Greetings of love and peace.
So much has happened since I last wrote. I’ll offer an overview.
We have finished an extraordinarily positive, productive, transformative Global Council meeting that moves URI clearly forward into the next chapter of our life. The trustees depart tomorrow (Tuesday), while the staff continues meeting for two more days, writing more of this new chapter.
A breathtakingly beautiful Saturday, with high blue skies and a warm sun, included a visit to URI’s global office in San Francisco’s Presidio National Park
, a stop at the Golden Gate Bridge
(pictured above), suspended majestically above the blue bay waters surrounding Alcatraz Island
; and then time to walk through Fisherman’s Wharf
, a tourist area filled with shops with a world of visitors.
In the evening, the GC and Staff was featured at our annual Circles of Light
gala. The event was attended by nearly 400 people, who had the opportunity to meet the GC and Staff and experience an inspiring program. People were clearly moved by the evening, many commenting that they were more than once in tears at the beauty of URI’s community of diverse people from so many faith traditions and all parts of the world manifesting such love for each other. People were transformed, and it was a transforming night for URI.
Sunday morning we were back at work, spending a good part of the day in a training session on how to use URI’s Theory of Change
to plan, implement and evaluate our regional and global work:
United Religions Initiative fosters connection and cooperation among people of diverse traditions and religions worldwide in order to develop mutual understanding and respect, create cultures of peace and justice, and catalyze shared action for the good of their communities and the world.
URI believes that as more people at the grassroots learn to work cooperatively across faith, cultural, economic and other boundaries, and are provided resources and knowledge through the URI regional and global network, they build more inclusive civil societies. URI offers: a set of proven principles and a model of bridge-building interfaith member groups (called Cooperation Circles); training and leadership skills to develop interfaith/intercultural collaboration and community action; and a global communications infrastructure to enable cooperation, learning and inspiration within and outside of URI. With this foundation of support, Cooperation Circles are empowered to improve their communities, transform conflict, and demonstrate to the world that interfaith collaboration is possible and powerful by addressing the contemporary social, economic, political and environmental concerns that determine a peaceful, sustainable future for all.
I was in a small group with Ven. Jinwol Lee, our regional coordinator in Korea, who commented that he recognized this approach as similar to his work as a teacher. He decides what he wants to teach. He develops and teaches a curriculum. He tests to make sure his teaching is accomplishing what he intends (the students are learning the material). And he adjusts as necessary.
I thanked Jinwol for helping me to better understand this work. It was inspiring to witness the GC and Staff working cooperatively to apply this theoretical structure to developing specific projects to grow URI in their regions. I felt as though I was seeing the next generation of URI growth flowing forward before my eyes.
The final afternoon session saw the staff in a dialogue about what motivates them in this work and the GC involved in committee meetings. After dinner, I was surprised by an extraordinary evening celebration of me and my time as URI’s executive director. It was an evening of timeless time, filled far beyond overflowing with love and laughter and tears. I will cherish my memories of this evening as long as I draw breath.
Today, the GC and Staff spent the first half of the morning exploring how best to support CC connection and growth, and also how to encourage all CCs to live more fully into their responsibilities. From calls to visits to email to social media to regional assemblies, it’s clear that our Regional Leadership Teams take seriously their responsibility to connect and enliven the CCs in their regions; and also that they recognize that we still have plenty of room to grow in this essential work. It’s also clear that we still haven’t found the magic formula to support all CCs in living into their responsibility to make regular reports about their activities and membership. Some CCs excel at this. Others are quite silent. I invite your thoughts about how we can encourage CCs to share the news of their activities.
The balance of the morning offered time for Regional Leadership Teams to meet to work on whatever pressing issues they chose.
After lunch, the GC and staff met separately. The staff engaged in a lively SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats) analysis of their work. I saw the lively engagement a couple of times walking by their room, but I was with the GC, so I can’t offer any details.
In its final sessions, the GC completed its business – ranging from changing meeting dates of the Standing Committee and the GC to accommodate our colleagues in SEAPac, who have to stay up quite late, to participate, to creating a Bylaw Review Working Committee, to expressing formal thanks to the President’s Council for its great work on behalf of URI.
The GC also approved a 6-month leave of absence for Multi-Region Trustee Audri Scott Williams, who will now serve as Interim Regional Coordinator for the MR. Audri’s responsibilities will include helping to maintain communication with the MR CCs, to support a review of how best to accomplish the intended purposes of the MR, and to anchor, in partnership with Alejandrino Quispe, continuing conversations with the group of trustees and staff who met twice here to explore how connect work in Indigenous communities around the world and share that work with the larger URI community.
Everyone involved in this conversation was clear that URI owes an enormous debt of gratitude to those, mostly from Latin America, who ensured that the inclusion and honoring of Indigenous experience and wisdom was an essential part of URI and who have kept that flame alive for many years. These voices will be an important part of the conversation moving forward.
The GC reviewed the work it had accomplished during this meeting, including substantive work on growth in URI and the GC’s responsibility for fundraising.
The GC reviewed its goals for the week:
- To build trust, relationships and cohesion among a diverse group of trustees and among staff and trustees.
- To provide excellent orientation to the new trustees.
- To ensure trustees understand their roles and responsibilities and the importance of a positive, engaged leadership willing to grow URI; increase resources; and provide leadership, connection and service to the CCs in their regions.
- To lay the foundation for establishing an authentic culture of learning and evaluation within the URI network and to facilitate basic skill building for the Theory of Change.
- To revel in the company of a transformative, diverse global community; to leave feeling energized and connected to a global movement for change.
The trustees were clear that they had accomplished all these goals in a productive and transformative meeting for all. People who were largely strangers seven days ago have come to know themselves as dear friends and colleagues entrusted with the sacred obligation of serving URI’s global community in the unique role of GC trustees.
In closing, the trustees offered their commitments for what they will do back home – including, to stay in communication, to redouble their efforts to connect with and grow CCs, to expand outreach and enhance URI’s visibility, and to explore ways to help raise funds to support URI’s work, including, in one case, to raise funds to ensure that there will be yearly GC meetings.
The GC meeting concluded with a sacred closing that included __EXPRESSION__s of love in the universal language of hugs!
I reflect on this time with profound gratitude. I assure all of you, leaders in URI’s global community, that your Global Council is in good hands with this group of dedicated trustees, led by Chair Kiran Bali, who received an unanimous and enthusiastic vote of confidence at the end of the meeting.
I would encourage to take a moment to send your trustees a note of thanks for their dedicated work on your behalf.
The Rev Canon Charles P. Gibbs
Executive Director, United Religions Initiative