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