Goal for September: Day of Peace vigils in communities worldwide
An ever-expanding number of people worldwide, representing a wide variety of religious and spiritual traditions, are committing to work with others toward the goal of holding vigils worldwide on International Day of Peace. The goal statement:
To encourage worldwide, 24-hour spiritual observations for peace and nonviolence on the International Day of Peace, September 21, 2007, in every house of worship and place of spiritual practice, by all religious and spiritually based groups and individuals, and by all men, women and children who seek peace in the world.
The organizers say these spiritual observances will raise public awareness and "support the establishment of a global ceasefire." They have developed a web site that will post resources, accept registration of commitment to hold a vigil, and provide news of local efforts. A sample letter to solicit local participation is available. The World Council of Churches also has Day of Peace resources from past years and will post more.
The vigil will require advance work locally. It is supported by multiple organizations, among them the United Nations and the religious NGOs at the UN, the WCC's Decade to Overcome Violence, Religions for Peace (WCRP), and the United Religions Initiative (URI).
Announcement of an October day of fasting coming
Planners will want to know that news of an upcoming announcement of an interfaith dawn-to-dusk day of fasting for October 8 is appearing. Its two foci are likely to be on ending the war in Iraq and challenging the entire culture of violence. This October, in an unusual coming together of holy dates, communities will be celebrating Ramadan and the Night of Power ( in Islam), the High Holy Days and Sukkot ( in Judaism), the Feast Day of St. Francis of Assisi and Worldwide Communion (in Christianity), Pavarana / Sangha Day (in Judaism), and Mahatma Gandhi's birthday; additionally, some Native American communities have begun to observe Columbus Day with practices intended to transform its meaning.
Church World Service convenes dialogues on immigration
A series of dialogues on immigration
are intended to give a broad cross section of participants a place to speak, listen to diverse views of others, and find common ground for joint community action rather than seeing one another vying for limited attention or resources. These dialogues in the spring of 2007, begun by Church World Service on April 28, are for both newcomers and U.S.-born persons. Each local dialogue responds to the particular circumstances of its location. A national dialogue is planned for the summer.
Health care for children remains top legislative issue ecumenically
This year the U.S. Congress will decide whether to reauthorize the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP) and expand access to insurance to millions of uninsured children. Twenty diverse faith group leaders joined with the PICO Network in sending a letter on June 7, 2007, to the chair of the Senate finance committee and the Senate majority leader pressing for health insurance coverage for many of the nine million uninsured children. The letter says faith groups worked hard to get new funding in the budget resolution and now they want a follow-up commitment. Bob Edgar of the National Council of Churches has said the uninsured children issue is the highest legislative priority for the year. Clifton Kirkpatrick of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) was one of the letter signers. The Presbyterian Washington office has issued an action alert on the children's health concern. See a Presbyterian Washington Office briefing written in early May.
Religious leaders gathered in Washington in early March to highlight the importance of children's health care. Presbyterian Eileen Lindner, NCC deputy general secretary, told them that the lack of care is " an indictment of our cultural priorities." The Cover the Uninsured web site offers state-level information and provides resources.
Earth Keepers of Michigan's Upper Peninsula mount yearly campaign
The Clean Sweep program of Michigan's Upper Peninsula focuses its environmental stewardship efforts on a yearly campaign to gather products for proper disposal-- in 2005, hazardous household waste (e.g.,
pesticides, batteries, drain cleaners, anti-freeze, old paints); in 2006, electronics. On Earth Day 2007, it collected old and unwanted pharmaceuticals that might otherwise be flushed down the toilet, possibly ending up in area waters.
Religiously diverse northwest Ohio has broad-based interfaith council
Articles on the MultiFaith Council of Northwest Ohio always seem to make their way to mention of Woody and Judy Trautman, a retired couple who founded the council in 2002 with twenty members, as an outgrowth of an Interracial Religious Coalition. Today several hundred persons from as many as sixteen faith groups are involved, with ten groups considered to be faithful participants. These include people from some bodies that many would consider less likely to appear. The council remains racially inclusive and gives notable attention to Native American spirituality rather than beginning with "the European influence," as one scholar has described it. The council's activities are broad -- Habitat for Humanity housing projects that provide common activity, including the involvement of youth; hunger awareness; a multifaith picnic; public classes; a film series; opportunities for small group meals in homes; an Erase the Hate program. The group enlisted the guidance of Dirk Ficca, executive director of the Council for the Parliament of the World's Religions, to facilitate a visioning conference for leaders of northwest Ohio.The MultiFaith Council's web site is a transparent place, even including the minutes of its executive committee.
School holidays raise issues for discussion
In Pennsylvania's Lehigh Valley, a Muslim student makes an argument for a general Eid-alFitr school holiday, not on the basis of the number of Muslims in her school but on the basis of the community's size worldwide and of the importance of the day in her religious community. Such discussion is increasingly happening across the nation, involving a variety of traditions. The Lehigh district already requests that teachers consider religious holidays when they schedule exams, and state law mandates a limited number of excused absences for religious observances when a student's parent makes a written request.
Interfaith Talk Radio has live and taped shows
Three Seattle men, Muslim Sufi minister Jamal Rahman of the Interfaith Community Church, Reform Jewish rabbi Ted Falcon, and Pastor Don Mackenzie of the University Congregational United Church of Christ, conduct a weekly live radio program each Monday at 5:00-6:00 p.m. (PT) on Seattle's KKNW (1150 AM). The three have been working collaboratively on interfaith social action since 2001. They can be heard from www.interfaithtalkradio.com, which has links to live audio streaming, audio clips after the show, and opportunities to continue the dialogue by sharing comments and reading comments of others. Their archives include recent shows on Thanksgiving, on suffering, or on the essence of God. They have an archived interview with a Wiccan high priestess and guests from the Center for Ethical Leadership. Mackenzie, a graduate of Princeton Seminary, was at one time the associate director of field education at the seminary.
American Muslim network broadcasts a televised dialogue program
Building Bridges: Abrahamic Perspectives on the World Today is a TV show intended to provide a platform for American Jews, Muslims, and Christians to discuss together important current topics ranging from God in the American public sphere to abortion to Jerusalem. The show, aired by the American Muslim network, Bridges, is at 9:30 p.m. ET/10:30 p.m. PT on Mondays and at 10:00 p.m. ET/ 11:00 p.m. PT on Fridays. Its creator is Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, vice president of CLAL--the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership. A video explains the project. A form on the Bridges web site can be filled in to ask a local cable or satellite operator to bring Bridges to an area.
Faith groups urge media access
An array of faith groups -- Roman Catholic and Orthodox and Protestant Christians, Muslims, and Jews -- is calling for more access to media outlets. At a January event sponsored by the communications arms of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and the United Church of Christ, and with participation of the National Council of Churches' Communication Commission, they told two FCC commissioners that the U.S. broadcast industry, now dominated by media conglomerates who own multiple stations in local markets across the nation, is making program decisions on the basis of economic efficiency rather than community needs. In this context, the voice of mainstream faith is often excluded or displaced by more strident voices. The FCC commissioners urged educating faith constituencies about media consolidation, contacting the FCC, and communicating with Congress people.
Interfaith group raises issues around special medical and death needs
Michael Goggin, president of the North American Interfaith Network (NAIN) describes (in the Spring 2007 NAINews) a Cultural Healing Festival 2007 he attended at the Catholic Campus Ministry Newman Center of St. Cloud State University, Minnesota. A highlight was a talk by physician and Hindu priest Sashikant Sane, who addressed the needs of immigrant Hindus when they receive medical attention in this country. Goggin, in turn, described to the meeting the death of his colleague, an Egyptian-born Muslim woman. For her body to be released for burial “before the sun set twice” after death, in keeping with Islamic custom, a compassionate hospital technician had to agree to work overtime on the day of her death at the beginning of a weekend. The stories pointed to the importance of further dialogue between religious people and medical personnel. Religious News Service has highlighted the issue of death customs with a story about washing the bodies of Muslim dead.
Chicago law enforcement officers educated on religious communities
Realizing that the climate of fear engendered in some religious communities following September 11 would not dissipate without attention, Chicago's former police superintendent, Terry Hillard, set up a forum. Through the forum, he discovered the police officers' ignorance of other cultures and religions and from this grew the development of diversity videos. A Pluralism Project study describes some of the simple contents of these videos and gives contact information.
IMPACT empowers collaborative research and recommends solutions
Interfaith Movement Promoting Action Together (IMPACT), in Charlottesville and Albemarle County, Virginia, has been established as a grassroots interfaith organization to address social justice issues, something new to the area. The goal is to " empower local people of faith to do collaborative research on community problems and then to call on local decision-makers to implement recommended solutions to these problems." IMPACT has 25 congregations ranging in size from 20 to 1500, including both predominantly white and predominantly black constituencies, and brings together Protestants, Catholics, Unitarians, Jews, and Muslims. It follows the DART model utilized by similar organizations in other cities. One congregation's web site has a running record of its involvements in IMPACT, which provides a window on IMPACT's development.
Covenant between Northern Illinois United Methodists and Muslims
In Northern Illinois, the local United Methodist bishop and the chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago have signed a Declaration of Relationship that declares “a relationship grounded in our mutual love and God and dedication to the ethical core of our faiths.” The parties agree to mutual actions -- dialogue, work on social justice, informing the other about situations that would affect it, and meeting annually to reaffirm the commitment.
Long Island council head examines relationships and their limits
Should Latter-day Saints be in our council? Should we relate to Ahmadiyya Muslims when another mosque tells us they disapprove? In the vexed struggle over where to draw limits in an organization, some set of guidelines seems necessary, but what should they be? Thomas Goodhue, executive director of the Long Island Council of Churches, has addressed attitudinal aspects of the question from the perspective of broken relationships: what do we do after a split or a schism? (though his article, "My Heretics and Yours," still leaves organizational questions to be answered by careful procedural decisions, hopefully made in advance). Goodhue's guidelines? All too briefly:
- Be humble. (Avoid a judgmental attitude.)
- Remember your roots.("Nearly all our denomination began in division.")
- Listen carefully before jumping to conclusions. (More than once, schism has resulted from misunderstanding.)
- Try to remember that heterodoxy is not heresy. (Others may be "odd," but not a "sect.")
- Go visit even if you disagree.
- Don't pretend an offshoot represents the wider community.
- Be honest. ("We all believe the same thing" is not true.)
- Be honest with yourself.
The article can be found in NAINews (Summer 2007).
What resources can we use?
National Religious Campaign Against Torture plans actions
The National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT) is sponsoring a day of action in Washington D.C. on June 26, for which a sign-up is requested. Buses from certain points along the East Coast and in the Midwest is being offered without charge. NRCAT supplying material that can be used in 2:00-5:00 p.m. visits to senators and representatives (appointments to be made by participants directly).
NRCAT is also mounting a nationwide project, Spotlight on Torture, that seeks viewings of Ghosts of Abu Ghraib and discussions in a thousand local congregations during two weeks in June and October. It will make the DVD available on a first come, first served basis – 50 for the week of June 10-17 and 950 for the week of October 21-28.
NRCAT first showed its public face on June 13, 2006, with newspaper ads that called the U.S. to abolish torture without exception. Its foundational statement had first been introduced at a conference convened by Presbyterian George Hunsinger, a Princeton Seminary professor. The original statement signers were a short list of multifaith leaders. Both National Association of Evangelicals' Richard Cizik and the National Council of Churches' Bob Edgar signed. PC(USA) signers included Rick Ufford-Chase, Richard Killmer, Barbara Green, Peter Sulyok, and Huntsinger. A resolution of the PC(USA) 216th General Assembly (2004) condemned torture and abuse of prisoners anywhere in the world held in government, civilian, or military custody (¶7).
World Refugee Day is on June 20
Church World Service (CWS) has a number of resources that can be used for World Refugee Day on June 20, including a downloadable bulletin insert, worship materials, and study helps.
Its immigration and refugee program is an ecumenical empowerment vehicle for those prepared to show hospitality to immigrants, refugees, asylum seekers and other uprooted people. CWS resettles about 8,000 persons in the U.S. each year and also helps meet the needs of people in protracted refugee situations as well as refugees returning home.
Breaking Faith with Nuclear Weapons is a guide for religious communities
A National Religious Partnership has kicked off a campaign to cease funding production of new nuclear warheads. Speaking at an event in California, NCC general secretary Bob Edgar said,
"We must ask ourselves why we would continue to spend billions constructing weapons that have the power to destroy us, rather than build systems and structures that will save lives and help all persons reach the potential for which God created them." In addition to the NCC, the religious partnership includes the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism among its members. It grew out of a 2005 meeting convened by William Sloane Coffin. Jessica Wilbanks coordinates the effort. The resources now available include a toolkit from Faithful Security, Breaking Faith with Nuclear Weapons: A Guide for Religious Communities.
Faith communities call advocates to speaks for food and farm concerns
This is the year when a farm bill must be renewed by the U.S. Congress, and a variety of church and faith-based organizations are mounting efforts to educate and advocate for what is needed. The NCC Eco-Justice program requested that advocates press for a 2007 farm bill that supports working land conservation, local food systems, and sustainable growth in the production of bio-fuels.
- Church World Service has a resource, Sowing Justice for Family Famers Everywhere, that deals with the question of farm subsidies and the 2007 bill.
- The Religious Working Group on the Farm Bill, a coalition that includes both the NCC and the PC(USA), has provided a list of principles for what a farm bill should contain.
- The NCC produced a resource, Our Daily Bread: Harvesters of Hope and Gardeners of Eden, in time for Earth Day 2007 that introduces faith-based principles for a just farm and food policy in the United States.
- The Thoughtful Christian online curriculum resources include a new two-session lesson on Local Food: Global Good (
- The PC(USA) is collaborating with four other denominations to build statewide teams calling for reform in the 2007 bill. Concerned individuals are urged to sign up for a team online.There is also a Presbyterian farm bill home page on the web that is a source for information.
"Hunger No More" documentary available for purchase
"Hunger No More," which was aired on May 20 by the NCC and Faith & Values, is available for purchase in either DVD or VHS format, together with a study guide. Additionally, a bulletin insert format of the study guide can be downloaded directly, free of charge. (Note that the date on the study guide is not current and should be disregarded.)
NCC and others offer help to address global warming concerns
A coalition of bodies, among them the National Council of Churches (NCC) with Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) support, sponsored a Step It Up campaign centered on local actions on April 14, 2007. This event called on Congress to "step it up" and cut carbon 80% by 2050. Now the Step It Up web pages suggest further actions.
The NCC has prepared a resource to help local constituents to
write a letter to the editor to educate community and elected officials about global warming and what we can do to protect all of God's creation. See the NCC's global warming resolution. Supplemental resources that can be used by Presbyterians include:
- the action of the 213th General Assembly (2003) calling upon the U.S. to " join in the world effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to develop and enact a national emergency response, underwritten by law, with adequate financial support, and economic enforcement mechanisms" (see the Minutes, p. 617)
- an article by Desmond Tutu highlighting the dependence of many around the globe on the cycles of nature in order to feed their families
- Step It Up organizer Bill McKibben writing in Christian Century about the moral case for church involvement
- The Thoughtful Christian downloadable two-session curriculum piece on Global Climate Change: Facts and Solutions (# TC0140)
- the cover story for Presbyterians Today, May 2007
Water stewardship emphasized by NCC, WCC, UN, and others
To bring water concerns to local people in the U.S., the National Council of Churches (NCC) eco-justice program marked World Water Day 2007 with the introduction of a new downloadable resource, Water Stewards: A Toolkit for Congregational Care of Local Watersheds.The material includes theological reflections and an adult curriculum.
The annual international World Water Day on March 22 grew out of the 1992 UN Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) in Rio de Janeiro. Ecumenically, an international Ecumenical Water Network has been developed through the World Council of Churches (WCC) to bring together those working on the world water crisis through relief, development, and advocacy. A WCC statement on water was adopted at its Ninth Assembly (2006). An ecumenical conference of the network in May 2007, focused on water issues in Africa, called for a holistic approach that looks at the water supply, sanitation, and protection of the environment together -- a message not unique to Africa.
Other resources are available from Church World Service, the UN water web site, the World Water day web site, and the Ecumenical Water Network web site.
Now The People Speak is sponsoring a video contest for the best YouTube video about water -- either teaching about water conservation or showing someone particularly inept in water usage. Videos can be funny or serious but must be on-target, compelling, entertaining, and creative. They can be no longer than five minutes. Contestants should upload their entries onto YouTube, then fill in an online entry form by June 15, 2007.
NCC releases resources on eco-justice for local use
Environmental Racism: An Ecumenical Study Guide, a recently published resource from the NCC, is being offered to churches across the country for study. It highlights the need for justice for the disproportionate numbers of people of color who live with environmental pollution. The head of the NCC eco-justice programs says that seven out of ten African Americans breathe air that does not meet the federal air quality standards.
Bottom Line Ministries that Matter: Congregational Stewardship with energy efficiency and clean energy technologies,” released by the National Council of Churches in October 2006, outlines how churches can reduce their energy costs and lower the carbon emissions that are a cause of global warming. Some of the information is provided on a state-by-state basis.
Building A Firm Foundation: A Creation Friendly Guide for Churches is a guide to support churches in building faithful, sustainable buildings, helping them to implement their intentions.
These and other resources are downloadable at the NCC Eco-Justice web site. This requires registering for a network.
Resources look at poverty and the Millennium Development Goals
God's Mission in the World: An Ecumenical Study Guide on Global Poverty and the Millennium Development Goals has been produced by the Episcopal Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America., planned for six sessions of group study. Its appendix lists various churches' offices and agencies. Download the study guide without charge or order it from Augsberg Press.
A new Global Good web site has been opened by the Episcopal Church, as well. Its resources and links will be useful to others. Additionally, educators may wish to note the comment made at an Ecumenical Water Network meeting in Africa: "I don't think water is an issue in the debate on meeting Millennium Development Goals . . . Yet water is a prerequisite even before you start talking about these goals. For the majority of the people in the continent, we are not even talking about reducing poverty, we're talking about survival."
Religious responses to HIV/AIDS outlined in resource
Local religious communities who work on HIV/AIDS may find some help in a resource prepared for a global reach, Scaling up effective partnerships: A guide to working with faith-based organizations in the response to HIV and AIDS. The downloadable resource provides background information and case studies, outlines relevant teachings from five religious traditions, and gives practical guidance. Its producers include Church World Service, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (related to the WCC), and Religions for Peace.
Groups may also want to sign a petition telling the June 6-8, 2007, G8 meeting that the promises made on health care, HIV/AIDS, education, and poverty must be kept. The web site for this petition features Desmond Tutu, who is a signatory. Additionally, Tutu has co-signed a letter calling for keeping promises made in the fight against HIV/AIDS. WARC head Setri Nyomi, World Lutheran Federation head Ishmael Noko, YWCA head Musimbi Kanyoro, and over 500 others co-signed the letter as well. World Vision is also mounting a "keep your promises" campaign.
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© 2006 Ecumenical & Interfaith Network - PCUSA