Celebrating URI's First 17 Years

26 June 2017, 12:00 AM
2000Charter Signing Stanford Summit.JPG

On June 26, we celebrate the 17th anniversary of URI’s Charter signing. These first seventeen years have brought exciting challenges and successes as URI members have formed friendships and connections across boundaries, breaking down stereotypes and improving countless lives in communities around the world. The URI community celebrates this occasion and looks with hopeful eyes towards the future.

“I give thanks to God for the instinct toward peace that motivates nations and religions to labor for the common good and to find a larger family among diverse peoples.” - The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee, in his speech at URI’s 15thanniversary. 

“Today, we celebrate the original vision that led to the founding of the United Religions Initiative, this extraordinary global grassroots interfaith movement spanning 85 [edit: this number is now 102!] countries that I have the honor of directing...It has been so inspiring to witness the work of countless numbers of community activists forging bonds of alliance across lines of difference and forming powerful coalitions to create change in their communities, to build interfaith partnerships and address the root causes of conflict.” - The Rev. Victor H. Kazanjian, Jr., URI Executive Director, in his speech at URI’s 15th anniversary.

“While the forces of division, hatred and violence seem to be spreading daily, on this great day I urge URI’s members to renew their commitment to the work of interfaith cooperation and in the belief that the power of love, peace, justice and healing will ultimately prevail.” - Anniversary statement from the Rev. Canon Charles P. Gibbs, Founding Executive Director Emeritus.

Thank you to all the Cooperation Circle members, Global Trustees, Regional and Global Staff, President's Council, and donors who have supported URI's mission throughout these 17 years. You have played a vital role in URI's success and have enabled URI to become the largest interfaith grassroots NGO. Today June 26, 2017, thanks to you, we stand at 866 Cooperation Circles in 102 countries.

Read more reflections from the URI community, collected at the 15th anniversary of the Charter signing in 2015, and see videos, speeches, and more photos here.

1. What makes you excited to celebrate URI’s 17th year? URI has always been a miracle created by committed, good-hearted people of diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world. I am excited that it continues to grow and thrive, to soar on wings of vision, brought to life by numberless small acts of compassionate service every day.

2. What has been the most impactful experience for you during your time connected with URI? The blessing and privilege of working with so many extraordinary ordinary people all over the world in creating something that offers such powerful, practical hope in our too-often divided and wounded world.

3. What is your “Happy Birthday” wish for URI? I pray that URI will continue to grow in its capacity to bring the words of the charter into lived expression by growing cultures of peace, justice and healing in more and more cities, towns and villages all over the world.

Charles Gibbs

URI Founding Executive Director

1. What makes you excited to celebrate URI’s 17th year? Like many 17-year-olds, URI is bursting with promise! As a global community growing to know itself, we are integrating our mind, body, heart and soul. I'm excited to celebrate the enduring, daily power that comes from hundreds of thousands of people in CCs who are dedicated to interfaith cooperation and peace, justice and healing. At 27, let's envision billions of people celebrating URI's global community - all of us together fulfilling our aspirations and living in peace.  

2. What has been the most impactful experience for you during your time connected with URI? Meeting and getting to know the remarkable, wise and dedicated people who continue to join URI's global community!  

3. What is your “Happy Birthday” wish for URI? May URI's light always shine brightly in the world - a birthday candle in the hearts of people that can never be blown out.

Sally Mahé

Director of Global Programs and Organizational Development

URI Charter Summit 2000 Pittsburg PA.JPG

When we signed the charter we were all so excited about the possibility of the URI globally. Now, 17 years later, it is satisfying to see that we have a presence in so many of the countries around the world and exciting to think of a future where URI has a presence in every country on the planet. 

The most impactful for me was the experience of participating in the creation of the charter, followed by my experience as one of the initial trustees.  As always, it is the people/relationships - and the process.  The culture that was set it place from the very earliest days is one that has served the organization well - and provided me with not only amazing experiences but also many ways to bring this culture to other aspects of my life.

My birthday wish is that as the URI continues to grow in the spirit in which it was birthed, a culture of peace will permeate every aspect of life. 


Kay Lindahl, CLP


Why I’m excited to celebrate: because of the rich history we have as a global “institution” and to reflect on how great a privilege it has been to be a part of that. Also, because URI has actually managed to survive and grow and deepen in its history. While I was disappointed at how slowly we came to terms with our original vision (which picked up miraculously on the seminal discoveries of the 1960s in the Western world) and how dependent we seemed to be on what might be termed the “USA charity culture”, seventeen years has been a short term in the life of an Enterprise so hugely ambitious as URI.

The most impactful experience for me: undoubtedly my ongoing experience of my need to challenge and be in conflict with much of the early attempts to fulfill the Charter. I was so astonished (suspicious as well) at the marvelous experience of formulating the Charter, that the difficulty of living it into existence was equally an epiphany because of its extraordinary difficulty. It’s a bit like Christianity itself, I guess, so I’m used to being disappointed and impatient at how far we have got with what Jesus and his crowd left to us.

My “Happy Birthday” wish: an increasing skill and spiritual depth for us all (and especially for the leadership, in dealing with the inevitable and very necessary difference amongst ourselves). And happy birthday to all those remarkable San Francisco folks who initiated an Enterprise whose time has certainly come.

George Armstrong

Dear URI family! My best wishes on the special anniversary of URI.

1. What makes you excited to celebrate URI’s 17th year? 17th anniversary is a great date by itself - actually the date of maturity in a way (school children leave school - it is an important period of life for them. So, it could be a new step in URI's development

2. What has been the most impactful experience for you during your time connected with URI? The most important were some events we did here and of course meeting URI people in Bulgaria, who became my friends.

3. What is your “Happy Birthday” wish for URI? Most of us celebrated our own 17th anniversary in the previous century. It was a time of great expectations and happiness of the youth. May URI people be always young at heart and all the expectations come true.

Galina Ermolina

Euro-Asia CC


1. What makes you excited to celebrate URI’s 17th year? Even though this is my first year with URI, I can tell that exciting changes are happening. We are born anew every day, and in every moment, yet my sense from those who have been around longer than I have is that newness is potent in the network, and a new vitality and creativity coming to life.

2. What has been the most impactful experience for you during your time connected with URI? Kindness is the essential quality of the URI network. From emails, to gatherings and staff meetings to the willingness of CCs to share their stories, URI is a community that is built compassion, sharing and kindness to oneself and others. I am reminded of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi, who teaches that (zazen) practice is about meeting our breath with the same kindness as a mother caring for her child. This is the same kindness that runs through the URI network.

3. What is your “Happy Birthday” wish for URI? May 17 bring openness, bravery and connection!

Katherine Hreib

Environmental Network Coordinator

Cooperation Circles Involved

Euro-Asia CC

"Our purpose is to encourage people in the region to unite in the name of the common good and to promote interfaith cooperation between people of all races, cultures, social status. We also wish to share our Siberian heritage and in turn, learn about other nations."