URI UK CC Celebrating its 10th Anniversary

An extract from an email by URI global's Executive Director, Charles Gibbs, about an event hosted by URI UK CC  

London URI UK CCWednesday, 10 February 2011 was the center of my trip – a day hosted by the URI UK, bringing together members, current and potential partners, and representatives of URI Europe and the global URI to receive an extended briefing on URI UK’s innovative work as it renews itself with seven new trustees, average age 34. In addition, we heard about the good work of the others present

 

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After breakfast, we traveled through rainy, clogged London streets to the site of the URI UK convening – St. Ethelburga Church, which in its not too distant past was bombed by the Irish Republican Army and then rebuilt as a place to promote peace and interfaith harmony.  

After welcoming remarks, we were paired up for appreciative dialogue. I had the privilege of being paired with one of the URI UK’s new trustees, an inspiring young woman named Anita Nayyar. Anita, who runs her own consultancy company focused on promoting positive collaboration, is a one-woman interfaith movement. Her father is Hindu; her mother Christian. Anita grew up Christian and, after a period of spiritual seeking, ended up converting to Islam. She brings a bright and deep spirit, as well as impressive professional expertise to her role as trustee. If Anita is an example of the quality its new leadership, URI UK has an exciting and effective future ahead. Since Matthew Youde, URI’s interim director of our Young Leaders Program, is also one of the new trustees it seems clear that this group will inspire and be inspired by our global youth network.

London URI UK CCURI UK founder, Malcolm Stonestreet, and Anne Vance, another remarkably competent woman who serves as the chief executive for URI UK, provided a compelling picture of URI UK’s future, based on an innovative program called Faith in the Community, in which the URI UK works with a partner organization, such as a housing association or local authorities, to help the partner organization meet government mandated requirements aimed at weaving new social fabric to promote social cohesion in increasingly diverse communities. 

The program has five stages: 

An in-house assessment with the partner organization

An in-house diversity workshop/training

A program called “Seeing is Believing” that takes key community stakeholders on a bus tour of diverse local faith communities

A “Faith Evening” program that creates a structured appreciative encounter among members of diverse faith communities

A program called “Spirit of the Nation” in which young people document the community’s diversity in photographs, which leads to a photo exhibition, often opened by the mayor of the local community and leads to a book of photos that is shared broadly in the community 

This work has evolved over time into an effective and replicable approach to interfaith organizing to address important community issues. And, because the partners who engage URI UK pay for the service URI UK provides, this approach has a great potential to be sustainable. Though the context for our work differs from place to place and from group to group, we have much to learn from the URI UK’s approach. 

London URI UK CCAmong other highlights: 

We heard from John Battle, a former Minister of Parliament, who for many years led the government’s efforts at the highest level to promote interfaith cooperation and social cohesion. He now does interfaith grassroots community organizing in the community that for years sent him to Parliament. He offered a scholar’s overview of our unique time in history and an activist’s passion for work on the ground. He was clear that in our increasingly interdependent world “the global is local and the local is global;” and that in this rapidly changing world “the key is working from the bottom up.” In answer to the question of what was faith’s value added, he said that faith’s key ingredient is transcendence, a lived recognition that we are more than our material needs; that we are called to serve a higher purpose and that from that transcendent base we need to forge a sense of common direction in order to serve the common good in concrete ways. I found his remarks to be both an endorsement of what we seek to do in URI and a challenge to us to keep growing into our aspirations and practice.

After I spoke about URI global, Patrick Hanjoul spoke about the evolution of URI Europe from a question mark in 1997 to a community of 40 CCs in 2011 with high individual and collection aspirations. He noted that URI Europe is leaving its pioneering stage and moving into a more mature, though no less adventurous, phase of life that requires increasing attention to the practical dimensions of organization needed to support visionary work, including planning, evaluation, fundraising and building powerful partnerships. 

We heard from Warwick Hawkins, who heads a team in the Department of Communities and Local Government that focuses on faith communities and is an interested partner in interfaith work; and from Brian Pearce, founder and now retired activist in the pioneering Interfaith Network of the UK, which will soon celebrate its 25th anniversary. As Malcolm Stonestreet prepares to step back from frontline responsibilities for URI UK, handing that responsibility over to new leadership, he was urged to follow the model of Brian Pearce, who has relinquished operational control of the Interfaith Network but is available to offer counsel and support the venture in any way he’s asked. We heard from CC leaders Deepak Naik, Heather Wells and Matthew Youde.

We heard from Sebastian Taylor who heads a division for Peabody, an organization that manages over 19,000 properties. Sebastian is a key partner of URI UK. 

Bhai Sahib Mohinder Singh, spiritual leader of a large gurudwara in Birmingham that hosted the langar at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Barcelona and a patron of URI UK, had the final comments. You must have faith before there can be interfaith, he counseled. At the center of faith are three actions – prayer, service, sharing. We must be humble and we must be wise, he offered. And we must have a specific focus to draw us into principled action. He singled out the UN’s Millennium Development Goals as a critical global focus that should challenge all of us. At the heart of so much ill is human greed, he said. We will solve greed only through prayer. If anyone else has a toolkit to solve greed, I’d like to see it. He called us all to be faith practitioners who hold ourselves accountable to certain litmus tests that challenge us to match our intentions with effective actions that embody our truest values. 

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Quite a day! 

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Charles 

The Rev Canon Charles P. Gibbs • Executive Director
San Francisco, USA