Bishop Swing's Speech at the UN 70th Anniversary and URI 15th Anniversary Celebration

30 June 2015

Watch a video of the Right Rev. William E. Swing's speech at the celebration of the 70th anniversary of the United Nations and the 15th anniversary of URI's charter signing, Grace Cathedral, June 27, 2015.

The following text is from a speech given by The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee, at the same event on June 27, 2015, Saturday morning, at 8:00 a.m.

Welcome, everyone, to California, San Francisco, Nob Hill and the Fairmont Hotel.

I am Bishop William Swing, and for 27 years, I served as the Episcopal Bishop of the Diocese of California ...headquartered up the street at Grace Cathedral.

Some years ago, the owner of this hotel was Mel Swig, a dear friend of mine. We spent lots of time together on formal projects and informal good times.  Swig and Swing.  One early Saturday morning, I was leading a walk-a-thon through the Tenderloin section of our city, when a drunk in a doorway, spotted me and said, "I know who you are,  You're Bishop Swig."  I told him that he had me mixed up with Mel Swig at the Fairmont.  Said I, "I'm Bishop Swing at Grace Cathedral.  Mel puts people to sleep at one end of Nob Hill and I put them to sleep at the other end."

The Fairmont Hotel has significant meaning in the 1945 founding of the United Nations as the plaque in the Green Room here will attest.   And....this hotel has significant meaning for me because it was here, on June 26, 1996, that 55 people met and locked arms to create the United Religions Initiative (URI) institution totally inspired by the 50th Anniversary of the United Nations.  Our Charter was signed in the year 2000, and today we have 650,000 members in 85 nations. 

So for me, having the privilege of welcoming this august assemblage, is a double blessing. I give thanks to God for the instinct toward peace that motivates nations and religions to labor for the common good and to find a larger family among diverse peoples.

So to all who have traveled long distances in your soul to be here today, I extend to you a most sincere and warm welcome.   

The following text is from a speech given by The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee, at the same event on June 27, 2015, Saturday morning, at 10:45 a.m.

Welcome to all of the people who love the promise of a United Nations and who are drawn to celebrate its life, after 70 arduous years.  Welcome to Grace, a Cathedral that takes the United Nations very seriously.  Whoever walks through these doors, sees right away that the United Nations and San Francisco and Grace Cathedral have a close relationship. Look at this mural. Look, at the Brotherhood of Man Plague which commemorates the Founding of the United Nations in San Francisco. I doubt that anywhere in the world is there a sacred space, such as Grace Cathedral, that so highly memorializes the United Nations. 

The UN didn't leave its heart in San Francisco when it left. But I guarantee you that its soul still abides here.

On April 29, 1945, the Fourth bishop of California invited the delegates who were working on the Charter, to come to Grace for a prayer service.  One of the prayers said, on that occasion, entreated the Almighty with these words:  "We commend to Thy overshadowing care those who are now in session among us to counsel and plan for the establishment of a just and lasting them into a fellowship so that through good will and mutual help, we all may establish upon our beleaguered earth a family of nations." 

"A family of nations!"

At this cathedral, we weren't praying for an organization of nations or a bureaucracy of nations, we were aiming for a family of nations.

The United Nations telephoned me in 1993 asking if the UN could come back to Grace Cathedral for its 50th Anniversary. Of course!   But...the stated vision was that the UN wanted all of the nations and all of the religions at that big service. An absurd request.  But…some of us spent two years trying to figure out how to get all of the religions shoehorned into that tiny boot. This absurd exercise changed our souls.  When the UN 50th was over, we were intoxicated by a vision.  If there was a United Nations, what about creating a United Religions?

The details of what happened next can be found in a brilliantly written book about a Bishop's Quest.  But for our purposes today, we are celebrating a double anniversary.........the 70 years of the United Nations and the 15 years of the United Religions Initiative. Both together for the first time at Grace Cathedral.

So welcome to a special place on a special day. 

May the Grace of God reign extravagantly in our midst.

The following text is from a speech given by The Right Rev. William E. Swing, URI President and Founding Trustee, at the same event on June 27, 2015, Saturday afternoon, at 1:00 p.m.

Welcome to this glorious day when we celebrate the 70th Anniversary of the United Nations as well as the 15th Anniversary of the United Religions Initiative! This afternoon we will hear words from a strong leader, you....the audience...will have your own words heard, we will be treated to an international premier of special music, and at the end we will have a reception, a time to collect our thoughts and meet each other. Nothing but good this afternoon.

For me, one of the great things about the United Nations happened on its first day and first minute of existence.  On January 24, 1946, when the General Assembly had its very first session, the Resolution before the body was for "The Establishment of a Commission to deal with the Problems Raised by the Discovery of Atomic Energy." Talk about putting first things first!  Bring together all of the nations in order to address the threat to this world's survival. It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a world of nations to figure out how not to destroy this planet. There has to be a United Nations.

Here we are seventy years later, and a former commander of US nuclear forces tells us in San Francisco, that there are 10 million hacking attempts launched daily at the United States agencies in charge of nuclear weapons.  We, who have hundreds of missiles on hair-trigger alert, could be hacked and the missiles could be launched and detonated without authorization. If a United Nations was necessary in 1945, it is 10 million times more important today.

Today, you can throw in climate change, species depletion, resource depletion, overpopulation, and on and on. This world's survival is bigger than the security needs of one nation. A United Nations...the only place in the world where the nations can meet....a United Nations is necessary.

At this cathedral, we have a 12:15  service around lunchtime every day.  Usually, 10 or 15 people show up.  But.....on the day after 9/11, 6,000 people showed up.  4,000 more came to an evening service. When our world is threatened to the core, we need each other, we need to reach higher, we need to get beyond our arrogance, we need the help of powers beyond ourselves.

The United Nations is the secular equivalent of our 12:15 p.m. service. It started out to address the world's biggest threat. 

So welcome to Grace Cathedral, a place where the UN can go back to its roots and, perhaps, catch its spiritual breath. 

See more videos from the Grace Cathedral celebration: URI Executive Director Victor Kazanjian's speech and URI Co-Director of Global Programs & Organizational Development Sally Mahé's Appreciative Inquiry session.