I am writing to share the news of a gathering hosted by URI in Los Angeles, California area that I was privileged to attend on Sunday. The event, organized primarily by North America Global Council Trustee Rebecca Gonzalez-Tobias, was hosted by Shepha and Cal Vainstein and their daughter Hannah in their beautiful home nestled among live oak trees in the California countryside near Malibu.
The purpose of the evening was to bring together representatives from different URI CCs in the Los Angeles area, as well as representatives of other NGOs doing related work, to present URI’s work, to hear from the representatives of the other organizations, to deepen existing relationships and to forge new ones, all in the service of creating a broader community working for peace, justice and healing in that area.
The evening was a great success. After a time of mixing and sharing a meal, Rebecca convened the formal part of the gathering with nearly 60 of us sitting in a heart-shaped circle under a beautiful blue sky that was filled with emerging stars by the time we finished. After welcoming everyone and reading URI’s Purpose statement, Rebecca welcomed another Trustee from North America, Adelia Sandoval, to ask a blessing for the gathering from the tradition of the Acjachemen people.
After welcomes and some remarks about URI’s history and work around the world, Yoland Trevino, Global Council Chair, and Charles Gibbs offered a tribute to Leland Stewart, interfaith pioneer and founder and leader of the Unity and Diversity World Council CC “In Recognition for his Enduring Dedication to Building Interfaith Unity and Awakening Moral and Spiritual Consciousness.”
In responding to this tribute, Leland offered an invocation for the gathering, spoke of the pioneering work of his CC and challenged everyone present to work cooperatively for a major festival of faiths as part of the UN’s 70th Anniversary in 2015. We then heard about the work of several other CCs: the Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics, the Salaam Shalom Educational Foundation, SARAH – Spiritual and Religious Alliance for Hope, the Culver City Interfaith Alliance, the Orange County Coalition for the Environment and California Power and Light.
We also heard an update from the co-chairs of the Southern California Committee for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, Dr. Joseph Prabhu, who was part of URI’s chartering, and Ruth Broyde Sharone, a filmmaker and interfaith activist who has also been involved in URI. They spoke about the strong cooperative relationship that exists between URI and the Parliament and about the Parliament’s growing Partner Cities initiative.
Other groups represented included the Levantine Cultural Center, the Shinnyo-en Foundation, Venice Eco-Fest, SABA Pakistan Relief Organization, Topanga Peace Alliance, Mindful Living Foundation, ImaginAction, Project Triumph, Ventura County Interfaith Alliance, I Am Jerusalem, Canaan Fair Trade, Monks Beyond Borders, Network of Spiritual Progressives, Alternatives to Violence, American Friends Service Committee, Integral Yoga Foundation, UCLA Near East Studies Dept., The Center For Sacred Psychology, Aleph Jewish Renewal, Garifuna Indigenous Culture Project and others.
Throughout the presentations, there was a recurring focus on service, innovation, interfaith cooperation and unity in diversity; on the importance of balancing outer work with inner work. Some of the projects are focused in the Los Angeles area; others reach far afield to the Middle East and Pakistan. In addition hearing about all this remarkable work, we were blessed by a spiritual offering from a Aziz, a Sufi Dervish Master. Accompanied by flute, drum and a chanted prayer, he transformed the gathering by his dance, described this way – “Grounded on the land and reaching for the leavens, he will be a conduit to the divine, bringing the spirit of divine love into the circle.”
We also heard brief comments from the daughter of Ferial Masry, who is the first woman born in Saudi Arabia to run for office in the United States; and we closed with a song focused on unity and service, led by singer/songwriter, Stephen Longfellow Fiske. People left feeling a deepening of relationships, strength for the journey ahead and a renewed commitment to cooperation.
I hope this gives you a sense of this wonderful gathering; and I pray this finds all of you well.
The Rev. Canon Charles P. Gibbs, Executive Director United Religions Initiative