Growing the URI Network in Florida

3 February 2017

A congregation in West Palm Beach, Florida, wanted to jump into interfaith work and got in touch with me. They were starting from scratch, knowing no official of another faith! So Mary and I flew down there and spent five days visiting with the Fellowship of Christians and Jews, the Lake Worth Interfaith Network and the Buddhists at the Palm Beach Dharma Center. On the side, I spoke at the Pundits Club, preached two sermons, taught a class on URI and attended a fascinating interfaith course entitled Judaism Christianity and Islam: A Search for a Common Language, at Florida Atlantic University.

And then came two surprises! On a Saturday afternoon, we were participating in a Family Fun Day at the mosque of the Muslim Community of Palm Beach County. The local imam had just arrived from his last posting, which was at a mosque in Pikeville, Kentucky... across the Big Sandy River from where I grew up. I was shocked to discover how happy he had been in that place, a place I knew to be highly prejudiced on many fronts.

Now on this day, he invited us into the Palm Beach Mosque (5,000 members). When we started asking about how Muslims were faring in Palm Beach, a film crew from Channel 5 came in breathlessly, wanting to put us on the 11:00 p.m. news. All of this scurrying around was because President Trump had just signed an executive order prohibiting indefinitely immigration from Syria and temporarily prohibiting immigration from seven Muslim countries. I am not sure that we were eloquent in speech, but we were at the right place at the right time. And everyone, Muslim and Christian, felt it. Trump had bonded us.

The official line out of Washington explains the ban on Muslims by saying 'We are only carrying out our 2016 campaign promises.' My explanation for being in a mosque at that time was 'that I was only carrying out the First Amendment to the United States Constitution of 1791.' In the future, someone might ask me: 'Where were you when the United States of America fired the first shot in its war on Islam?' And I will proudly answer that 'I was at a Family Fun Day in a mosque with an imam from Pikeville, Kentucky.'

The second surprise! I discovered that URI already had a Cooperation Circle in Palm Beach County. As a matter of fact, two CCs! The Abrahamic Reunion CC of Lake Worth and the Interfaith Cafe CC of Delray Beach! Here I was flying 3,000 miles to start a CC, only to find that URI was already in the area and doing quite well. We spent a colossal afternoon with our folks at the Interfaith Cafe? of Delray Beach?. Now everyone is in touch with everyone else, a new CC is organizing and all of them are getting together in two weeks.

Moral to the story: things grow when I'm not looking and... sometimes... things get connected if I look.