June 21, 2012, 1:35 PM
Surprised by Goodbye
In the first years of URI most everything has been "hello." Hello to new people. Hello to new countries. Hello to new regions. Hello to new Cooperation Circles and partnerships. But with you rotating off the Global Council, now comes the stunner, the shock of being forced to say "good-bye."
Saying goodbye is your last act of leadership. Closing the door so that someone else can open it. But I am in shock at the prospect of not hearing your distinct voice on the phone, hearing your dog bark in the background and your family chatting. We all have grown accustomed to your face and your place at the table of decision. Saying goodbye to you...I know we'll still be together in URI....but saying goodbye to you today nevertheless causes my heart to miss a beat, the arrhythmia of respect and affection.
A Loss of Innocence
URI has the loftiest Charter of interfaith values produced in the 21st century. Then what would you expect from its leadership? Loftiness, of course. But now at the end of your tenure, what have you discovered about the Global Council and the Global Staff and URI's Officers? A lofty bunch?
In anticipation of your answer, I title this comment "A Loss of Innocence." You have spent years wading into the classic contradictions that will always prevail in URI. Grassroots but a strong central administration. An ocean of volunteers as well as a handful of paid employees. A fresh and different way of handling internal conflicts as well as By-Laws which address issues with prescribed protocols. Do we gamble on getting everyone together and risk going into debt or do we hold tight and not meet and balance the budget?
In facing into these inevitable tensions we have debated, fought, laughed, cried, become exasperated, and hugged. In so doing, you passed the test of leadership. Despite the loss of innocence, you all stood tall and did your best right to the end. That is what authentic leadership is all about.
You have no idea how great you have been
With your years of service, what have you accomplished? If you were a for-profit business leader, your bottom line would say it all. If you were on a soccer team, we could ask whether you won a World Cup. But you are a council of an upstart interfaith organization. How do you measure that?
Did you end religiously motivated violence? No.....but you got thousands of people all over the world legitimately interested in finding the solution. Did you promote daily, enduring interfaith cooperation? Yes, and not only that, you gave the word "interfaith" a good name in the minds of millions of people.
Did you create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings? Unquestionably! We know when the temperature of the world warms just a few degrees, it brings far reaching consequences all over the globe. Even so when the world's culture of peace, justice and healing rises just a little bit, colossal results are on the way. Maybe in your lifetime. Maybe later. But what you did through URI has gravity and buoyancy.....and will change the world.
So as President of URI, I thank you and salute you and wish all of God's upon you.
The Right Rev. William E. Swing
President and Founder, United Religions Initiative