Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Bishop William Swing

Here's an article from Sunday's San Francisco Chronicle about Bishop William Swing, one of the founders of the United Religions Initiative, of which CoG is a member.  Bishop Swing has long been a friend to CoG and to Pagans.  I had the pleasure of meeting him at a celebration of Deborah Ann Light's 75th birthday last June, where we discovered that we're both really big fans of Rachel Maddow.

In service to Coventina,
M. Macha NightMare (Aline O'Brien)

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Midwinter Reflections: Light in the Dark

Here's a meditation I created for a Winter Interfaith celebration:

My local interfaith group, Marin Interfaith Council, created a Winter Interfaith Service to share the celebrations of various member organizations that take place in the winter months. When the director asked me to share a ‘teaching’ from my religious tradition, I had to really think about what a teaching would be like from a Pagan perspective. It got me to thinking about light, which, after all, is what this season is all about – the waning and return of the light.

In our modern world, we tend to take light for granted. We’re used to living constantly amidst all manner of human-made lights. We seldom reflect on the fact that for most of human history our only sources of light came from the sky and from fire. We easily forget that there was a time when torches were a new invention, oil lamps were valued possessions, and chandlers toiled so people could see in the night by candlelight.

Our ancestors bedded down at nightfall, for the most part. Of necessity they lived their lives finely attuned to Nature’s cycles – of light and dark, then later the cycles of sowing and reaping. They knew that their lives depended upon the Sun, so they created rituals to ensure its annual return.

In fact, marking the return of the light was so important to them that at least 5,000 years ago some of our Western European ancestors built megaliths such as 
Brugh na Bóinne in Ireland and Maes Howe in Scotland. Brugh na Boinne, or Newgrange, is a mound near the Boinne River (named for Boann, a cow goddess) comprised of a passage leading to inner chambers carved with spiral designs. The builders constructed the mound so that the light of the rising Sun on Midwinter morning shines a shaft of sunlight deep inside to illuminate the innermost chambers. Although only a limited number of people can experience this remarkable occurrence from within the mound, today, in the cyber age, millions of viewers can see this phenomenon live on Solstice morn from anywhere in the world via webcams placed inside the mounds.*

Some ancestors decorated their dwellings with evergreens; they cut a tree and decorated its branches with twinkling little candles. Today, if we’re ecologically minded as we should be, we use strings of LED lights. This tree represented the 
World Tree that unites the Underworld, the Middle World, and the Upper World, and it never dies.

I think humans are hard-wired to gather around fires, especially during the long nights of Winter. Other ancestors gathered round a Yule log -- Yule is a Scandinavian word usually taken to mean “wheel” -- to keep warm through the cold longest night of the year as they sat together, while bards and elders told stories, musicians played and people sang and danced, ate and drank.

Somewhat like the Salvation Army and other charities do today for those with fewer means, the poorer folk trekked from household to household, singing 
wassail songs in exchange for hot wassail and bread or other food.

We Pagans, at least the majority of us, view the Winter Solstice as the night when our Great Mother labors to bring forth the reborn Sun God. We see in images of Mary and the baby Jesus something ancient and primal, an icon that speaks to us.

In my tradition, we gather on the beach at sunset on the longest night of the year, and as the Sun goes down over the waves, we all plunge into the ocean as a ritual purification; then return to warm up at the big waiting bonfire in the sand.

Later we return to homes, often lots of us in one home, where we sing Yule carols, light candles, drink hot brews. We feast and eat Sun cookies the children have baked. We gather near the fireplace telling and listening to stories, playing games, perhaps doing divination.

As dawn approaches, we go outside and gather in the high places around the Bay Area and sing and sing and sing up the Sun – often in the rain, but always we can see the lightening skies.

When we perform these acts – when we sing the carols, trim our trees, light candles – we reenact the things our ancestors did, we reconnect with them, and we honor our heritage. Celebrating Midwinter together allows us to reaffirm the continuance of life.

In the spirit of the season, I’d like to teach you a little chant as a Yule gift from Pagans to the interfaith community. The words are by American poet
e.e. cummings. I don’t know who made a chant of those words, but we have been using them for the past 30-plus years and it seems to be working fine.

i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth**

* Webcams have been mounted in these megaliths in years past. People are chosen by lottery to have the privilege of being inside the mound at sunrise.
** Unfortunately, I don't have the expertise yet to record this chant to share it here.
I wish all a joyous Solstice, warmed by the loving hearts of friends and family and a toasty fire.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Last night's lunar eclipse shown orangish through a gap in a cloudy, rainy Midwinter sky in Berkeley, California.

Yours in service to Coventina,
Macha / Aline O'Brien

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Intro to Interfaith CHS course - M. Mueller

I'm really pleased to see the list posts from COG members about interfaith events. So many people from the Covenant are getting involved in local interfaith! It shows our collective commitment to social engagement and peacebuilding.

For anyone who wants to learn more about interfaith or who wants to develop skills in a group context, I recommend my course, Intro to Interfaith, through Cherry Hill Seminary. Semester starts in January.

Click here for a list of Spring 2011 Cherry Hill Seminary courses.

Intro to Interfaith is down the list. Besides my own course, I recommend all Cherry Hill Seminary courses.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Interfaith Thanksgiving in NJ - M.Mueller

The UU minister and I led an avant-garde service for Thanksgiving on Sunday, addressing its history. You can listen to the minister's sermon here.

There is an annual Interfaith event Wednesday evening, hosted by local Southern NJ religious leaders. They rotate responsibility for leading each year.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

More about AAR - M. Mueller

Oct. 31 morning I put on my good witch costume and took the elevator down for the "Celebration & Cerebration of Mary Daly." I showed up in a black dress, conical hat, and red cord. Going to a memorial for one of my witch-heroes was definitely a good way to observe the special day of Samhain. Those who appreciated Mary Daly also appreciated my special way to honor her. There were feminist women and men of all faiths and spiritualities, and atheists, ready to toast to the memory of Mary Daly.

I wore my costume the rest of the day, as an invitation for conversation. So many people thanked me for bringing the playfulness of Halloween to our conference. It's interesting the many ways we can priestess.

The Dogwood Local Council of COG and Cherry Hill Seminary co-hosted a Samhain ritual at night. I like that the officiants collected names of the Beloved Dead in advance so that one leader, Holli Emore, could read them. It brought focus to a large ritual. Well done, and thank you!

J.Z. Smith gave a plenary address, which I missed because I was meeting with Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza at the time. (This is no small matter. Schussler-Fiorenza is a pioneer feminist theologian in Biblical Studies. I am a lucky duck to have had any time with her.) J.Z. Smith has written academically about magic and Greco-Roman religion. I believe Smith has a lot to offer Pagan Studies. I recommend his work. His speech may be available on the AAR website later.

Elaine Pagels received the Marty Award from the American Academy of Religion and was interviewed by Karen King, again in a plenary session. Many Pagans are familiar with Elaine Pagels' work on The Gnostic Gospels and other projects including The Origin of Satan.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pagans at AAR - M. Mueller

I am at the annual American Academy of Religion meeting in Atlanta, GA. There are representations from COG and Cherry Hill Seminary here. Pagan attendants include M. Macha Nightmare, Holli Emore, Michael York, Maggie Beaumont, Patrick McCollum, Wendy Griffin, Marion Mason, Sarah Pike, Grant Potts, Chas Clifton, Doug Ezzy, and others. Many of these Pagans have presented papers, moderated, or responded. 

Sarah Pike presided at and Wendy Griffin and Jone Salmonsen gave papers at the Ritual Studies Group and Body and Religion Consultation. Helen Berger, Marion Mason, and Christopher Chase gave papers in a joint session of Contemporary Pagan Studies Group and Men, Masculinities, and Religions Group. Chas Clifton presided; Douglas Ezzy and Mark Justad responded. I believe Mark Justad plays a role in the Men, Masculinities, and Religions Group.
I went to the annual Feminist Liberation Theologians’ Network meeting, where it’s tradition for everyone in the room to introduce her or himself, a less common practice for big sessions here. My former supervisor Mary Hunt convenes this meeting. It’s so important for Witches to participate in this network. Feminist Witches have been leading pioneers in spiritual liberation. I want for our voices to continue to be in the conversation. Grove Harris attended. I’m glad to have been part of a Pagan presence there.

I attended a lunch for queer scholars. I got to sit with Rebecca Alpert, a leading Jewish feminist scholar. I love her stuff! Rebecca was very friendly and approachable and is open to continuing correspondence with me….which is great because she’s in my area, Philadelphia! I have an appointment with Elisabeth Schussler-Fiorenza tomorrow, another one of my “intellectual heartthrobs” (I’ve been using that term a lot this weekend).

Last night Kitty Sarkozy led “A Chants Encounter: A Pagan Gospel/Jam Session,” a night of singing and socializing.

Sunday night most Pagans will be meeting in the evening for ritual. The “Samhain Ritual Honoring the Dead” is open to guests and is listed in the program!

I caught up with Patrick McCollum firsthand about his experience in Kazakhstan. At this important international meeting, Patrick developed intimate professional relationships with global political and religious leaders. He is doing the relationship building that I find so fundamentally important in interfaith. The convening organization’s objectives are for ecological health. Look for other press releases, the Wild Hunt, or ask Patrick for more information.

As always, there is tons happening around here and many Pagans! This entry is a sampling of what’s happening and what I’ve been doing. It is by no means exhaustive.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

update from New Orleans - M. Mueller

"If you have come to help me you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together."  --From an Aboriginal Activists Group, wisdom delivered at the Liberal Religious Educators' Association Fall Conference this weekend in New Orleans.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Thoughts on Eight Verses of Training the Mind

On October 12th, I was privileged to see His Holiness the Dalai Lama give a teaching on Geshe Langri Thangpa's Eight Verses of Training the Mind (lojong tsik gyema), sponsored by the Gyuto Vajrayana Tibetan Buddhist Center in San Jose. There were about 12,000 people there but I got a good seat in the interfaith section right up front since I was there as Wiccan clergy. It was an interesting teaching, the verse is part of the "lojong" section of Buddhist verses about Mind Training. This isn't the exact translation he used, but it will give you an idea of the theme.

The verse about "To think of myself as the lowest among all" didn't appeal to me when I read it beforehand but his explanation is that it means you come from a place of respecting every being rather than from a superior place of pity it is better.

As a Wiccan this bothered me and I spent several days figuring out why. I think what bothers me is how hierarchical the thinking is... make yourself the lowest so you are giving everyone respect rather than feeling superior and offering pity. I want to engage the world looking for equals and team mates. A circle rather than a ladder. I do agree that respect and compassion are a good place to come from when dealing with others. I guess I just don't see the need for that stance to come out of a place of relative dominance. And I'm not saying that I don't struggle or that I am free of judgements! But I try to come from a place of connection and a heart opening posture.

An interesting note was that his Holiness' translator was on the interfaith panel and he talked a bit about the history of the Eight Verses. One of the huge beneficiaries of its popularity was a colony of lepers because of the verse about caring for the afflicted. That, at least, seems an excellent outcome.

After the teaching there was an interfaith gathering of about 800-1000 people with speakers ranging from Huston Smith (age 91) to a young man who wrote "Dharma Punx" and works with troubled youth. Unfortunately the teaching had run long so that about half the people left about 2/3 of the way through the planned interfaith program. Our new Silicon Valley Interreligious Council was scheduled to be part of the announcements and hoped that good connections would be made, but the lateness meant very few people heard about us.

Bright blessings,
Rowan Fairgrove

CoG Interfaith Rep elected Trustee of international interfaith organization

I have just been informed that, in its October conference call, the Global Council of the United Religions Initiative voted to invite me become an At-Large Trustee.  This is a great honor, which I have accepted.
The URI is the world’s largest, grassroots interfaith organization, with 496 local branches (“Cooperation Circles”) in 77 countries, involving millions of people in interfaith programs around the world (
The purpose of the URI is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation; to end religiously motivated violence; and o ctraete cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”  I worked with many others – including CoG’s Deborah Ann Light - in the writing of the URI’s Charter in conferences in 1998-2000.

This is my third term on the URI’s Global Council.  In 2002, I was elected to be one of three Trustees from the North American Region on the URI’s first elected Global Council.  In 2006, I was asked to be one of two At-Large Trustees on the URI’s second elected Global Council.  This time, on the third elected Global Council, I am again one of two At-Large Trustees, the other being Swami Agnivesh of New Delhi, India.

The current Global Council is made up of 30 individuals from 19 countries.  The Global Council includes Christians, Muslims, Jews, representatives of Indigenous traditions, Hindus, Sikhs, a Buddhist, and now a Witch.  Many of the Trustees are clergypersons, monastics, and elders of various sorts.

While most of the Trustees come from and represent geographic Regions in the URI (Latin America & the Carribean, Middle East & North Africa, Europe, etc.), my efforts in the URI have been focused on what is called the “Multiregion” (  This is the Region for Cooperation Circles (“CCs”) whose members are in more than one geographic Region or whose focus spans more than one Region.

I serve as coordinator for two Multiregional CCs: Expressing the URI in Music & the Arts (EURIMA) and the Spirituality & the Earth CC.  EURIMA created and published the first Intefaith Songbook ( and hosted the first Interfaith Sacred Space Design Competition in 2004, inviting participants to imagine what genuinely interfaith sacred space would look like.  The competition resulted in 160 designs from 17 countries (, which were published in the book Sacred Spaces.

The Spirituality & the Earth CC is a network of various Earth Religionists (Heathen, Hindu, Indigenous, Shinto, Taoist, Wiccan, etc.) on four continents.  Our cooperative efforts have included arranging computers and English lessons for Indigenous interfaith representatives in Latin America and hosting an annual People of the Earth conference in San Francisco, bringing together Neopagans, immigrant Pagans, and Indigenous practitioners around issues of common concern (

I look forward to once again serving the URI on its Global Council for as long as they need me.

Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Carry the Vision conference 2010

On October 2nd, I went to the annual Carry the Vision conference at Santa Clara University. NCLC CoG had decided not to be a Participating Organization this year but I was in the clergy procession and welcomed people on behalf of the Wiccan community and Covenant of the Goddess. There is always someone who seeks me out to say how wonderful it is that the Wiccan community is present in this interfaith gathering which brings together faith and civic organizations with the aim of making a positive difference in our community and our world.

At the vip/clergy breakfast I had lots of good conversations  with folks. I met Jim Beall, Assemblyman from the 24th Dist. When he found out I was Wiccan he told me he is descended from Scottish Druids and his name is related to Beltaine. I was charmed. The level of acceptance that our community has earned with our interfaith presence is heartening.

After the blessing and various welcomes, Fr. John Dear gave the keynote talking about his work in anti-war and peace movements. He was quite an engaging speaker.

In the afternoon I went to a session on Modern-day Satyagraha Gandhi Jayanti given by Nipun Mehta, founder of CharityFocus and his colleague, Pancho. They showed the Power of One video and talked about making a difference. Their model for organizations was (1) Be volunteer run. (2) Don't fundraise and (3) Think small - assume value in every part of the process. Their philosophy is that "Wealth lies in contributions, not possessions. Reward lies in density of interconnections via circulation of gifts." The four shifts that have to be made are (1) Consumption to contribution, (2) Transaction to trust, (3) Isolation to community and (4) Scarcity to abundance. They have restaurants called Karma Kitchen where people pay what they feel it is worth... and whether there is a meal the next week depends on whether this weeks folks pay. Another project is Daily Good, a newsletter that gives a quote, a related story and an action every day.

The ending keynote was by Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a a longtime civil rights activist.

This conference is a wonderful cross-section of the many faith and civic organizations in the South Bay community. I hope that next year NCLC will consider participating in a deeper way again even though our general focus is more in the North and East Bay.

Bright blessings,
Rowan Fairgrove

Saturday, October 2, 2010

New Silicon Valley Interfaith organization in the works

For years interfaith in the Santa Clara Valley has been fragmented with an ecumenical Council of Churches and various groups focused on peace, labor issues, feeding the hungry, etc. Since the early 1970s there was also been a clergy dialog group, most recently sponsored by Silicon Valley Faces. As SVFaces is now bowing out, the Interfaith Steering Committee that grew out of the dialog group and which spearheaded the efforts to become a Partner City of the Parliament of the World's Religions, felt the time was ripe for a new organization to emerge.

On September 28, 2010 at Temple Emanu-El in San Jose, a meeting of about 50 interfaith reps from all over the Santa Clara Valley got together and voted that we would create SiVIC, the Silicon Valley Interreligious Council to be a new networking hub for engaging all local faith communities, civic organizations, nonprofits, and educational institutions of the Silicon Valley, California.

Our work is cut out for us! There are about six committees roughing out bylaws and incorporation, outreach and advertising, fundraising and infrastructure. An inaugural board will be nominated and take office at the first Assembly to be held in February 2011.

Rowan Fairgrove, of Covenant of the Goddess, has been a member of the Steering Committee for several years and is now on the infrastructure committee helping with social networking and web outreach.

Information on SiVIC can be found at and on Facebook at

Bright blessings,

Rowan Fairgrove

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

International Day of Peace Celebration, and Then Some

Yesterday I set out to attend the re-dedication of the peace pole on the campus of Dominican University. Our local Dominican Sisters, colleagues in Marin Interfaith Council, do this each year. In the past, when my friend Sister Marion headed the order's Social Justice Committee, I have been an active participant. This year, when the event was announced at an MIC clergy luncheon, I spoke with Sister Marion, who's now retired, about participating; she said that whoever was in charge had already formulated all their plans and that I should just show up. Well, I did, but, I'm embarrassed to say, I had written the event in my calendar as taking place at noon when in fact it began at 11 am. So I arrived just as they were concluding.

In 1981, the UN General Assembly passed a resolution declaring an International Day of Peace, and in 2001, it adopted the resolution declaring September 21 of each year International Day of Peace. This year's theme is "Youth for Peace and Development."

Since its inception, Peace Day has marked our personal and planetary progress towards peace. It has grown to include millions of people in all parts of the world, and each year events are organized to commemorate and celebrate this day. Events range in scale from private gatherings to public concerts and forums [sic] where hundreds of thousands of people participate. Anyone, anywhere, can celebrate Peace Day.

International Day of Peace is also a Day of Ceasefire -- a day in which armed conflict is meant to be stilled; a day on which we appeal to combatants to observe a ceasefire; a day on which we reaffirm a commitment to non-violence and the peaceful resolution of disputes.
Last night I missed most of the nightly news I usually watch, but I suspect there were hostile engagements taking place yesterday in spite of the best intentions of those of us who seek to promote peaceful resolutions to conflict.

What was extra special about this year's ceremony was that the words that roughly translate to "May peace prevail on Earth" in the local Coast Miwok** language were to be added. "Hiya aa puli suta weyyatto."* The pole was blessed by the Coast Miwok and all others who were there. Until yesterday, the pole bore those words in English, French, Spanish, and Arabic.***

The assembled people exchanged peace greetings in Arabic: As-salaam aleikhum, Wa-Leikhum As-salaam; Hebrew: Shalom aleichem, Alechem shalom; Serbo-Croatian: Mir nek bude tebi, Nek tebi bud emir; Chinese:Hun pink ban sway nee, Ban sway nee huh ping; Masai/African: Wenna kanta laf-fi, Laf-fi la Bumbu ("God gives peace. Peace is something special."); German: Frie de sei mit Dir, Und mit Dir sei Frie-de; and Coast Miwok: Puli sutammi mikkoni.

In addition to offering prayers for peace from different religious traditions, people sang several songs from song sheets provided by the Sisters. There were the usual, such as "Let There Be Peace on Earth,"to the Pagan-ish "Circle Round," by Linda Hirschhorn, to the utterly wonderful John Lennon song, "Imagine." This last included an additional verse written by fifth grade students at Cornell School in Albany, California.

Imagine that our leaders
Would listen to our voices
And instead of riches
They cared about our choices
Imagine all the people
Caring for the earth...
There is good news in that even though I was late arriving I did meet someone I had hoped to meet there. She is Joanne Campbell, a Tribal Council Elder with the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria. Graton Rancheria is comprised of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo peoples. I invited her to participate in the third annual People of the Earthconference at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio of San Francisco in November.**** As soon as I have more concrete information to give her, I'll follow up on this invitation.

The Dominican Sisters of San Rafael's report on this event, with lots of photos, is here.

* * * * * * * * * *

During the afternoon I attended Marin Interfaith Council's Annual Meeting, where we did a lot of thanking of various individuals for their work,reviewed the budget, and officially installed Fu Schroeder of Green Gulch Zen Center as MIC's representative to the Marin Community Foundation.

* The "s" in the word "suta" should be underlined, not an option in this blog program.

** Coast Miwok people greeted Francis Drake when he first landed on the shores of Marin County in 1579 and other Europeans who entered what it now San Francisco Bay. See "Big Time."

*** While we American Pagans all speak English, and most perform their rites in that language, given the spirit of the annual re-dedication, I would imagine the sisters might consider adding these words of peace in Gaelic, assuming some Druid group involved in interfaith activities were to propose it.

**** Unfortunately, there is no announcement on the ICP website nor any flier for this yet. Watch my FaceBook page for updates.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Lutheran ordination, from Michelle

I called a former Sunday school teacher (from the Lutheran church, my parents' tradition) for professional advice. She is a pastor now with a social justice ministry in Camden. As many of you know, I work in youth ministry. I thought she might have suggestions for service projects.

The NJ Synod of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) will ordain three women on Sunday, and one of them is out as living in a same-sex committed relationship. My contact told me this is a first...I do not know if it is the first for NJ Synod or ELCA. I'll post a link to an article if I come across one. I might go to this ordination myself, depends on how much time I have on Sunday after work at the Unitarian Universalist church.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Strange Conversations

As some of you may already know, I am a founding member of one of the newest Cooperation Circles of the Multi Region of the United Religions Initiative. Our goal is to tell the "grass roots" stories of Peace, what it looks like, how it happens and what results it can have.

As a start in that direction we have begun a series of dialogues called "The Witch and the Preacher's Kid". Each month we will be having a half hour dialogue loosely based on a particular topic. This month we kicked off our program with the topic of Evil and what it looks like from a Christian and from a Wiccan perspective. This program does not suppose to speak for every Christian nor every Pagan but really is only a dialogue between two friends who have found deep kinship despite our different religions.

This dialogue is available for listening at our web site at Think Peace Media and Communications Network. Here we invite comments from the listeners in the form of arguments and agreements which we will then discuss on the following months' shows.

I highly encourage participation in this dialogue from everyone interested in exploring religious concepts and having fun while they are at it.
In Her service
Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Officer, Covenant of the Goddess

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Circle of Hands: A Multifaith Celebration of Diversity and Friendship

On Friday, September 10, 2010 between 5:00 - 6:30 pm, people from religious communities from around the Silicon Valley gathered at the Jim McEntee Plaza at the Santa Clara County office building, 70 W. Hedding, San Jose, CA, to demonstrate our support of religious freedom and to celebrate the relationships we have built with one another.

My estimate is about 200 peopled joined us as a variety of faith leaders spoke prayers and exortations to peace and compassion and respect.  A priest I spoke to thought it more like 400 people. It was a good turn-out in either case.

The space where we met is at a lovely circular dove mosaic created just this year as a "Gathering Place for Peace" in honor of the late Jim McEntee.  McEntee was Director of Human Relations for the County of Santa Clara for 27 years and did much to develop the relationships between different religious and ethnic communities that allowed us to meet in friendship today. McEntee's widow, Ann, was among the celebrants.

We opened with a "Blessing Bell Chant" from Shifu Jian Di of the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale. He had along a young monk with a stunning voice who carried us all to a place of peace and blessing for all beings in all worlds.

The Rev. Rebecca Kuiken, the Director of the Interfaith Council on Economics and Justice (WPUSA) was the MC for the event.

Opening remarks were offered by Rev. Chuck Rawlings, the Executive Director of the Santa Clara Council of Churches and by Supervisor Dave Cortese of the Santa Clara Board of Supervisors. Supervisor Cortese mentioned that he has kept the Ramadan fast in solidarity with the Muslim community for the past four years.

Multifaith prayers were then offered by Rabbi Melanie Aron of Congregation Shir Hadash in Los Gatos; Girish Shah, Interfaith Coordinator of the Jain Center of Northern California; Rev. Alan Jones of the Campbell United Methodist Church; Fr. Francisco Rios of St John Vianney Catholic Church of San Jose; and Shifu Jian Di, Abbot of the Chung Tai Zen Center of Sunnyvale.

The next section were leaders speaking of their hopes - Imam Zaid Shakir,  co-founder of Zaytuna College in Berkeley; Ben Field of the South Bay Labor Council; Shafath Syed of the South Bay Islamic Association; and Delorme McKee-Stovall, Manager of the Office of Human Relations of Santa Clara County.

I admit I was particularly moved by Ben Field's hopes for a world where Walter Reuther's fight for social change for the downtrodden is realized.

Then Samina Sundas, Founding Executive of American Muslim Voice, got us all into a concentric circles whilst Andrew Kille, of Interfaith Space; Ann McEntee and Rowan Fairgrove, of Covenant of the Goddess led a litany Rev. Kille had written.

I wanted to share this line:

We bring the wisdom of our religious heritage -- our scriptures, our traditions, our teachers and sages, our ancestors, our devotion, our faithfulness and prayers. (Response: We are all one family)

I thought he did a lovey job of capturing many different traditions with that collection of heritages.

Another particularly lovely line:

We bring a hospitality that opens space in our hearts, giving us a willingness to welcome the "other" to make the strangers a guest, and to turn the guest into a friend. (Response: We are all one family)

Then Imam Alauddin El Bakri offered Asr (late afternoon prayer) and Shifu Jian Di led a Dedication of Merits Chant and Rev. Rebecca Kuiken offered us Deep Peace.  The Muslims then put out mats and shared afternoon prayer, folks visited and accepted the lovely scarves that the Muslim community had brought as Eid gifts for us all.

I chatted with Samina who said that she thought that the media was responsible for giving this little guy in Florida, Terry Jones,  too much attention... just like they gave this little guy Osama ben Ladin too much attention and a megaphone to spew hate. She didn't think either was a good representative of their respective faiths. I thought that was a brilliant analysis.

If you want to follow Andrew Kille at he blogs about San Jose Interfaith matters. He will probably have something to say about today's gathering too. 

Bright blessings,

Rowan Fairgrove

Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Contact With the Condor

For some time I have been in casual contact with the gentleman who writes below.  We have been sharing our cultural wisdom, traditions and ritual, he of his people and I of the Wicca.  In response to a request for stories from the URI which I have posted elsewhere,  He writes his story below.  I share it because it is one which we can all relate to, I think.  In his own words:


Many centurys ago about 5 centurys the europen man get arrived to the Abia-Yala and introduced some diferents things, for example the another kind of thinking and  living.
All the people and indigenous nations looked for in the teaching of the old people the news way for to live in this situation.
The "ancestral circle of elders" , which was the principal place for the comunity said an important mesagge for the young people, " this times are the moment for to change our look and is the moment when the natural life and the comunity life are going to sleep under one dream which is goinig to preserv for a lot centurys, but in one moment when our Mather Earth wake up us again it will be the new PACHAKUTY( The new time for us).
The meeting of the Condor and the Eagle is going to give the sign of this moment.
When the Condor and the Eagle are flying again we are living free again too."

This story or legend was told for the olders to the young people in this olds times.
But in this contmporary times in the divers countrys in latin America there are many young indigenous who are working for the new"Pachakuty" the new change. It is the moment for all the people in the World  for building one new style of life. The dialogue between the young people and the elders is the natural way. The Mather Earth teached us it.

Cosmic Comunity is our style of life and it is our way. We believe in it.

                                         Por arriva corre el agua
                                         por abajo la piedrita,
                                         y yo solamente quiero
                                         s eguir tu curso de color y mirar al Sol.

Ambassador from Latin America.
Cosmic Comunity CC
Espacio de Estudios y Recuperación de la Cosmovisión Indígena
E.E.R.C.I "

This poem translates as      Above the Eagle soars
                                                      The stone beneath
                                                      And all I wish
                                                      Is to follow your colorful path and see
                                                      the Sun.

This is a poetic rather than literal translation and I would welcome other thoughts and words.
Respectfully submitted,
R Watcher

Friday, August 27, 2010

"Rich Kids, Poor Kids: Same Stress, Different Packages"

Today I attended an MIC clergy luncheon at which the speaker, Don Carney, addressed the problems of Marin County teens, rich and poor. (Contrary to the impression some readers may have that Marin, because it is one of the wealthiest counties in the U.S., has no poor people, it does. And just like in other regions, the ranks of the less privileged are expanding while the middle class is shrinking.)

The speaker shows an obvious passion about the work he does with youth. He spoke mainly about youth courts in the U.S. today, and more specifically about the Marin County Youth Court, run by the YMCA and the Marin County Superior Court and the California Administrative Office of the Courts. Only a few years ago there were about 70 youth courts in the country and now there are 1,350.

Youth who have admitted guilt to a misdemeanor are eligible for this program, which focuses on the principle of restorative justice. In adversarial cases, the offender is prosecuted and defended by youth attorneys, before a youth jury. An adult judge presides and a youth bailiff supervises the process, with adult caseworker support for the youth and his or her family. If the offender completes the program within three months, he or she leaves with no juvenile record. The focus is on healing the harm done to the victim, the community, and the perpetrator.

Mandatory aspects include serving two to five times as a juror, providing 10 to 80 hours of community service, and taking a prevention class. Discretionary sentences imposed by the youth jury include restitution to the victim, letters of apology, reflective essays, anger management class, theft awareness class, drug education class, prevention class, additional counseling, and mentoring.

Seventy percent of the kids in youth court are from white, upper middle class families, and 90% of the offenses involve substance abuse. The pressures on kids to achieve often unrealistic goals contribute to their stress levels. Family dynamics add to the pressure and confusion. Marin has the high rate of binge drinking for both teens and adult, and pot smoking is twice the national average. The good news is that youth involvement in AA is enormous, some arising from sentences imposed in youth court.

Kids with what are known as "surplus assets" do not present like less privileged kids do. High achievers can be as drugged and drunk as lower achievers. Underneath are substance and family issues. He cited Madeline Levine's book, The Price of Privilege: How Parental Pressure and Material Advantage Are Creating a Generation of Disconnected and Unhappy Kids. Dr. Levine is a clinical psychologist here in Marin.

Mr. Carney also showed a TV news feature about the Marin Youth Court and recommended a documentary film called "Race to Nowhere: The Dark Side of American's Achievement Culture," made by Vicki Abeles.

A third resource he recommended was Hold on to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, by Gordon Neufeld, Ph.D., and Gabor Maté, M.D.

The emphasis on cooperative education rather than competitive education that the youth court espouses can lead to lowered stress for teens. Mr. Carney said that we need alternatives to suspension for students who violate school rules. He said this leads to dropping out of school, when in fact the practice really pushes the kids out of the system. He believes the system should bear the onus, not the kid. As an example, he cited a good student found carrying a Swiss Army knife in his pack. With a zero tolerance policy in effect, this student was sent to a program with chronic offenders. He also said it's not helpful to mix middle school offenders with high school offenders. Whether an offender is put with peers or peers and older teens, the fact that he or she is in any kind of punitive environment leads to more alienation and the potential for greater offenses.

The irrefutable value of youth courts shows in the recidivism rate of kids who've gone through this process: 13% nationally and only 5% in Marin.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *
Among the more compelling upcoming events announced at this luncheon:

  • International Day of Peace on September 21, 2010, celebrated at Peace Pole at Dominican University, sponsored by the Dominican Sisters of San Rafael. This year they will be adding a fifth plaque in the language of the Coast Miwok, the original human inhabitants of this area (see Big Time). I'm hoping to participate in this, as I did in 2007 when my friend Sister Marion chaired the Sisters' Social Justice Committee.
Respectfully submitted,
M. Macha NightMare
Interfaith Representative

Thursday, August 19, 2010

CoG Interfaith Rep elected Officer of regional interfaith organization

Last Tuesday, at a meeting of the Board of Directors of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio (, we elected Board Officers.  I was elected Secretary of the Board.  This will be my 11th term as Secretary, so I guess I'm doing something right. ;-)

Serving as Secretary has so far included serving on the Program Committee, on the Transition Committee (overseeing our search for a new Director), on the Community Initiatives Advisory Committee (overseeing the management of the funds we have already raised in our $7 million renovation campaign), and ongoing meetings with our architects (Page & Turnbull - and with the Presidio Trust (  The ICP is committee-rich and somehow I seem to end up on almost all of them!  This is why I have at least one meeting a week with the ICP.  Interfaith can certainly keep you busy.

The ICP is one of only a handful of regional interfaith organizations (made up of local interfaith councils et al.), and the only one with a Pagan on its Board.  It has always welcomed Pagan participation, hosts the annual "People of the Earth" event for Neopagans, immigrant Pagans and Indigenous practitioners, and is even redesigning its landscaping to be more welcoming and useful for the needs of Earth Religions.  As always, I highly recommend checking out the ICP's Bay Area Interfaith Connect calendar, with interfaith events happening all over the nine counties of the San Francisco Bay Area (

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Parliament of the World's Religions accepting interns - posted by Michelle

The Council is currently seeking individuals with a passion for the interfaith movement for a Fall 2010 semester internship. Click here to learn more about this exciting opportunity.

Friday, July 30, 2010

Celebrating a Catholic interfaith pioneer & friend of Wiccan interfaith work

Last Saturday, I was pleased to attend a celebration for Fr. Gerry O'Rourke at San Francisco's Cathedral of St. Mary of the Assumption (

Gerry just turned 85 and observed the 60th anniversary of his ordination as a Priest!  He has served for many years as the Officer for Ecumenical & Interreligious Affairs in the Archdiocese of San Francisco.  This used be under the auspices, and with the direct support of, Archbishop Leveda, but with the elevation of Pope Benedict XVI, now Cardinal Leveda was moved to Rome to head the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.  (The new Archbishop is George Hugh Niederauer.)  Right before he left San Francisco, then Archbishop Leveda organized a mass for the departed Pope John Paul II and called me to ask if I would represent the Wiccan community at the service.

A Catholic Archbishop invited a Witch to represent the Wiccan community at a Catholic mass, right before going to Rome to take over leadership of what used to be called the Holy Office of the Inquisition.  This was entirely due to the tireless interfaith work of Fr. Gerry O'Rourke.


Gerry was one of the founders of the San Francisco Interfaith Council, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, the United Religions Initiative, and a host of other Catholic and interfaith service projects.  He has been called "the Godfather (in the nice sense of the word) of Bay Area interfaith".  As one person at the celebration remarked, "Gerry looks like he was sent by Central Casting"... He is an Irish Catholic Priest who is tall, white-haired, jovial, speaks with a thick Irish brogue, and always answers a question with a story.  From the beginnings of the modern interfaith movement he has been insistent about several points that have become oft-repeated quotes in the field:

* "It's all about relationship, relationship, relationship!" -- He always stresses the importance of making personal connections, and has always had the time to ask about your health, your family, and your life, and to care about response.

* "We're all just children at this!" -- The interfaith movement is just getting off the ground doing something new in the history of the world, so we shouldn't be surprised if we stumble now and then.

* "This is a kairos moment!" -- Kairos (καιρός) is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment (the supreme moment). The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens.  [from Wikipedia]

* "We have to keep asking: Who's not here?" -- Gerry has always been insistent that for interfaith to mean anything, it has to be inclusive -- including of people we don't know are out there -- so we have to be actively seeking out the religious diversity in our communities and making sure that everyone has a seat at the table.

While Gerry's voice may have been the loudest in this regard, MANY Catholics have been VERY outspoken about the importance of including Pagans in the interfaith process.

At last Saturday's celebration, after many tributes from his many friends and colleagues, Gerry thanked everyone and singled out a few by name, including me.  He said that if he hadn't participated in a Pagan meditation led by me, his eyes and heart would never have been opened to the sacredness of Mother Earth.  "You can hear people talk about this," he said, "but it's another thing to FEEL it!"

There is a nice articles about Gerry, his interfaith work, and his work with Pagans at:

In interfaith work, we often discover friends where we didn't expect to find them.  For me, one of those delightful discoveries has been the many Catholic Fathers, Sisters, and Brothers who have been so supportive of the Pagan presence and such a joy to work with.  So, Happy Birthday, Gerry!

Thanks and Blessed Be,
Donald H. Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

collaborating on moon meditation - Michelle Mueller

I am at a 3-day workshop for religious educators in Unitarian Universalist congregations. We are meeting at a Jewish retreat center in Maryland, Pearlstone Retreat Center, which is awesome! There is very pastoral land here, and all the food is kosher. Vegetarianism is very easy in kosher kitchens.

I led brief worship tonight on the phases of the moon with lifelong UU and Director of Religious Education, Merrin Clough of Central Unitarian Church of Bergen County, NJ. This is terriffic collaboration! I had the idea of the moon phases. Merrin is responsible for a lot of the poetry. The group was very receptive, and the workshop leaders asked for a copy. This is what we wrote together:

Opening (Merrin) :

The moon
each night is there above us.
A guide
always present, silent, and true.
Tonight bring your eyes
and heart to the moonlight.
Linger, listen
for deep wisdom.
The moon gives no light of its own.
It is a great body that reflects
the burning source of the sun.
Tonight the unseen sun is your congregation
and you are the moon.

Phases of the Moon Meditation

At some time in our lives we have all found ourselves under a waxing moon.
Looking up as that light body in the dark sky becomes fuller and brighter.
Our hearts watch with awe as the night becomes more luminous.

Here we are tonight, together, growing
and becoming full of what we are to become.
Developing our skills as religious educators,
as stewards of these transitions.

Soon we will stand in the soft light of a full moon.
Looking up we will remember that the bright body in the night
creates no light of its own.  All that we see is reflected from what we do not see.

As we illuminate the picture of the congregation before us,
reflecting the truth, wisdom and strength of the community,
may we also hold these religious education programs steady and full.

After experiencing the fullness of the moon,
It is time to retreat,
To step back and allow leadership to step forth.
What is the power of the waning moon?

As new leadership approaches,
we prepare to leave tomorrows work in the hands of the congregation. 
They now know the journey they have traveled together
and their eyes fall on the path before them.
The religious education program is ready to grow to a new fullness
as the waxing moon rises above.

Bright Moon, we hear you calling.
Dark Moon, we call your name.
Crescent Moon, we sing with you. 
Crescent Moon, we sing with you.

(I got the song or some version of it from the Assembly of the Sacred Wheel.)

Monday, July 5, 2010

United Religions Initiative 10th birthday (& a story shared)

On Saturday, June 26th, the United Religions Initiative ( celebrated its 10th birthday.  Members of the URI’s 490 Cooperation Circles (or “CCs”) celebrated in over 70 countries.  The URI’s Global Council, meeting in Amman, Jordan, celebrated in an event that can be seen on YouTube.  And in San Francisco, home of the URI’s Global Offices (or “Hub”), about half the Hub staff (those who didn’t go to Amman) and several of us who had been there for the URI’s founding gathered at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio to eat cake, sing songs, and share memories.

In the photo below, the gentleman in the middle in the blue jacket is Paul Andrews, Executive Producer of “Improbable Pairs” (, collecting stories of friendships in spite of violently devisive issues in war-torn parts of the world.  Sitting in front of him is Rita Semel, a leader in the San Francisco Jewish community and widely acknowledged as the “godmother” of both the United Religions Initiative and the URI.  She’s been doing interfaith since the mid-1960s and was a cub reporter when she covered the signing of the United Nations charter in SF in 1945.  Over Rita’s shoulder is me.  ;-)

In the next photo, the man sitting in the center in the gray suit is Rev. Paul Chaffee, the Director of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.  At the back of the photo is the Rev. Dr. Heng Sure, a Buddhist monk with the Berkeley Buddhist Monastery who once spent years walking the length of California, in complete silence, making a full prostration every third step.  He has a great voice and can be found lecturing on Buddhism and singing in many YouTube videos.  Heng Sure has been a prominent figure in Bay Area and global interfaith.  Sitting at the table in a turban is Dr. Meji Singh, a Sikh who has been an organizational design consultant for several interfaith organizations, including the URI.  Arrayed against the wall on the right are many URI staffers and CoG Nat. Interfaith Rep. Rachael Watcher.

Heng Sure, on guitar, led us in singing “the URI song”, followed by “Happy Birthday” as I brought in a cake.  Rita blew out the candles and we all circled together to share a favorite story of the URI.  I told a story about one day at the 1998 Global Summit, at which we were working on drafting the URI’s Charter.  I reported on this day at the time to CoG’s e-list, but this Interfaith Blog gives me the opportunity to share the story with a wider audience.  Here’s my original report, with a few added parts to the story…

<< Hi Folks!

Deborah [Ann Light] and I are at a 7-day interfaith conference, the United Religions Initiative Global Summit III.  There are some 200 delegates here from over 50 countries.  We are working on the Preamble, Purpose, Charter, and organizational structure of the soon-to-be United Religions.  It has been (as always) exciting and exhausting, tedious and rewarding -- and we still have 2 more days to go!

(Note the Pentacle on the center flag!)

Something amazing, possibly historic, just happened and so I take advantage of the conference computer room to tell you all.  For years, groups like ours have been sort of at the edges of interfaith, hanging on at the fringes of the populous, mainstream core of revealed religions.  While we have been present at the conferences and have participated, we have had little interaction with each other.  That changed over lunch.

There have been conferences on the environment, but most attending have still seen a split between spirit and nature, and so the spiritually inclined scientists have felt left out.  There have been conferences of tribal peoples, but many of us live in societies that are no longer tribal.  There have been conferences of indigenous religions, but many of us now live far from the lands of our ancestors.  Today we held a gathering of indigenous, Earth-centered, and nature based religions that brought together many of these groups for the first time.

25 of us (13% of the delegates here!) met sitting on the Earth in the central courtyard of the conference facility, in full and dramatic view of the rest of the conference participants, including URI founder Bishop Swing.  There were two Witches, several practitioners from North, Central, and South American tribes (some speaking through interpretors), a practioner of Shinto, two Taoists (one from China, the other from the US), a Hindu from the International Association of Hindu Temples, and several folks whose environmental science is informed by a spiritual regard for the Earth.  (There was also a priestess of Candomble who wished to attend, but couldn’t.)

We shared food, prayers, and personal stories, with each other and the Earth.  We discussed our belief systems and found (not unexpectedly) amazing similarity.  We even knew the same songs, but in different languages.  (We also expressed the same frustrations with the relative marginalization of Earth-religion at these conferences.)

And very important... we shared contact info and agreed that this is the start of a coordinated pan-Pagan presence in the world of global interfaith.  Many of us plan to go to the `99 Parliament of the World’s Religions in Cape Town, South Africa.  We plan to accept Madame Nana Appeadou’s offer to join with traditional African Elders in pan-Pagan ceremonies and programs.

The presence of the scientists in so visible a meeting of Pagans made a big difference.  It lent considerable credibility to what otherwise might have been dismissed as “flaky” or “primitive” or both.  Further, for the rest of the conference, the scientists would say to representatives of the other religions present “If you are serious about concern for the environment and resacralizing the Earth, then you HAVE to listen to what the Pagans are saying.  Their message could be the most important one leading into the next Millenium.”

This was a development that I certainly welcomed, but never anticipated.

It is quite possible that a new day in interfaith has just dawned for us.

After the Pagan lunch, I took the collected food offerings from our group to the site of the Pacha Mama ceremony to give to the Earth.  On my way back, I was stopped by a Catholic priest from Africa.  He said that he had been unable to come to the lunch, but would like to be included in our networking.  I thought that there might be a translation problem and explained that the group was for practitioners of indigenous, Earth-centered, and nature-based spiritualities.  “I may be a Catholic priest”, he said, “but I still do the ceremonies of my people, with one difference... they do them naked and I don’t.”  I leaned in close and said, “That’s okay, many of us do them naked, too.”, and we both laughed.

When I got back to the central courtyard, several Muslims were unrolling their prayer rugs.  Iftekhar Hai, President of the United Muslims of America, grabbed my arm (he tends to do that) and said “We are going to do our afternoon prayers.  We all are aiming towards the same divine.  Come pray with us!”  I explained that I did not know what to do or say.  Iftekhar said “Don’t worry!  Just follow me!”  And so I found myself with Muslims from Uganda, India, and Pakistan, answering the call to prayer just minutes after offering food to Mother Earth.  Allahu akbar, indeed!  This was typical of the spirit of fellowship that pervaded this event.  When I told Iftekhar that I had just returned from the Middle East where I was looking into Sabian roots of the Craft, Iftekhar was overjoyed.  “But they are in the Quran!” he exclaimed, and gave me a big hug.

When the conference reconvened, there was an open-mike session.  I reported on our Pagan lunch and thankd Bishop Swing for making it possible for the world’s Pagans to come together.

As I left the tent, I was stopped by Valentine Mokiwa, of the Christian Council of Tanzania...

VM: Excuse me, I heard what you said about the Pagans.
DHF: Yes?
VM: And I have seen your pamphlet. (“Witchcraft: Commonly-asked Questions...”)
DHF: Yes?
VM: And I saw you praying in the courtyard.
DHF: Yes?
VM: So... I am very confused.  What kind of Muslim are you?

I laughed and explained that I was a guest at Muslim prayers and this led to a pleasant discussion of interfaith worship. >>

As usual, get one of us started telling stories about interfaith experiences and we go on and on, and so I have, and so did everyone else as we remembered the first 10 years and more of the URI and looked forward to the next 10.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Class for Chaplaincy Institute: "Nuts & Bolts of Interfaith Work"

Last Friday, June 25th, I did a three-hour class for The Chaplaincy Institute ( here in Berkeley.  They train interfaith chaplains who go on to serve in hospitals and other institutions.  My class was on the "Nuts & Bolts of Interfaith Work".  This was the first time I had given such a class to a non-Pagan audience and also the longest time-slot I'd had to fill with such material.  I rewrote my handouts to be a bit more generic and went to work.  The result was teaching materials that will become part of CoG “succession planning” to help new people get involved in doing interfaith work.

The class opened with a meditation by one of the program coordinators, then I was introduced by another, Rev. Jan Thomas, as someone who “brought over 25 years of interfaith experience” to their program.

The class had already been told the deep history of interfaith in the US by Fr. Tom Bonacci of the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County.  (Tom and I have served together on the Board of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.)  However, the national and global interfaith scene has changed so dramatically over the last 20 years that I opened with the story of the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions and how it changed the world.  I continued the history of  the modern interfaith movement through the North American Interfaith Network, the Interfaith Center at the Presidio, and the United Religions Initiative.

I explained how Appreciative Inquiry has become a commonly used technique in the design and execution of interfaith events.  I illustrated this with an exercise involving an appreciative interview, in which the students formed into small groups of six and then paired off with someone they didn’t know to do interviews.  Over the course of half an hour, the pairs asked and answered the following questions:
1) What is your name?  Where are you from?  What is your faith tradition, if any?
2) Have you ever had an experience that confirmed for you that your spiritual path was the right one for you?  What was that like?
3) Can you think of a time when you were experiencing a crisis of some sort and your faith tradition helped you through it?  What was that like?
4) What unique gift, skill, or knowledge does your faith tradition bring to the world community at this time in our history?

At the end of the allotted time, each person introduced their partner to their small group, based on their conversation.  The questions encouraged each person to share their own faith tradition through stories about which they are enthusiastic.  The fact that you would be retelling your partner’s story encouraged each person to truly listen.

After the exercise and some more discussion about AI, I explained my own theory of the “Stages of Interfaith” based on my own observation of persons and groups over the last 25 years.  It’s still really a draft for an article, but I had enough for a handout and for discussion.  The basic idea is that persons and groups doing interfaith work go through identifiable stages, each of which have their own strengths and challenges.  There can be tension when persons and groups at different stages interact in the same group or event.  We discussed these stages in relation to each student’s experience.

After a short break, we continued with a discussion of “How to do effective Interfaith Work”, based on programs I have given at PantheaCon.  The accompanying handout includes useful tips ranging from the obvious – “Be present and helpful!” – to the not so obvious – “Avoid discussing any previous  religious affiliation (if any) until you have a solid relationship based on your current religious affiliation.”

Towards the end of the calls I handed out lists of interfaith resources to help folks make connections in their own areas, and gave an overview of the “major players” in interfaith, i.e. the individuals who are most connected and tend to turn up at most interfaith events.

I closed by returning to the idea of Appreciative Inquiry.  “Appreciative” means being friendly and open.  “Inquiry” means reaching out and asking questions.  I urged these new interfaith chaplains not to reinvent the wheel.  Rather, they should use the resources from this class to find and make common cause with others who share your interests and goals.

The class and the organizers seemed pleased with the materials presented and I was asked to continue to give it to future classes.  I hope that the materials I assembled will help prepare more CoG members for doing interfaith work in the future, and I’ll continue to give a condensed version of the class at PantheaCon and other Pagan events.

Blessed Be,
Donald H. Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Friday, June 18, 2010

Interfaith Center at the Presidio: Annual Meeting of Sponsoring Organizations

The Interfaith Center at the Presidio ( is a consortium of interfaith councils, interfaith seminaries, and other interfaith organizations in the San Francisco Bay Area who work together to maintain a site for ongoing interfaith work in the Main Base Chapel of SF’s Presidio (  The Covenant of the Goddess has been involved with the ICP since its early planning stages.  I was elected to the ICP Board of Directors in 2000 and CoG’s Northern California Local Council has been an ICP Affiliate for over a year now.

This week, the ICP held its annual meeting of Sponsoring Organizations.  It was an opportunity to catch-up with old friends and share stories of activities.  We got some crucial work done, including updating our list of Sponsoring Organizations (since some have become inactive).  The ICP’s Sponsors now include:

* Ahimsa (
* Expressing United Religions Initiative in Music and the Arts CC (
* Graduate Theological Union (
* Ik Onkar Peace Fellowship (
* Immortal Chaplains Foundation (
* Institute for World Religions (
* Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County (
* Japanese-American Religious Federation
* Marin Interfaith Council (
* Pacifica Institute (
* Rossmoor Interfaith Council
* San Francisco Interfaith Council (
* URI San Francisco Peninsula Circle (
* Women’s Interfaith Circle of Service

The representatives of the Sponsoring Organizations elected our new Board of Directors:

Paul Andrews
Dr. Henry Baer (atheist)
Rev. Judith Fleenor (Religious Science)
Elder Don Frew (Wiccan)
Dr. Kathleen Hurty (Lutheran)
Fr. Gerry O’Rourke (Roman Catholic)
Fr. Michael Pappas (Greek Orthodox)
Rt. Rev. David Ponedel (Psychic Christian)  
Fr. David Rickey (Episcopalian)
Rita Semel (Jewish)
Camilla Smith (Latter Day Saint)
Rev. Susan Strouse (Lutheran)
John Young

The coming year will see the ICP expanding our web casting ability:
       * Live Chapel feed (
       * Saved webcasts (
       * Spiritual Resources, including interviews from the 2009 Parliament of the World’s Religions (

We will be continuing with our campaign to raise $8 million to restore the Chapel and increase its ability to serve different faith traditions, including the creation of a large outdoor ritual circle with fire pit, oriented to the four directions.

In November of this year, the ICP will host the third “People of the Earth” conference, bringing together representatives of Neopagan, immigrant Pagan, and Indigenous traditions to learn about each other and work together for the common good.  I'll post more on this conference as it approaches.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Thursday, June 17, 2010

10th Anniversary of the United Religions Initiative, June 26, and a request for magical help

The United Religions Initiative is the largest grass-roots interfaith organization in the world, with over 450 member groups (Cooperation Circles or “CCs”) in over 70 countries involving over 1,000,000 people.  Next week, on Saturday, June 26, the URI will celebrate the 10th anniversary of its founding.

Back in July 2000, after several years of planning meetings in many countries and of Global Summits held at Stanford University in California to write the URI Charter, representatives from scores of interfaith groups met at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh PA for the last preparatory Global Summit, culminating in the Charter Signing Ceremony.

On the first day of the Summit, one of the Native American representatives, an Oneida named Gary Smith, came to me and said that whenever a great force for good tries to enter our world, there are always forces working against it.  The founding of the URI was one of those times.  The Native Americans associated with the URI had been working to protect the founding, but they needed assistance and they were asking the Wiccans to help work magic to protect the URI’s founding.  This was the first time in interfaith, to my knowledge, that Native Americans asked Witches to cooperate on working protective magic.  I spoke with the other Witches present – Deborah Ann Light and Rowan Fairgrove – and we coordinated our ritual efforts with the Native Americans.

I went on to work with Gary in a number of URI contexts, and he was a member of a CC I helped found: the Spirituality & the Earth CC.  Sadly, Gary died in August 2002.

The 2000 Global Summit was also a notable step forward for Witches when it came to the ceremony all attending did together on the campus to bless the URI founding. 

The night before I had been asked to perform a “traditional Wiccan foundation blessing” as part of the ceremony.  I said “Of course!” and went back to my dorm room to write one.  ;-)  As I worked on the blessing, I decided that these interfaith folks had known Witches – had know me – long enough that I could be true to my own path and dispense with the all-too-common vagaries of “the Lady and the Lord” and get more specific.

Accordingly, when my part of the ceremony came, I invoked, by name, Hekate and Hermes – as deities watching over crossroads, travelers, and new beginnings – to bless the founding of the URI.  I was overjoyed to notice Bishop William Swing, the URI’s founder, raising his arms in invocation with the rest of us.  This, to me, was truly a sign of acceptance and I reported it as such in an interfaith report to CoG.

This was noticed by the conservative Christians who are opposed to Christian participation in interfaith work and was picked up and spread all over the internet as proof of how dangerous interfaith work can be for Christians.

Check it out for yourself.  Google “Bishop Swing”, “URI”, and “Hekate” and see what you get.  Several pages of links, I’ll bet.

Since 2000, the URI has grown and prospered.  CoG’s participation has grown and prospered.  I have served two terms as a Trustee on the URI’s Global Council.  Several CoG members have participated in URI Cooperation Circles, including:
* The Bridge CC
* Expressing the URI in Music & the Arts CC (
* Gifts & Resources CC
* Interfaith Center at the Presidio CC (
* Marin Interfaith Council CC (
* Multi-Regional Cooperation Circle Support MCC
* Spiritual Alliance for Earth CC
* Spirituality & the Earth CC (
* Think Peace Media & Communications CC (
* URI Council for Women CC (
* URI Women’s Coalition MCC (
* Women’s Interfaith Network of the URI CC (

The URI remains, in my opinion, one of our best hopes for peace in the world and CoG plays a vital role in the life of the URI.

Every year, my coven celebrates Samhain.  Our ceremony usually includes a trance journey to the island of the Dead to speak with the ancestors.  I often encounter recently passed interfaith friends on the shore.  A few years ago, right after his death, I encountered Gary Smith on the shore.  He was intent upon impressing upon me that that the protective work we did at the founding of the URI wasn’t a one-time thing; that such work needed to be done on a regular basis, especially on the anniversary of the URI’s founding: June 26.

I have tried to live up to this, and have shared Gary’s message with those folks in interfaith who wouldn’t be too taken aback by messages from the dead about magical protection rituals.  On the occasion of the 10th anniversary of the URI’s founding, I feel moved to share Gary’s message with the wider Neopagan / Pagan / Indigenous community who might read this blog and invite you to share – in whatever way your path does so – in the magical / spiritual protection of the URI, that its work “to promote enduring interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence, and to create cultures of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings” might continue to grow and prosper.  So mote it be!

BTW, if you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, there will be a URI 10th Anniversary Reunion at the Interfaith Center at the Presidio on Saturday, June 26, 4-6pm.

Thanks and Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

NJ Board of Education acknowledges Wiccan/Pagan Sabbats, by Michelle Mueller

I led a post-Parliament workshop at Sacred Space Conference in Maryland this March. We discussed a lot of things, some of which were positive experiences and some of which, I admit, communicated pain for people, like the feeling of sometimes being kept out from Interfaith as Pagans. The group had a lot to say about Paganism and public schools and Paganism and college campuses. In particular, we talked about NJ schools and universities because half the group lived there. There was a hopefulness shared by all the participants, but also awareness of intolerance in the world.

THE VERY NEXT DAY, the NJ Board of Education expanded their list of religious holidays to include the
Wiccan and Pagan Sabbats. This article has the details:

The synchronicity seemed perfect, as if our conversation had created ripples that reached the brain waves of the NJ Board of Education. It was a very good day.

Monday, April 19, 2010

UU historical sites - Michelle Mueller

I went to Murray Grove this weekend on a retreat with Unitarian Universalist high school students (for my job as Director of Religious Education). It is a retreat center in the shore area of NJ, where Universalist Rev. John Murray gave his first sermon. Murray Grove is the home of many UU gatherings, a monthly drumming circle, and other spiritual meetings.

I spent the last weekend in March in Boston on a different trip. We toured the Unitarian Universalist Association headquarters and met with a young adult program director. There is an interfaith training in August coming up I am promoting to youth at the church.

I'll be visiting a Hindu temple this Saturday with UU middle school students.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Overveiw and Thoughts on the First Multi Region Face to Face

I have returned home from four days of meeting and fund raising dinner for the United Religions Initiative and have finally had a moment to think about what it is I wish to convey to you regarding this rather momentous event.  I am certainly tired to the bone, having stayed up every evening until around one in the morning while Don worked on his more detailed reports to you.   The wall at the head of my bed was thin enough to allow me to share the snores of a fellow attendee in the next room and the blanket insisted on slipping off of me during the night so that I awoke several times, cold and tangled in sheets.   Don and I joked that our early morning spiritual meditative practice was to study the insides of our eyelids until only enough time remained to rise, dress, and hurry to breakfast each morning at eight am.   For others the meditative drive to Peet's Coffee filled their morning spiritual needs.

After breakfast beginning at nine am we worked until eleven thirty every morning, and following a brief bio break and snack, were back at it until lunch at one pm. We returned to work at two, broke at four for about ten minutes and back to work once more until dinner at seven PM.    These were very long days but we had so much business to take care of that the time passed rapidly.We were always behind schedule as well.

The meals were very interesting.  Lunch and dinner were little varied during the four days.  Lintels provided a major source of protein (generally in the form of a soup) while steamed veggies, a starch and salad filled out the menu.   All of it vegetarian, and most of it vegan, was grown on site and all of it was fresh and well prepared.  The Brahma Kumaris believe that intent in food prep is essential to the process and that intent was clear as you watched the concentration in their service of the food for you with love and devotion to service.  They believe that the food should not inflame the passions (this includes, I suspect, the unnecessary passion for food) and so while their food is well prepared and flavorful, it is not particularly full of variety or excitement.  For the longest time Don and I could not figure out what they had against ice until it occurred to me that they had no freezer on site.  You had the choice of tepid,  filtered water from the tap or hot tea.  Thus the regular morning pilgrimage to Peet's Coffee.

On Friday, after our Cooperative Circle Report on the Think Peace Media and Communications CC I decided that we should walk our talk and called your National Public Information Officer (who happens to be married to me poor dear) and my son to bring over the lights, camera, and portable sound studio and had them help me set up a recording area where I began to capture the stories of the attending members.   These stories will be available to you as soon as I can get them edited so please be patient.  I am still working on the tapes from the Parliament which will continue to make themselves available to you throughout this year on this site.

The URI's yearly fund raising dinner, Circles of Light, was held on Saturday evening and I volunteered to take Mussi and Vrajapati with me.   Mussi quizzed me about the practice of the Craft for the entire forty-five minute drive and I was as honest and as straight forward as possible not soft peddling our practices in any way.  He was remarkably receptive and astute in his questions. This conversation segued into a discussion of the Golden Rule ( a CC that he founded) and the fact that as Witches we have no real equivalent.   I discussed the Rede and the meaning of "will." He had been certain that a search of the "scriptures" of every religion would reveal some form of the "Golden Rule" philosophy.   Then of course, I had to explain that we don't have scriptures. He was really confused by that one though I think that eventually he understood that we are really an orally transmitted tradition with minimal exceptions.

After four three days of the same vegetarian meal six times, we dove into the chicken like it was fillet minon.  The new ten minute ad for the URI was, Don and I agree, the best effort yet and we were pleased to see our religious tradition represented in two or three of the pictures in both symbols and Don's presence.   They also used a couple of my photos so we were well pleased, though come to think of it I don't know whether I received credit.   By the end of it however Vrajapati and I were more than ready to go.  Unfortunately everyone wished to be seen with Mussi and for every step that we took toward the door we ended up stepping back two.   If I got anywhere near the "photo op" I was hauled into the picture as well totally defeating my efforts at affecting our escape.   We did manage to move steadily toward the door and finally Vrajapati threw his arms around Mussi as if to hug him, (along with everyone else that evening) and then jokingly wrestled him physically toward the door.   As you can see the size difference somewhat in the pics below you will have little trouble imagining how funny that was as Vrajapait is about half of Mussi.  The two of them were laughing so hard that everyone relented and let us make our escape. Even at that we were pretty much the last to leave.  Vrajapati kept chanting "don't look back...don't look back".   The poor young man was asleep in the back of the car before we were out of the city.

Mussi Hailu is the person about whom Don tells the Habibe story.  He is the young man on the far right of the picture below.  Next to him is Audri Scott Williams, who spent four years walking six continents for her project "Trail of Dreams".  Next to her, with the flaming red hair is Ardey Turner, current director of the North American Region, and at the far left is Biswadeb Charaborty, a most remarkable young man indeed.   You will hear their stories from them in the tapes as I edit them.  

Here we are surrounded by our work, with charts covering all of the available wall space. ( We are nothing if not visually oriented)  Yoland Trevino, Chair of the URI Global Council, is on your left.  Salley Mahi (whose name may be mis-spelled here), URI staff, Lance Trumbull, our Regional Coordinator is next,  Mathew Youde, one of our Global Trustees and the youngest member of this meeting (as well as the Global Council in general at the age of 22), followed by the newest member of our region, Bobby Jo Free.

Bobby Jo Free is a clothing designer who started making dolls out of scraps of material as a healing process for the members of her family.   Each doll has a story and we took turns holding them during the meeting, (I have no idea why).  Here Vrajapati has one on his lap as we discuss alternative names for our region. At one point in the discussions Vrajapati, meaning to say "bumblbee" said instead, "humblebee" and we jokingly put forth the name of Humblebee Region.

The flag you see behind him was designed by Nicholas Roerich.  In 1949, during the forth session of the general UNESCO conference, a decision was made to develop international law regulating cultural heritage sites and to see to their protection in case of armed conflict.  It has since been widely accepted one international symbol of peace.  

Please feel free to comment below,
Respectfully submitted,
Rachael Watcher, National Interfaith Rep