a new one (Victor Kazanjian), when we are in the middle of the 4-year term of our fourth elected Global Council (I have served on all four.), when we have had two Global Assemblies (in 2002 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, and in 2008 in Mayapur, India), we have a track record that suggests permanence.  When at a recent meeting, Bill talked to the rest of the Council about raising $60-80 million from within the SF Bay Area and no one flinched, he thought that the time had come to re-start the campaign for a $100 million endowment.

He said that we have a listed membership of over 600,000 people in our CCs.  If each person gave $1 a year to a dedicated fund, in two years we could afford to hold a Global Assembly somewhere in the world.  If we kept that up, we could hold Global Assemblies every two years.

Principle 17 states that: “We have the responsibility to develop financial and other resources to meet the needs of our part, and to share financial and other resources to help meet the needs of other parts.”  We’ve got the first part of that covered.  All of the 640+ CCs are self-funding.  But, as Bill put it, the money isn’t circulating.  It needs to be flowing throughout the system, from CC to CC, from Region to Region.  (During the next break, I told Bill that my CC – the Spirituality & the Earth CC – exists to create exactly the kind of “flow” he mentioned.  We have raised money for CCs in Latin America to provide English lessons, computers and internet connectivity, travel to the Parliaments to engage in international networking, and more, AND we’ve been doing it since being a founding CC back in 2000.  He was surprised and pleased.)

Bill pointed out that our 600,000-member+ organization has a paid staff of only 37 people!  That’s unheard of and shows that we are successful as a grass-roots organization.  Bill acknowledged that the greatest givers are those who give all of their time without any recompense.

Victor said that we would ritualize Genivalda’s idea of each contributing 1$, which would go towards holding a Global Assembly.  I said that if it was meaningful for donors to hear that all of our Board contributes, how much more so would it be to be able to say that every one pf our 600,000+ members contribute!

Victor said that the cost of doing business at the Global Support Office had reached a relatively stable state at a little over $3 million annually.  He would like to grow the core budget so we could provide more support to the Regions.  He would like to see us with a core budget of around $5 million in three years.  A $100 million endowment would almost guarantee that.

Victor started the ceremony that Genivalda had suggested days before.  She rearranged the altar table in the middle of the room so that the components more closely resembled the Quarters as she understood them in Brazil.  Going deosil: Tibetan singing bowl (East), candle, basket for $ (South), candle, flowers (West), small Peace Pole (North), candle.  A URI logo was in the center.  Victor rang the bowl and passed the basket around clockwise, starting in the East.  We each put $1 into the basket while Genivalda prayed over the logo in the center.

Time for lunch.  I sat first with Biff and Peter and talked finance, especially the need to understand local cultures on money.  I then sat with Rachael, Patrick, Karen Barensche, and Monica.  Someone brought up the “Royals CC” idea and I gave them a long story about Prince Charles’s support for interfaith work, including Paganism.  This was news to them and we discussed following-up with the Prince’s Trust.  I went off to explore the campus bookstore and found a book on world religions with a surprisingly decent section on Wicca - Religion 101 by Peter Archer - and a book on haunted college campuses (Santa Clara isn’t). 

We met again briefly for Liam to pass around evaluation forms for us to fill out.  Everyone felt that this had been one of the best Global Council meetings ever!

* Victor explained about that night’s special dinner followed by a talent show.
* Maria announced that we now had 649 Cooperation Circles, with the approval on-site of Kiran’s Compassion for Animals CC in the Multiregion.

We had some free time to get ready for dinner – a chance for a shower and to get into some nicer clothes.  Dinner was downstairs in the student union building, in a fancier room with a stage.  Dinner was fancier, too.

 (L to R: Victor, Elisha, Alejandrino, me - Picture credit for this and all following: Barbara Hartford)

The talent show started with our chorus.  We rose out of seats all around the room and made our way to the stage singing “URI.  We are one.  Re-u-nit-ed, We be-come.”  This continued as a background between several folks offering blessings from their traditions. 

 (L to R: Sande (USA), Patrick (Geermany), Emmanuel (Nigeria), me (USA), Brian (USA), Marianne (Germany), Karimah (Germany), Maria (Argentina), Dianna (USA), Enoe (Venezuela), Karen (South Africa), Genivalda (Brazil), Despina (Uganda), Becky (USA), Luz (Mexico), conductor Peter (Australia) with back to camera)

I had originally prepared a blessing for the meal, but at the last minute was told that the blessings would be after the meal.  Instead, I invoked the memory of my blessing at the founding of the URI, explaining that the God and Goddess of the Wicca are present for my coven as Hermes, God of Travelers, and Hekate, Goddess of the Crossroads.  And so, I invoked their blessing over the URI as we passed through this time of transition and found our way into the future. … Or some improvised words to that effect that I can’t quite remember.

The evening included:
* Karen doing modern dance to Beat poetry read by Sally.

* Enoe and Diana singing a Spanish love song.

* Ros Sam An doing a traditional dance from Cambodia.

* Krithika singing a Tamil love song, accompanied by Biswadeb.

* Despina and Elisha doing a skit about strange interfaith visitors at the court of an African king.

* Luz doing a Spanish dance.

* Alejandrino telling jokes, translated into English by Maria.

* Musa (the Philippines) singing Bob Dylan songs, with back-up vocals by Karen (South Africa, Vrajapati (India), Hawa (Kenya), and Karimah (Germany)

* Bart teaching us all to sing “Hup, Holland, Hup!” whenever the Netherlands was playing in the World Cup.
 * Fr. James Channon doing stand-up comedy about life in Pakistan.

* Victor playing guitar and leading us all in Beatles and Carole King songs (with lyrics held by Sally).

This is really what it’s all about… the reason we are here: Interfaith relationships becoming lasting friendships becoming an ever-growing global family.
After this part of the evening wound down, Alejandrino and I made our goodbyes, packed our bags, and headed out.  I got him to the Mercy Center in San Mateo – midway point in his journey to the Global Indigenous Initiative meeting – around midnight.  After sorting out his room, I made back to my home in Berkeley around 2am.

Next up, the Global Indigenous Initiative.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

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