NAIN gathers in Vancouver
away to paradise
For two years, the North America Interfaith Network (NAIN) has partnered
with other North American interfaith organizations for summer gatherings,
valuable experiences that bear repeating. This summer, though, NAIN
gathered in Vancouver for four days to rediscover its own roots by doing
what it does best.
Remarkable presenters took on a panoply of interfaith
peace issues. Representatives from different traditions led worship.
Fifteen 90-minute how-to workshops (you could take up to three) filled
out the agenda. And schmoozing opportunities were protected from overboard
programmers, so we went home refreshed rather than worn out. At a 45-minute
evaluation before leaving, the word “mastery” came up several
times as people shared their highlight experiences.
And then there was Vancouver, with enough rain this year
to startle Noah. Somehow summer broke through, greeting NAIN with blue
skies, balmy weather, and one of the most beautiful cities on the planet.
Food, lodging, and the program space were close to each other, with
most activity in the Iona Building. Called Chancellor House when it
was built in 1927, this stately, fortress-like stone building, home
to Vancouver School of Theology, completed a total renovation last January.
The massive central tower offers cutting-edge technological amenities
and meeting rooms with amazing views. For late evening refreshments
many headed to the new porches near the top of the tower. We witnessed
miles of inland sea, snowcapped mountains, and an occasional bald eagle,
as the sun sank into the horizon.
2006 NAINConnect – Passion for Peace, Commitment to Change
About 50 attended, the crowd more than doubling when co-registrants
from the concurrent World Peace Forum attended our plenary sessions.
A keynote from Rt. Rev. Michael Ingham, Episcopal Bishop of Vancouver
and interfaith activist, surveyed the challenges and opportunities facing
the interfaith movement. His subtext was the difficult but critical
task of addressing intrafaith relationships with what we have learned
about interfaith relationship-building. The rest of the plenary presentations
were equally compelling:
* The first morning together featured master teacher Nancy
Fisher and a Buddhist perspective. She presented a case-study about
public-school students learning mindfulness (a safer word for parents,
she said, than meditation). The project and its measurable results have
been so transforming across Vancouver’s socio-economic spectrum
that Harvard is paying close attention.
* Douglas Roche and Lois Wilson, national leaders in Canada’s
political and religious life, offered a devastating expose about a second
nuclear arms race more dangerous than the first. Rather than predict
a doomsday scenario, they challenged faith communities to join together
to end this deadly race.
* Louay Safi, responsible for leadership development for
the Islamic Society of North America, talked about peacemaking from
a Muslim point of view. A lively conversation followed responses from
Jewish, Muslim, and Unitarian leaders, focused largely on Abrahamic
traditions. The need to bring indigenous and Asian traditions to this
ongoing discussion was noted.
One evening was spent looking at a variety of interfaith videos. Another
was devoted to a downtown peace concert featuring an interfaith gospel
choir, chants from Jewish singers, drumming from Aboriginal musicians,
and kirtan (sacred songs) from Sikhs. If 200 NAIN members and friends
could have been with us for the week, it would have been better. Otherwise
it came close to perfect. And since the group was small, it enjoyed
an intimacy and family bonding nurtured by our hosts and the volunteers
who were so good to us.
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The Larger Picture
As so many have observed, relationship-building is as
important as program at NAIN gatherings, even in a year of exemplary
programming. Having young adults fully participate enhanced this networking.
Nearly 20 percent of Vancouver registrants were in the under-30 category,
and an auction on the last day generated over $900 to fund young-adult
involvement. Two young leaders – one Christian, one Muslim –
were elected to the board before we headed home.
Ten percent of the registrants have been or are United
Religions Initiative (URI) leaders, including Yoland Trevino, the current
chair of URI’s Global Council. Considerable time was spent discussing
ways to build mutual support amongst our different grassroots interfaith
organizations, even when we don’t formally partner on a project.
For example, NAINConnect 2007 will be held in Richmond,
Virginia, July 12-16, with a focus on “Embracing Religious Freedom.”
The program is largely designed and organized already. Stephen Fuqua,
a staffer for URI-North America, took the next creative step. He used
his time in Vancouver to set up a framework for URI Cooperation Circles
in North America to support and attend NAIN’s Richmond gathering
next year. Good for NAIN – good for URI-NA.
In 2008 NAINConnect comes to San Francisco, and the tentative
theme is “Hearing the Interfaith Voice in North America.”
Under this umbrella, issues that may be explored in 2008 include…
finding an interfaith voice, collaborating for peace and justice, engaging
fundamentalists, relationships between indigenous and established communities,
shared religious/spiritual,indigenous concerns for the Earth, and the
importance of intrafaith dialogue to the interfaith movement. Online
study groups will be organized to study these issues over the next two
Generosity and hospitality empower the journey from being
strangers to being friends. Vancouver set a benchmark for the kind of
hospitality that empowers interfaith relationship-building and refreshment.
Barry Cooke and Judith Hardcastle from the Multifaith Action Society
of BC did the heavy lifting, and their smartest move was developing
a strong team to help with the details. They were magnificent.
Vancouver’s crowning gift was the outdoor salmon
barbeque the last evening. Who knew that the young people would start
dancing to the live jazz trio, much less that ‘old’ as well
as ‘young’ would make their way over to the new patio and
join the celebration? A retired Vancouver School of Theology professor
watched approvingly, observing that it was probably more celebration
than the seminary has ever seen.
NAIN Program Chair
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