Don Frew, CoG National Interfaith Representative
The United Religions Initiative (www.uri.org) is the world’s largest grassroots interfaith organization, with over 850 local groups (called Cooperation Circles or “CCs”) in over 100 countries, involving several million people. CoG members have been involved from the earliest days of the URI; I have served on all of the URI’s elected Global Councils (i.e. Board of Trustees) since its founding in 2000.
The URI is administered through seven “geographic” Regions – Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America & the Caribbean (LA&C), the Middle East & North Africa (MENA), North America (NA), South East Asia & the Pacific (SEAPac) – as well as an eighth, the “Multiregion” (www.urimulti.org). The Multiregion was created for all those CCs whose members are in more than one Region or whose purpose is inherently trans-Regional (e.g. the Environment, Women, Youth, etc.).
I coordinate a Multiregion CC – the Spirituality & the Earth CC – which was a founding CC of the URI. Our purpose is: “To foster and facilitate communication and cooperation between all those who feel a spiritual connection with the Earth.” We have members from many indigenous, tribal, Pagan, nature-based, and Earth-centered spiritualities, including many current and former CoG-members: Gus diZerega, Rowan Fairgrove, myself, Greg Harder, Anna Korn, Katya M., Diana Paxson, Catherine S., Rachael Watcher, and the late Deborah Ann Light. I have served as a Trustee for the Multiregion and Rachael has served as its Regional Coordinator. (BTW, more URI Trustees have been members of the S&ECC than of any other CC in the URI.)
I am also one of the coordinators for the Earth Wisdom MCC (aka en Espanol: MCC Multiregional “Sabiduría de nuestra Madre Tierra”). An MCC – or MultiCooperation Circle – is a group of three or more CCs that come together around a common purpose. I have long been a proponent of CC’s being members of the Region in which they are located and members of one or more MCCs in the Multiregion that help them connect with others with shared interests. The Earth Wisdom MCC was founded in 2011 “to foster and facilitate communication and cooperation between all those who live a life of ceremony in honor of Mother Earth.” This wording was carefully chosen to focus on shared indigenous spirituality, rather than on being indigenous people. There are many groups for indigenous people, but in those groups Christianity often ends up swamping local indigenous spiritual traditions, as the vast majority of indigenous people today are Christian. Earth Wisdom member CCs are:
Rainbow CC (West Bengal, India)
Women’s Welfare and Rehabilitation Center CC (East Medinipur, India)
Amaru CC (Ayacucho, Peru)
Movimiento Ecuménico Interreligioso de Pueblos Indígenas CC (LaPaz, Bolivia)
Qewña CC (Jujuy, Argentina)
Spirituality & the Earth CC (Argentina, Brazil, Canada, India, Japan, Mexico, Russia, the United Kingdom, the United States, and Venezuela)
The current Regional Coordinator (RC) of the Multiregion is Frederica Helmiere. On the occasion of the Multiregion reaching 50 member CCs, she organized a Zoom online conference today called “50 CCs in 50 Minutes”, in which each CC would have one minute to describe itself to the rest of the Multiregion. I was asked to present on the Earth Wisdom MCC and the role of MCCs in the Multiregion and the URI as a whole. As usual, timing for a conference call with people all around the world is dicey; for me in Berkeley CA it was at 7:00am. We didn’t get 50 CCs, but we did get 35, with messages sent in from another six. A full list of the Multiregion CCs and what they do can be found at the Multiregion website – https://urimulti.org/cooperation-circles – but I’d like to highlight a few from the conference call (Some of the following info is taken from the CCs’ web pages.)...
Paul Chaffee (USA) spoke about The Interfaith Observer CC. If you don’t already know about it, The Interfaith Observer (TIO) has become the leading online journal on the interfaith movement. You can read, comment, and/or subscribe at www.theinterfaithobserver.org. I serve on TIO’s Board.
Bosco Ng (Hong Kong, China) told us about the Wedo Global CC, which was created to enhance cultural understanding of ethnic minorities in Hong Kong among the Chinese majority population, to reduce negative perceptions and racial discrimination. It provides training opportunities inside and outside Hong Kong for under-represented ethnic minorities.
Omar Hatem (Alexandria, Egypt) explained RadioTram CC. It promotes free expression, human rights, gender equality and tolerance through radio in Egypt. The channel was founded and fully funded by young people. They present ideas, talent, projects and activities that emerged among youth following the 2011 Arab Spring. Learn more at www.radiotram.com
Shoshanna Abrams and Josh Thomas (USA) told us about the Kids4Peace CC, dedicated to ending conflict and inspiring hope in Jerusalem and other divided societies around the world by bringing kids together from divided communities in summer camps and other youth programs. With a membership of 1,150 worldwide (500 Jerusalem youth, 350 Jerusalem parents, 150 USA youth, 150 educators & volunteers), K4P brings together Jews, Christians (Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox), Muslims (Sunni and Shi’a), Unitarians, Druze, Bedouin, and families with multiple religious practices. This is a good example of how CCs can vary in size and scope from a handful of people meeting to talk once a month to much larger programs with global reach.
Suchith Abeyewickreme (a Multiregion Trustee from Sri Lanka), Vincent (Malaysia), Sharon Vaswani (the Philipines), and Matthew Youde (Wales), talked about various global youth oriented programs, including the URI Global Youth CC and the Global Youth Ambassador CC. The URI engages youth all over the world in interfaith programming focused on developing peace and understanding. Suchith told us where to find info about the Talking Back to Hate campaign of the Global Youth CC: http://www.uri.org/files/resource_files/TalkingBackToHate%20_FinalReport.pdf
I was particularly excited to hear about two relatively new Multiregion CCs: The RISE CC (Revivers of Indigenous Spirituality and Ecosystems – www.risecircle.org/) and the SE Indigenous Interfaith Council CC. Nonty Sedibe (South African Sangoma living in Spain) told us about the former, which aims to support fellow indigenous and Pagan spiritual leaders in reviving and empowering earth-based wisdom traditions to survive to serve future generations. Tom Blue Wolf (USA) told us about the SE Council and their efforts to preserve and share traditional ceremonies. Wow! Two groups with which I must connect! (There is a good bio of Tom at http://www.uri.org/action_areas/indigenous_voices/circle_of_wisdom_keepers)
Audri Scott Williams (USA, and one of the Trustees for the Multiregion) talked about the Global Indigenous Network CC and their project to create a seed-bank of plants used in indigenous ceremonies around the world.
Shruti (India) explained the Global Interfaith WASH Alliance CC (GIWA). This is a HUGE effort connected with the United Nations to focus on Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (hence WaSH). GIWA and the URI are combining networks to maximize our impact in parts of the world that need us most. You can read about work in India at www.gangaaction.org/
Claire Marie Pearman (Cairo, Egypt) told us about the CARAVAN CC, focused on peace-building between the religions and cultures of the Middle East and the West through the arts. They are a UN NGO and have art shows traveling around the world.
Hooma Multani (Costa Rica) of the La Villa de Arcilla CC (or “House of Clay”) is building a sustainable eco-village in Costa Rica to host international interfaith events
Despina Namwembe (Uganda) brought us up to speed on WIN-URI, the Women’s Interfaith Network of the URI. While not a formal MCC, it functions in much the same way. Its members are all members of other CCs doing work around women’s issues.
Monica Willard & Deborah Moldow (USA) coordinate the URI’s efforts at the United Nations through the URI at the UN CC. The URI is an EcoSoc NGO (in UN-speak). Their work is especially focused around the International Day of Peace (21 September), the UN Sustainable Development Goals, World Interfaith Harmony Week (1st week in February), the Commission on the Status of Women (in March), and the Indigenous Forum (in May).
Karen Watson (USA) brought us up to date on the relatively new LGBTQ CC. Finally! The presence of LGBTQ+ people has been the “third rail” of interfaith for decades. It’s great to see a group dedicated to creating safe space for LGBTQ folks involved in the URI.
(Note: Sometimes a Multiregion CC doesn’t have its information on the Multiregion website yet, in which case it should be at the URI general site at http://www.uri.org/cooperation_circles/explore_cooperation_circles)
That was just 15 of the 41 groups we heard from! There is a LOT going on in URI’s Multiregion, and that’s just one of eight Regions! To learn more, check us out at www.urimulti.org and www.uri.org.