Monday, July 28, 2014

NCLC CoG hosts reception for new URI Director

Yesterday, the Northern California Local Council of CoG hosted a reception for the new Executive Director of the United  Religions Initiative, Victor Kazanjian.

This was an opportunity for him to meet the Pagan community of the San Francisco Bay Area and for us to meet him.  A reasonable sample of the many groups of the Bay Area attended.  The Fellowship of the Spiral Path graciously donated their monthly time-slot at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists (BFUU) hall as a welcoming space to hold the reception.

I opened with a brief history of CoG's interfaith work, leading up to the URI and our connection with Victor...

"Welcome, everyone!

My name is Don Frew.  I’m a Gardnerian priest with a coven here in Berkeley CA and I am also a Trustee of the United Religions Initiative.

This reception is being hosted by the Northern California Local Council of the Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) and I am one of the Covenant’s five National Interfaith Representatives.  Three more of the five are also in this room – M. Macha NightMare, Michelle Mueller, and Rachael Watcher.  With four of its five National Interfaith Representatives in the Bay Area, this gives some indication of how important the SF Bay Area has been for the history of CoG’s involvement in interfaith work.

That work started in 1975, when Glenn Turner joined the Berkeley Area Interfaith Council (BAIC).  At that time, and for many years thereafter, the BAIC was the only interfaith council in the US that was inclusive enough to include Witches.  Macha and others participated in those early BAIC events.  When I joined the Council in 1985, I was immediately welcomed and accepted based on peoples’ fond memories of Glenn and her fundraising work on the Council’s behalf.

In 1992, when people started talking about the upcoming the Parliament of the World’s Religions, I heard about it through the interfaith grapevine and convinced CoG’s Grand Council that we needed to support the Parliament and attend.  CoG became a sponsoring organization – along with Circle, EarthSpirit, and the Fellowship of Isis – and planned to send me and two others to represent our organization.

Over 40 CoG-members ended up attending at their own expense.

The wonderful, marvelous, magical story of what happened at the 1993 Parliament of the World’s Religions has been told in other places – a long account is on WitchVox – and any one of the 9,000 people who were there (including me, Rowan Fairgrove, Allyn Wolfe, and many others) will gladly talk your ear off about it, but suffice it to say that the Parliament was a turning point in the history of the Craft and the broader Neopagan movement.

The media called it “the coming out party for the Neopagans”.  One Wiccan writer said that it was “the most important event in the history of modern Wicca since the publication of Witchcraft Today in 1954”.

It was an historic moment of transformation for the interfaith movement as well, in three critical respects:

1) Before the 1993 Parliament, interfaith had been about official representatives getting together and speaking in a weird form of “diplomat-ese” about the official positions of their organizations.  With 9,000 people showing up for the Parliament, it was about everybody talking to everybody.  Interfaith transformed from official relationships to personal relationships.

2) Before the 1993 Parliament, interfaith work had been almost exclusive between various forms of Christians and Jews, with the odd Muslim or Buddhist included here and there.  People would look at the broad inclusiveness of the BAIC and say, “Well of course you can do that… you’re Berkeley!” 
          But everyone showed up to the Parliament… followers and practitioners of almost every religious and spiritual tradition on Earth!  Including us.  And we all had a great time talking together, eating together, listening to music together, and being in ceremony together.  After the Parliament, every interfaith council was asking the same questions: “Who’s not here?” and “How can we be more inclusive?”

3) The first Parliament was in 1883.  The second in 1993.  One hundred years later.  At the time, there were no plans for a third Parliament.  Many folks were saying “I don’t want to wait another hundred years!  I am excited now and I want to do something!”

Into this pregnant vacuum stepped the United Religions Initiative (URI), offering opportunities for ongoing, local interfaith work, welcoming everyone, and reaching out to provide empowerment to a grass-roots membership.

The URI was created over the course of many annual Global Summits in the 1990s, culminating in the signing of the URI Charter in the year 2000.  CoG members participated in the creation of the URI’s core Preamble, Purpose, and Principles and our influence can be detected.  The Purpose of the United Religions Initiative is “to promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, end religiously motivated violence, and create culture of peace, justice, and healing for the Earth and all living beings.”

There has been a Neopagan on the URI’s Global Council – or Board of Trustees – in all four Global Council terms since the URI’s founding, and there is a Neopagan on the URI’s Global Staff as one of eight Regional Coordinators.  Our presence is valued.

As those of us doing interfaith have always affirmed, interfaith work may seem to be about public relations – explaining to other religions who we are and what we aren’t – but what it really is is an unprecedented opportunity to act on our principles in the world and work side by side with others on issues of common concern.

The only true change comes through changing peoples’ minds, and nothing has the power to do that that religion has.  Religions working together for the common good has the potential to be the most powerful force for positive change on the planet.  How can we not be involved?

From it’s beginnings to just last year, the person at the helm of the URI, through its first steps  and its early meteoric growth, was its Executive Director, the Rev. Cannon Charles Gibbs.  Charles announced his retirement last year and the search began for a new ED.

After the job description was created, URI founder Bill Swing joked to the URI’s Global Council that there were two global job-searches going on right then – one on San Francisco and one in the Vatican – and the Vatican would be lucky to get our runner-up.

Many of us thought it would be unlikely to find anyone who could live up to what we were expecting of the new Executive Director.

We lucked out.  We found Victor Kazanjian.

His bio is online and I don’t want to take a lot of time with it:
          * He served as Dean of Religious and Spiritual Life, Dean of Intercultural Education, Co-Director of the Peace & Justice Studies Program, and Director of the India Program at Wellesley College
          * He co-founded Education as Transformation, an international organization working with colleges and universities around the world to promote religious pluralism and spirituality in education.
          * He is a visiting faculty member and Fulbright Scholar at the Malaviya Center for Peace Research at Banaras Hindu University in Varanasi, India
          * And he is an ordained Episcopal priest.

At our first meeting, Victor told me that he had worked with Pagans while he was at Wellesley and that he looked forward to meeting and working with the Pagan community of the Bay Area.  I said I thought I could make that happen, and this meeting is the fulfillment of that promise.

Just a month ago, the URI’s Global Council held its annual week-long face-to-face Board meeting – 25 Trustees from 19 countries, plus about the same number of Staff.  This was Victor’s first time in the hot seat, and he was amazing.  The Global Council doesn’t exactly work by consensus, but Victor made sure all voices were heard and all concerns addressed. 

This is no mean feat when most of the Trustees come from cultures with very different assumptions about decision-making, administrative structures, what “grass-roots” means and how it works, what a global interfaith organization can and can’t do.

The other thing about Victor is that he did all this with grace, generosity of spirit, and at least the appearance of unflagging energy and enthusiasm (‘tho I imagine he crashed hard at night when he finally had the chance).

I have the highest of hopes for Victor, and the URI, and for the growing relationship between the URI and the Pagan community of the Bay Area and the world.  I will give everyone a chance to introduce their groups soon, but first it is both a pleasure and a privilege to welcome Victor Kazanjian."

Victor gave a wonderful talk, which I wish I had taped.  He thanked the CoG-members with whom he had been working for our insight and support.  He talked about the URI and the opportunities it offers for interfaith cooperation.  he talked about growing up in a multi-faith household.  He talked about the urgent need to bring the Divine Feminine back into our spiritual lives and to listen to the wisdom of the Earth-based spiritualities.  He told us about his experiences at Wellesley, inlcuing what happened when a Pagan student group wanted to join the student interfaith council...  Apparently, although there was a lot of support for the Pagan group, there were also a few groups who said that their religious communities just wouldn't permit them to be in the same room with "Witches" and "Pagans".  After much discussion and fear that there wasn't a solution, someone had a clever idea.  Victor's office had once been a larger room that had been divided into two rooms by the addition of an arch with sliding doors.  The next time the student interfaith council met, the chairs were arranged in a large circle, spanning both rooms, with the open doors in the middle.  After much tilting of heads and quizzical looks, the folks with objections decided that if they weren't actually in the same room, they could stay.  the group met this way for a few months, until enough trust had been built and fellowship created that the "two-room circle" was no longer necessary.

Following this, and after I had thanked the many people who had helped make this event happen, each of the groups introduced themselves and said something about who they are and what they do.  While each group had between one and three people present, each group had one designated spokesperson.

* American Magic Umbanda House - Rowan Fairgrove
* Ile Orunmila Oshun - Louisah Teish

* Ár nDraíocht Féin - Caitlin ni Manannan
* Doire Brighid Grove (OBOD) - Susa
* House of Danu (OBOD) - Jim Bianchi
* Quercus Seed (OBOD) - Felicity Grove

* Freya's Folk - Greg Harder
* Hrafnar (The Troth) - Diana Paxson
* Vanic Conspiracy (The Troth) - Cora

* Sirius Encampment - Glenn Turner

* Adocentyn Research Library - Gus diZerega
* Cherry Hill Seminary - M. Macha NightMare
* Church of All Worlds - Oberon Zell
* Come As You Are (or CAYA) - Yeshe Rabbit
* Coru Cathubodua Priesthood - Rynn
* Elderflower - Edye
* Fellowship of the Spiral Path - Shirin
* Fellowship of Isis - Rowan Fairgrove
* Hanta Yo - Edye
* Kemetic Temple - Richard Reidy
* Open Source Order of the Golden Dawn - Sam Webster
* Pagan Alliance - Arlynne Camire
* Pagans of Color - Xochiquetzal
* Patrick McCollum Foundation - Patrick McCollum

* "Eko, Eko" (the local Gardnerian community of 15 covens) - Polly
* Dragonstone (the Myjestic tradition) - Marilee
* New Wiccan Church - Sara
* New Reformed Orthodox Order of the Golden Dawn (or NROOGD) - Kurt
* NCLC / CoG - Deborah Bender

After each group spoke, I asked everyone in the room who was affiliated with that group to raise their hands.  This showed the vast interconnectedness of our community.  It was not uncommon for someone to be, for example, a Druid, a Heathen, and active in two Wiccan covens.

A further 18 groups were contacted, but could not attend.  With this many groups, even "brief" descriptions ran long and by the time we had finished we had almost used up our two-hour time slot.  Fortunately, the BFUU folks said that we could stay a bit longer for schmoozing, munching snacks and drinking coffee, and having smaller conversations with Victor.  A "bit longer" which ended up being another hour and a half, so "Thank you, BFUU!".

A few of the groups' presentations stood out for me:

Louisah Teish talked about the creation of an "Overground Railroad" to address worldwide economic and sexual slavery.

Glenn Turner explained that all the OTO groups were holding their Gnostic Masses at exactly the time we were meeting, so she was the only person present for a large community.

Oberon Zell was very eloquent and inspirational when he talked about the early days of the Church of All Worlds, Green Egg magazine, and the beginnings of the Pagan movement in general.  He stress that we were and are a "movement", i.e. always in motion, never becoming ossified.

Sam Webster surprised many folks when he said that he was opposed to interfaith work.  He sees it as "a distraction from the clear and present threat that Christianity poses to the Pagan community."  While he applauds the work being done "out there", i.e. in service to the rest of the world, he doesn't see how it benefits the Pagan community.  However, he is open to being convinced.  (Victor sought Sam out to talk during the shmoozing time.  Sam and I talked about following up the conversation as well.  In my mind, among the MANY other reasons for doing interfaith work, it provides the valuable allies we need to oppose just the kind of aggressive Christianity that concerns Sam.)

Patrick McCollum talked about how Paganism is being welcomed at the highest levels of government and at the UN.  He thanked CoG for the work that we have done in building interfaith connections.

Kurt of NROOGD told a story about the ,moment he realized the value of interfaith work.  He was at a URI interfaith event in San Jose with Rowan Fairgrove.  A woman came up to him.  She said that she was told that he was a Witch and wanted to know how he could be at this event and worship Satan?  Next to Kurt, a rabbi and a Baptist minister were having a conversation.  They overheard this, stopped, and addressed the woman, saying, "Oh no, dear, Satan is OUR problem.  This nice man has nothing to do with him."  Kurt said that all of the tension was dissolved in one kind, humorous moment of interfaith support.

I sopke with Richard Reidy and Matt Whealton of the Kemetic Temple as they were leaving and asked if they had had a chance to speak with Victor.  Just as they were saying "No", Victor walked up.  We had a nice chat and they suggested that Victor might want to come to PantheaCon.  I explained what and when it was and Victor said that he and his wife Michelle would love to come.  Then started talking about a URI program, then a URI hospitality suite, and then my wife Anna said "Give the man a break!  He hasn't even gone to one yet and you already have him doing one of the most labor-intensive things you can do at a PantheaCon!"  She's right.  We'll start small.  But I am sure we'll be doing a program.

This was one of those events where the space holders practically had to shove people out the door because everyone wanted to keep talking.  It ws also one where - as is always true of Pagan events - random people started volunteering to help set up and help take down as soon as they walked in the door, including our guest-of-honor Victor.

Everything went very well and Victor was thrilled. I think we have this relationship off on the right foot and look forward to where it will go.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew
National Interfaith Representative

Sunday, July 13, 2014

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

Saturday, June 28

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

* Enoe and Diana singing a Spanish love song.

* Ros Sam An doing a traditional dance from Cambodia.

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

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

* Luz doing a Spanish dance.

* Alejandrino telling jokes, translated into English by Maria.

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

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

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

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

Next up, the Global Indigenous Initiative.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

Saturday, July 12, 2014

URI Global Council 2014 - Day 6

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

Friday, June 27

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

After dinner, I crashed early.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Quick note from Amazing Global Indigenous meeting!

Wednesday, July 2

There is a temporary delay in our regularly scheduled programming...   Rachael and I went straight from the Global Council meeting in Santa Clara, where it was a balmy 80*, to the first truly global meeting of the URI’s Global Indigenous Initiative outside Middletown, where it has been a lovely 102* in the shade.

We are at Four Springs retreat center which, although rustic, has been fine for our needs… except for the weather and the huge fires the next mountain range over which we all have been tracking.  (  Internet connections are spotty, so I haven’t been able to keep up with the reports.  This is just a quick note to say that the meetings have been fantastic!  Rachael and I will post more when we are able, but you can see what we have been doing by checking out Mikuak’s great pics and videos at the GII Facebook page:

Rachael and GII coordinators and URI Trustees Audri Scott Williams and Alejandrino Quispe have assembled a truly amazing group of people practicing living indigenous traditions:

* Dr. Erick Gbodossou – Senegal
* Nana Akomfohene Korantemaa Ayeboafo – Ghana
* Nana Ohemaa Agyiriwa II – Ghana
* Yacine Badian Kouyate – Mali
* Dr. Sekagya Yahaya – Uganda

* Rev. Kalyan Kumar Kisku – East India
* Dr. Samuel Nellikkadu  -- South India

* Alessandra Belloni – South Italy
* Zoya Slavina – Altai, Siberia, Russia
* Galina Ermolina – Russia

* Alejandrino Quispe Mejia – Quechua / Peru
* Raul Mamani – Kolla / Argentina
* Sofia Painiqueo – Mapuche / Chile
* Fany Avila – Kuna / Panama

* Audri Scott Williams – West African, Cherokee, and Seminole / USA
* Elder Don Frew – Wiccan / USA
* Elder Rachael Watcher – Wiccan / USA
* Grandfather Tom Blue Wolf – Creek / USA

* Angaangaq Angakkorsuag – Eskimo-Kalaallit / Greenland
* Grandmother Mona Polacca – Hopi, Havasupai, Tewa / USA
* Ta’Kaiya Blaney (and her parents, since she is 13 years old!) – Sliammon / Canada
* Diane Longboat, Kahontakwas – Mohawk / Canada
* Cindy White, Kawennanoron – Mohawk / Canada
* Chief Phil Lane, Jr. – Yankton Dakota and Chicasaw / USA
* Philip “Tiger” Lane (Brown Bear) – Yankton Dakota and Chicasaw / USA

* Ms. Salam Tangol – Maranao / the Philippines
* Genevieve Kupang – Kankana-ye / the Philippines
* Wanegan, Glenis Grogan – North Australia
* Bununda, Coralie Wason – North Australia

Plus a bunch of translators and a superb kitchen and support staff consisting of a friend of mine and most of Rachael’s coven.

I’ll write up more after I can get home and get a shower.  Seriously, check out the Facebook page.  This has been an amazing and historic meeting.

Blessed Be,
Don Frew