URI’s Tenth Anniversary in Amman, Jordan: Deepening Relationships, Values and Purpose

21 October 2010
Sanda, Rebecca and Anne.JPG

URI’s Tenth Anniversary in Amman, Jordan: Deepening Relationships, Values and Purpose

By Rebecca Tobias, Global Trustee North America

As the Muslim call to prayer filled the air, we knew we were in a different world. A world of color and contrast, sights and sounds which delighted us, touching us with light and hope. The language of peace is spoken here--and every conversation opens with, 'welcome, welcome....'

URI Global Council members and staff met in Amman, Jordan June 16th-26th, and from the moment we entered the Rosary Sisters Convent on the outskirts of the city we were inspired to bring our best ideas forward in effort to broaden our local and global impact. So after a good night’s rest and a breakfast of warm bread, laban (a local home-made farmer cheese), cucumbers, tomatoes and Arabic coffee we became reacquainted with one another as we set about laying the groundwork for our second decade. 

Strengthening relationships, ensuring transparency, stewarding processes and procedures for teambuilding, messaging, networking and fundraising for our continued sustainability were discussed from the CC level to our hub. This was our main objective over the course of many days, and much was accomplished. We came together in purpose, and our collective efforts laid another important cornerstone in URI's foundation--shoring up the framework for our long-term strategic plan. Our future is now set on solid ground. 

We listened carefully to our Global and Regional Trustees as they spoke about the breadth and scope of community programming around the world, which is focused for the most part on projects that are service oriented. It was heartening for us to hear that most CC's are working with the disenfranchised, ministering to the sick, feeding the hungry, and educating young people and adults in the ways of nonviolence, modeling positive ethical behavior at every opportunity. 

There is, indeed, outstanding potential for growth in these areas. Many opportunities for creative programming were offered during our time together. I'll share some here as they may speak to you and your CC as potential future projects: 

1. Establishing an interfaith community-wide calendar posted onto 'Google' or another supporting website in your town or city or region to encourage interfaith collaboration with community service projects.

2. Coordinating the use of a local place of worship as an interfaith community center where regular dialogue meetings, teach-ins, film screenings and peacebuilding programming can take place.

3. Beginning an interfaith speaker’s series or service in your community.

4. Organizing interfaith social networking opportunities for young people and adults around life-cycle events or holidays.

5. Starting a local or national interfaith high-school student exchange program.

These are but a handful of the creative and thought provoking projects that URI can use to bring communities together. Details of one such program from North America introduced in Amman came from a video presentation of the Wallenberg Institute of Ethics CC of Southern California, where educators have developed interactive Golden Rule programming that employs performances of theatrical vignettes exploring ways of behaving compassionately in stressful or ethically compromising settings, thus empowering youth to publicly engage in self-expression as well as character building. 

Regional Coordinator Sandy Westin had the opportunity to introduce some of the highlights of our region’s growth here in North America stewarded by our Interim Leadership Council over the past year. The ILC has spearheaded the development of our 501c3 status which will allow for us to effectively fund our continued growth in the region. Our new URI Affiliate program has been launched, allowing like-minded organizations the opportunity to access resources and support, and to share and cross-post their concordant programming as well as network with other URI CC and Affiliate members locally and across our region. Our Affiliate program to date has had some remarkable early successes and will be on the road soon to Salt Lake City where it will be formally introduced to members of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN.org) to invite them to come onboard.  

Yes, outreach is vital to our success, but at this juncture of URI’s development so is finding and amplifying our compassionate voice among the community of nations during times of conflict, civil and social unrest, or natural disaster.  In Amman we discussed and offered prayerful words over many local, regional and global conflicts during our time together. There was an overwhelming consensus that the Trustees form a new ‘External Affairs’ committee, made up of one representative from each region. This group will meet regularly to discuss and reflect upon how URI can be of service to those affected, and to offer recommendations on resources which may be available through URI. Committee members will also be charged to draft statements relevant to those in crisis, offering support and advocating peace.

Above is just another example of the best practices for internal conflict resolution, inter-cultural peace building and youth development projects that were shared and outlined in Amman. Many of these innovative ideas will be made available on our URI website for future reference as we continue to grow essential programming around these topic areas. 

At the midpoint of our conferencing on a hot Wednesday afternoon we had a chance to visit parts of Amman by bus. As soon we rolled out of the Rosary Sisters compound we were kept informed and entertained by our gracious local hosts and organizers, Mamoun Khreisat and Nancy Momany of Amman, and Tareq Al-Tamimi of Palestine. A beautiful tune that we would become familiar with played on the bus' speakers, 'We Are One', a refrain sung by composer Hala Dasouqi with lyrics penned by Mamoun in honor of the occasion. First stop, the strikingly blue King Abdulluh Mosque, Amman's largest and most beautiful, which also has the distinction of being located directly across the street from where Mamoun works each day at a major city bank. We all had a chance to step off the bus and take a photo or two. No doubt the snaps we took didn’t do it justice. Next stop, the city museum and ancient Roman amphitheatre ruins where we gave thanks in reflective prayer and savored the opportunity to take a group photo commemorating the end of our first decade, and the launching of our second. 

Next came our chance to explore the labyrinthine alleys of the Old City market where one can buy anything from the latest CD's to 100 Dinar Iraqi notes sporting the likeness of deposed leader Saddam Hussein. Everywhere you looked, something beautiful was for sale--and so we shopped. Later, to escape the heat our group migrated to the Al Rasheed Court Cafe est. 1924 to sip pomegranate juice and to sample 'narguilah' a mixture of lemon and mint tobacco smoked through a sheesha or hookah water pipe--and so we smoked. 

The sun set all too quickly and we were invited to enjoy a meal at a local traditional restaurant. As we entered, we saw a woman baking bread for our tables near the door. A few steps inside, four men at the center table each held prayer beads in their hands, dressed in long white robes (dishdasha) with their heads wrapped in red and white checked scarves (kefiyyah). Seeing them had me thinking as I do when I travel, 'If the locals eat here, then you know the food is good.'  We feasted on salads, hummus and shishkabob and relaxed in the company of friends. 

Concordant with the wrap up of our Global conference, the MENA (Middle East-North Africa) region also held its seasonal gathering in Amman. Mindful of how we would all benefit from meeting and sharing with one another, plans were made to exchange ideas with our Mid-East Trustees and CC colleagues. When we arrived to gather for a brief hour or two, our numbers swelled.  When the microphone was handed to Sandy during a moment of reflection, she commented that there were representatives from over 28 countries participating that afternoon, dozens of languages and spiritual expressions, nations united heart to heart. 

The chance to celebrate the delight shared in our diversity was next on our itinerary. Later that afternoon we all began preparing for the 10th Anniversary of the signing of the URI Charter festivities to be held at the Royal Cultural Center in Amman. Streaming live on the Internet and slated to be watched from every corner of the globe, this was a gala event meant to honor the decade of service and commitment that URI members have brought to their communities around the world. Civic leaders and dignitaries were invited to take part in our program, along with visiting regional CC members and the people of Amman at large. Many came as strangers to the URI family, and parted that evening as friends.

The program opened with a contemplative candle lighting ceremony and prayers for peace:

“I am from North America and I am Jewish.”

“I am from South East Asia and I am Buddhist”

“I am from Europe and I am Christian--- I light this candle to honor the traditions of the people of South East Asia and so that they may live in peace. “

Each statement was met with a refrain echoed by the audience members as each candle was brightly lit - heartened voices carried throughout the seated hall, “May peace prevail in South East Asia, May Peace Prevail On Earth.” It was an incredibly moving experience that carried up our souls to higher ground.

The celebration rose to another level of grace and delight when we were serenaded by members of MENA CC Musaique who played and sang several moving selections that praised peace in many languages. Truly inspiring—as were the greetings shared from around the world that had been prepared by members in celebration of this remarkable day.

Our Founder Bishop Swing was honored for his vision and unceasing commitment to bringing peace and reconciliation to those in conflict around the world. All in the audience were charged with reflecting upon what they could do in their world to foster peace, and to post their suggestions as offerings for others to read at the back of the great hall.

At the close of the ceremony we rose together and moved to the reception area where we had the chance to greet and meet one another. What a joyous time—handshakes and hugs were exchanged as well as emails and phone numbers. Yes, lifelong friends were made that day.

Some on the CC Approval Committee saw this as a perfect opportunity to complete an outstanding appreciative inquiry with a local candidate CC, since many of its members were present. So out in the great hall, Eyal Rayiv of the Mepeace Network smiled widely as his CC was formally established on that eventful evening. 

These are but a handful of reflections of our time together in Jordan, a land where the forefathers of many religions have abided reverently through the ages. I will close here with statements welcoming our Second Decade, a sincere wish for all of us: A Declaration for World Peace  

United Religions Initiative

(Declaration for World Peace)   

The United Religions Initiative (“URI”) celebrates its 10th Anniversary and declares to the World its commitment to continue its work as stated in our Preamble, Purpose and Principles: 

We, members of URI from diverse religions, spiritual expressions and indigenous traditions throughout the world promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the Earth and all living beings. 

We are a grassroots organization whose strength is on the ground in over 76 Countries and over 485 Cooperation Circles throughout the world. 

WHEREAS, religious issues have become an important topic on the agenda of our world and policymakers are recognizing the role of religion in conflict and peace, and particularly in conflict prevention and peacebuilding;

WHEREAS, it is essential that peace efforts move beyond military intervention and diplomatic relations to a new level of intercultural interfaith dialogue and cooperation;

WHEREAS, the Golden Rule is a tenet of peace and endorsed by all the world’s religions and human expressions, interpreted as saying, “Treat others only in ways that you would be treated”;

WHEREAS, URI is working towards peace and conflict resolution in the world thru embracing the gift of peace that comes from all our religious traditions, cultures and values, to moving beyond common declarations to common actions, repentance, forgiveness and reconciliation and to seeking to heal the terrible memories of violence and conflicts that haunt humanity;

WHEREAS, URI joins hand with the United Nations in proclaiming September 21st as “The International Day of Peace” with its growing involvement of URI across the World in observance of this initiative;

WHEREAS, We, Members of URI, believing in partnerships with other like-minded organizations to bring peace, stability, sustainability, equity, harmony and to achieve the Millennium Development Goals;

NOW THEREFORE, We, Members of URI recommit ourselves to the healing of the Earth and all living beings. This Declaration is given in love for the world by the United Religions Initiative Global Council on the occasion of the celebration of URI’s 10th Anniversary in Amman, Jordan this 26th Day of June, 2010.

May Peace Prevail on Earth. 

URI is global network of more than 470 grassroots organizations dedicated to peace and justice through interfaith and cross-cultural cooperation. Its nearly half a million members are overcoming distrust and hostility every day for the good of their communities—mediating conflict; building schools, orphanages and health clinics; campaigning for citizenship rights and more in 75 countries. They touch the lives of an estimated 2.5 million people each year. The network is led by Executive Director Charles Gibbs, President William Swing, and an elected 29-member Global Council of Trustees from 19 countries.


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Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics CC

Raoul Wallenberg Institute of Ethics CC