Bay Area Interfaith Connect

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Bay Area Interfaith Connect

Additional News Stories from 2013



Loel Bartlett Miller
ICP Board Member

In 1893 Chicago witnessed the birth of the interfaith movement when representatives of the major religions gathered there for the first Parliament of World’s Religions.  More than 6,000 people crowded into an assembly hall (now the Art Institute of Chicago) to hear an opening address delivered by a 30-year-old monk, Swami Vivekananda. His electrifying address, delivered with passion and eloquence, in which he called for the end of religious bigotry and intolerance, brought the assembled representatives to their feet. In this galvanizing moment, Vivekananda’s fiery message forged a pathway for the previously separated faith streams of East and West to meld their currents for the first time. With this dynamic call for unity, he initiated a global interfaith dialogue and established himself as a leading religious figure worldwide.

The year 2013 marks the 120th anniversary of Vivekananda’s speech as well as the 150th celebration of his birth. To commemorate these events and to refresh the interfaith community’s awareness of its work between Parliaments, the Chicago-based Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR) invited interfaith workers to Chicago for a program on November 16.   They entitled their program “Living Out the Vision – Celebrating the Anniversary of a Movement: 1893 Parliament, 1993 Parliament, and our Dynamic Future.” As can be gleaned from this broad-ranging title, the Council invited participants to join them not only in a review of that breathtaking moment in 1893, but to share the anticipation of the exciting potential of interfaith in America in the years to come. I was fortunate to attend this November’s Chicago celebration, participating as a representative of the Interfaith Center at the Presidio.

In 2013 the interfaith movement is gaining momentum around the world. In the United States, interfaith activism has tripled in the last ten years. Governments at home and abroad are investing in interfaith work because it brings people together. Interfaith is good for societies everywhere – and it’s catching on. And, as I write this in the Chicago airport awaiting my flight home, I smile to myself as I hear over the airport public address system, “The interfaith airport chapel is located on level two. Everyone is welcome.” Case in point!

The morning of November 16 I made a beeline for the Art Institute of Chicago, the site of the original Parliament in 1893. Walking past city workers draping trees with holiday lights and cheery skaters spinning over the temporary ice rink in Millennium Park, I retraced the footsteps of Swami Vivekananda and his fellow delegates who assembled here 120 years ago. The Art Institute has grown and flourished around the site of Vivekananda’s speech. In 1893 the space was a large outdoor patio that was tented to accommodate 6,000 attendees. On this ground now stands Fullerton Hall, a jewel box of a concert hall located within the Art Institute, just down the stairs from its superlative Impressionist art collection.

On the morning of my visit, Fullerton Hall was locked, but a docent, noting my earnest interest in the space, and learning that I was on a pilgrimage to the place of the first Parliament of World’s Religions, generously sought out a guard to unlock the door for me. As he escorted me through the hall, he described where the stage had been placed 120 years ago and where the delegates had packed into the tented space. The current elegant little theater seemed to glow from its legacy; it is naturally illuminated by the light coming through a dome constructed of golden-hued Tiffany glass. Additionally, at the back of the hall is mounted the memorial plaque honoring the spot where the Baha’i religion was first spoken of in America, at the 1893 Parliament.  

The Council’s celebration began in the afternoon, convening at the Sinai Congregation in downtown Chicago. Several hundred attendees, from as near as the Vedanta Vivekananda Society in Chicago and from as far away as India and Tanzania, gathered for an opportunity to savor retrospectively Vivekananda’s historic speech, to learn how women had advanced interfaith work in 1893, and to assess the last century’s evolution in interfaith understanding.

After welcoming words from members of the current Board of the CWPR, a senior sadhu of the Vivekananda Vedanta Society, Swami Varadananda, recapped for us the scintillating and groundbreaking message offered 120 years ago by Vivekananda. Swami Varadananda believes the tremendous impact of Vivekanda’s message came not simply through the delivered words but by means of an invisible conduit that the young monk carried from his vibrant Hindu guru, Ramakrishna. Swami Varadananda shared that Vivekananda felt that the West had acquired tremendous energy with its mastery of the material world and technology, but he viewed the United States as “an empty case.” Well acquainted with the spiritual wealth of the East, Vivekananda sought to merge the two. The swami conveyed his belief that this melding initiated by Swami Vivekananda in fact awakened in the slumbering hearts of Westerners a yearning for spiritual light. It is his feeling that this yearning, native to the hearts of all people, forms the basis of the potential of harmony between religions.

Many attendees of this current gathering were unaware of the potent role women have played in the development of interfaith expansion in America. Rev. Dr. Allison Stokes, Founding Director of the Women’s Interfaith Institute, in the Seneca Falls area, enriched our afternoon with her review of a lesser-known gathering, the Parliament of Representative Women which convened earlier in the year of 1893 in Chicago. (Apparently the Chicago World’s Fair, called the Columbian Exposition, attracted a number of smaller specialized meetings, or parliaments.) In May of 1893, 45 years after the Declaration of Sentiments at Seneca Falls, women gathered at a Parliament to assess the progress of their pressing agenda for equality. It featured the now-elderly centerpiece of the historic 1848 Seneca Falls gathering, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, as well as other women prominent in the advancement of women’s equality, such as Susan B. Anthony and Harriet Beecher Stowe. Eight women – five Unitarians, two Universalists, and one Congregational — spoke to a large assembly comprised of both men and women on issues of exclusion and inclusion. Julia Ward Howe presented a talk entitled, “What Is, and What Is Not, Religion?” to further promote the advancement of interfaith acceptance.

The current Board Chair of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions, Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, offered his concluding remarks regarding the role interfaith has played and will continue to play in our lives. He underscored how it was the churches, not the government, that immediately rallied in New Orleans to assist the victims of Hurricane Katrina. He stated, “Religion is a force for good; interfaith brings out the best of each faith.” While the challenge continues to be finding funding for interfaith projects and organizations, he stressed that America should be proud that this is where “interfaith was invented” and should continue its work with volunteers. He asked the attendees, “Where else in the world can you find an organization directed by a woman, with a board chaired by a black Muslim, and with the entire staff comprised of college interns?” He rallied the gathering with his belief that our diversity, “as American as apple pie,” should be celebrated as the source of our strength.

No date or location has yet been determined for the next Parliament the World’s Religions. But while the date is being determined, the Council is strengthening the interfaith movement with its programs of education, such as Sharing Sacred Spaces, the Partner City Program, the Ambassador Program, a women’s task force, and an indigenous people’s task force. You are invited to learn more by visiting the Parliament’s website at www.ParliamentOfReligions.org. To quote from the site, “The Parliament succeeds when strangers become neighbors, acquaintances become friends, and enemies choose to coexist peacefully.”

And to quote from Vivekananda’s speech to the Parliament in 1893, “As the different streams having their sources in different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.”


A Free Family Shopping Spree: A Cooperative Interfaith Project

Greetings, my name is Susie Kohl. President of the Interfaith Council of Rossmoor and a member of Sufism Reoriented in Walnut Creek.

Five years ago, Murshida Weyland Conner, spiritual director of Sufism Reoriented, initiated an innovative program through our local Saranap Community Association to help parents with financial challenges. With the economic downturn, there was a clear need for young families to obtain nice clothing and toys for their children, items that can be prohibitively expensive when purchased new. At the same time, many other families have excess clothing and toys, still in good condition that their children have outgrown.

Boy with booksSince 2008, the Saranap Community Association (SCA) has sponsored the program Murshida Conner suggested, staging successful free Toy and Clothing Boutiques at least three times a year. For each boutique, volunteers clear several classrooms at a local preschool and transform them into “upscale stores” with clothes carefully organized by size on racks and toys, books, and games displayed in another room. The program has received national recognition.

In recent years, coordinators discussed extending their outreach to families with greater need. They wondered if parents from low income areas in the county would be able to find transportation to the boutique. To spread the word of the October 6 Boutique, Reverend Will McGarvey, president of the Contra Costa County Interfaith Council, sent an email blitz to over one hundred congregations announcing the free toy and clothing giveaway. I also provided fliers to clergy in the Interfaith Council of Rossmoor who have young families in their congregations. Volunteers from the SCA drove fliers to soup kitchens, food pantries, homeless shelters, Head Start classrooms, and other programs who serve families in need.

Women with toysOn October 6, the SCA found adults and children from all over Richmond, Bay Point, Pittsburgh, Concord, and other cities lined up for the Boutique, hours ahead of time.  Five hundred and eighteen adults and children attended and went home with bags full of clothes and toys. One homeless woman travelled to the boutique by bus. Thanks to the efforts of the interfaith community, agencies who serve those in need, and the dedicated SCA volunteers, participation in the event almost tripled. The boutique gave away over 2000 items of clothing and thousands of toys and books.

The cost of raising a child in the US has gone up 40 percent in the last decade, according to a US Department of Agriculture study from 2011.  The willingness of people to travel from other cities to attend our October boutique points up the need for more programs like these, which can serve as a conduit for people to give to one another. I felt privileged to help mothers and fathers to find needed toys and clothes, and see the smiles on their children’s faces when they picked out items that they liked.  We are looking forward to the seeing these wonderful families again at our next boutique on December 22.

For questions, call Susie Kohl – 925-451-0668.



The “Covered California” health exchange is already operational, and the California Council of Churches Educator for the Bay Area is Marijke Fakasiieiki. She will be leading presentations in November to offer basic information on how the new health care exchange operates, how to obtain subsidies and supports for the costs of individual and family health care, how to obtain enrollment assistance during the Open Enrollment period starting October 1 through the end of next March 2014, and she is available to answer many of your questions.  Click for a list of when and where Marijke will be presenting information.  You can contact Marijke Fakasiieiki at (510) 529-5011, marijke@calchurches.org


  •  Nov. 2, Saturday, 10 a.m. -12 noon
    Greater Richmond Interfaith Project Health Care Event
    St. John the Baptist Catholic Church, 6500 Gladys, El Cerrito, CA
  • Nov. 3, Sunday, 10 a.m.
    Jones Memorial United Methodist Church
    1975 Post St., San Francisco, CA
  • Nov. 3, Sunday, 6 p.m.
    Interfaith Council of Contra Costa County Annual Meeting
    Lafayette Orinda Presbyterian Church, 49 Knox Dr., Lafayette, CA
  • Nov. 6, Wednesday, 5:30 p.m.
    East Bay Housing Organization Annual Membership Meeting
    540 21st St., Oakland, CA
  • Nov. 9, Saturday, 10 a.m.
    Faith Presbyterian Church
    430 49th St., Oakland, CA
  • Nov. 10, Sunday, 5 p.m.
    United Church of Christ Bay Association meeting
    Community Presbyterian Church, 200 E. Leland Rd., Pittsburg, CA
  • Nov. 11, Monday, 6 p.m.
    North Solano Democratic Party
    Benicia Grill, 2390 n. Texas St., Fairfield, CA
  • Nov. 13, Wednesday, 4 p.m.
    Novato United Methodist Church
    1473 S. Novato Blvd, Novato, CA
  • Nov. 13, Wednesday, 7 p.m.
    Aldersgate United Methodist Church
    1 Wellbrock Heights, San Rafael, CA
  • Nov. 15, Friday, 6:30 p.m.
    Providence Baptist Church of San Francisco
    1601 McKinnon Ave., San Francisco, CA
  • Nov. 17, Sunday, 11:45 a.m.
    First United Methodist Church of Hayward
    1183 B St., Hayward, CA
  • Nov. 17, Sunday, 3:00 p.m.
    Concord United Methodist Church
    1645 West St., Concord, CA
  • Nov. 24, Sunday, 2:00 p.m.
    San Francisco Night Ministry Open Cathedral, Civic Center
    Leavenworth @ McAllister near United Nations Plaza, San Francisco, CA


Ramadan: the Month of Fasting, Giving and Blessings

Dr. Amer Araim

Dr. Amer Araim,
ICP Board Member, President of the Islamic Community Outreach of California, and member of Dar-Ul-Islam Masjid.

Muslim communities in the United States of America and all over the world will begin observing the month of Ramadan on Tuesday, July 9 after sighting the new moon. This is the greatest month of the year for Muslims because fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The others are the Shahadah (confession of the faith), Salat (prayers), Zakat (alms-giving) and Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca.). Allah (God) commanded Muslims to fast as stated in the Quran: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was to those before you (the followers of the monotheist faiths before Islam), that you may learn (taquwa).” The word taquwa expresses many meanings including self-restraint, warding off evil, or protecting oneself by constantly observing the commands of Allah (God.)

In addition to fasting, Muslims perform extra night prayers during Ramadan, recite the Quran on a daily basis, and give to charity. Adult Muslims who are traveling or sick may break their fast, and compensate for it later on. If any adult is not able to fast due to health concerns, and has the financial ability do so, he or she must feed one poor fasting person for every day of the month.  In addition, people provide additional charity in Ramadan not only to compensate for their inability to fast but because it is the month of giving.

Inviting friends to break the fast together is one of the traditions of Ramadan. Breaking the fast in a group, combined with group prayers, is highly recommended for Muslims. Accordingly, masjids (the place of worship for Muslims; the word is derived from “prostrating” and is used by Muslims rather than the word mosque) in the Bay area and everywhere organize dinners for breaking the fast and praying together during Ramadan.

Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him (PBUH)) asked his companions to make the supplication by asking Allah to bless them in the two months before Ramadan, and to enable them to reach Ramadan. Scholars have interpreted this to mean that when we reach Ramadan, fast, and perform all other worship explained above, there will be continuous blessings. On August 8 (subject to sighting the moon), Muslims will celebrate the feast of breaking the fast (Eid al-fitr). Muslim men, women and children will go to the masjids to perform the prayers of the feast of breaking the fast. It is a Sunnah (the tradition of Prophet Muhammad PBUH) that each family will pay the Zakat of breaking the fast. Originally families used to provide the poor with wheat, barley or dates. Now the practice is to give the equivalent of a meal for each member of the family, including an unborn baby. The poor are given the equivalent of the usual cost of a meal for the donor.

Muslim communities in the United States will fast, perform their prayers, and thank Allah for enabling them to fast and to perform all other worship with full freedom, and while peace, prosperity and tranquility are prevailing in this country. In the meantime we will not forget those who are poor and suffering all over the world, and we hope that all people of faith will remember them.


"Embracing Our Veterans" Conference a Success!

Fred Fielding
ICP Interim President

Embracing Our VeteransOver 40 leaders from religious and spiritual communities from Contra Costa County came to this half day conference focused on developing a better understanding of how to serve the veterans in their midst.  The Interfaith Center at the Presidio, in partnership the Interfaith Council of Contra Costa, presented this conference to assist congregations and spiritual communities in becoming healing, welcoming, and empowering places for veterans on a long term basis.

The underlying focus for the day was on understanding how the differences between military and civilian cultures can make it difficult for people and communities to reach out to each other.  On the societal level, how the military functions and differing perspectives and experiences of war can create separation between people and their communities.   On a more personal level, the conference dealt with spiritual issues that arise with veterans.

Rev. Charlotte Bear set the tone during her keynote.  Her overriding message was "listen, listen, listen!"  Putting aside presuppositions about the experiences veterans may have had is key to engaging veterans more fully.  The presenters and panelists came to share their experiences as veterans, chaplains, and people honoring their fallen family members.  Their overriding message was that building personal relationships with veterans is crucial to any effort.     

Participants heard an overview of active military and veteran’s organizations, and how service members connect with those organizations.  It was pointed out that the sense of community developed while actively serving quickly dissolves in civilian settings. Family members of veterans also face some of the same difficulties in civilian settings due to a lack of resources found in active military settings.  Religious and spiritual communities can become part this network of resources for veterans and their families.

Participants took part in workshops about veterans recovering from PTSD and moral injuries, and how ritual and ceremony can be used to support veterans in their communities.  They also learned about the skills and strengths veterans have gained during their military service, skills which may be difficult to apply in a civilian setting.

In all, everyone seemed to gain something valuable from the event.  The conference was given high marks for content and presentation by many of the participants.

Special thanks are in order for the community at Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church.  They provided the wonderful space for the day, and their staff attended to our needs through out the conference.  A very special thanks goes to the San Francisco FAITHS Program for their generous support. 

ICP will be holding other conferences focusing on the spiritual needs of veterans in the future.  The current model for the conference allows ICP to partner with local interfaith organizations  in order to best serve the needs of their communities.  Please contact the Interfaith Center at the Presidio if you are interested in having such a conference in your area.


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