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A History of the Kansas City Interfaith Council
and related documents
adapted from printed materials
The Reverend Vern Barnet, DMn

First meeting of the Interfaith Council, Marriott Hotel, Overland Park, KS, 1989 May 11


Before the Council, 1920s-1980s
History of the Council 1989-2004 KC's Organizational Failure "Gifts" Conference Summary
Original Mission United Way Study of Models "Gifts" Declaration
Original Membership Criteria "Hub" concept ChronicleMisstatements about Council


A History of 
the Kansas City Interfaith Council

REVISED 2005 February

This is not a history of interfaith activity in Kansas City, or even an account of the work of CRES, which is far more extensive than that of the Interfaith Council, which was just one of its many ongoing programs. These essays do, however, sketch the Council and its context within the Kansas City area. While a number of people made suggestions for what should be highlighted in this history--their work gratefully incorporated--and additional comments are welcome, I am responsible for the content except where indicated.

[photo of 12 original members and founder] 
1989 May 11: The first meeting of the Kansas City Interfaith Council. Standing: Unitarian Universalist Elizabeth Gordon, Hindu Anand Bhattacharyya, Sikh Harbhajan Chatha, Bahá'í Adrian Chandler, Jew Cantor Paul Silbersher, Sufi Connie Rahima Sweeney, Pagan Mike Nichols, Muslim Dr A Rauf Mir, Buddhist Fred Brandt, Catholic Christian Sr Ruth Stuckel, CSJ; kneeling: organizer Vern Barnet, American Indian Nate Scartitt, Protestant Christian Pastor David E Nelson.

In 1989, I had the pleasure of calling together men and women from thirteen faith traditions to organize the Kansas City Interfaith Council. Its first purpose was to make the metro area aware of the fact that so many different faiths were practiced here: American Indian, Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, and Zoroastrian.
   The Council grew out of a continuing tradition begun in 1985. Each year on the Sunday before Thanksgiving, folks from different faiths gather to share the meaning of gratitude from their various communities and a full meal with a text and symbolic foods to reflect upon the American promise of religious freedom.* See the note on page 4, “Membership Criteria.” On its planning committee, Vern had encouraged a dozen Kansas City area residents to attend the first NAIN conference, held in Wichita in 1988, and several of those at the conference became members of the Interfaith Council.
     Awards were begun with the 1999 reorganization of the CRES Board under David Stallings. First to receive recognition were the Hindu member of the Interfaith Council Anand Bhattacharyya and Muslim member A Rauf Mir, MD, both who had served from the beginning of the Council—in the following years, Mayor Kay Barnes, Arthur S Brisbane and Bill Tammeus of  The Kansas City Star, Mayor Pro Tem Alvin Brooks, Congressman Dennis Moore, and Nelson-Atkins Director Marc Wilson and, posthumously, his predecessor, Laurence Sickman.
In 1990, cooperating with the Kansas City Press Club in a day-long conference on “Religion and the Media,” the group supported developing new ways for newspapers, radio, and TV to report on the Heartland’s increasing religious diversity.
   2001 Sep 11, as planned, the Council held a press conference to announce “The Gifts of Pluralism” meeting set for late October. Unplanned, a TV monitor in the background displaying the horrors unfolding that morning made vivid the increased importance of interfaith work.
   2001 Sep 16, in response to Kansas Congressman Dennis Moore’s invitation, the Council helped to bring the community together from both sides of the State Line in an observance to recognize the devastation of 9/11 and affirm our mutual support for one another.
   Six weeks later, the Council opened its two-day interfaith conference, over a year in the planning, attended by 250 adults and youths from every faith mentioned plus those from Christian Orthodox and Free-Thinker traditions.
   From the conference, an auxiliary group formed, Mosaic, which set about collecting stories from 70 area people about their lives and faiths. Many of these gripping stories were scripted into a play, “The Hindu and the Cowboy,” performed locally in several venues, including last spring’s annual Harmony Week Luncheon. Mosaic also started an interfaith book club and developed an “Interfaith Passport” which was featured in The National Catholic Reporter.
    From the unanimous  “Declaration” concluding the conference, the Council established three task forces — on the environment, on personhood and on society — to bring the wisdom of all the faiths to respond to the dangers of secularism.
   In 2002, people from several organizations joined with the Interfaith Council to lead the area in observing the first anniversary of 9/11. With a website, CRES coordinated some fifty events here.  With a brass ensemble from the Kansas City Symphony, a day-long central observance began at sunrise at the Ilus Davis Park pool between City Hall and the Federal Justice Center. In a ceremony broadcast live, every member of the Council poured water blessed by each tradition into the pool, with water from the Ganges, the Nile, the Kaw, and dozens of other rivers of the world, and with water collected at the 2001 conference from 14 fountains in the Kansas City area. Then drawn from the pool was a portion of the mixture, taken in procession with police escort to Grace and Holy Trinity Cathedral.
   During the day, the names of those who died in the 9/11 horrors were read and people gathered to meditate and pray. In the evening, with assistance from the Kansas City Opera, an observance  attended by Gov Holden and his family, was packed in the Cathedral. The music included the Muslim Adhan (Call to Prayer), American Indian chants, a Hindu hymn, a carefully–worded patriotic anthem, and a choir of Jewish and Muslim children singing “Shalom, Salam.” A videotape of the morning water ceremony was shown —tears to healing waters — and Council members each used the mingled water as they contributed their tradition, one by one, to the blessing of our community. Then workshops were offered and the Kansas City Ballet presented a dance for the somber but redemptive occasion.
   From such work, CRES and the Council became the subject of national media attention, including a half-hour CBS-TV special, “Open Hearts, Open Minds.”

Still, most of the Council’s work has been routine, such as providing speakers for groups who wish to learn about particular faiths, whether a Sunday school class or training hospital chaplains. Special programs like the 2004  October 13 conference for clergy and lay leaders have also been offered.
   Recognition of the area’s faith diversity has led to expansion of faith representation on the boards of organizations and in community events, such as the annual Martin Luther King Jr observances.
   The Council’s mission is printed on page 2. For clarity, it should be noted that Council members are not strictly representatives. There is a Jewish member, and a Hindu member, a Buddhist member, and so forth. We do not ask the members to represent their traditions in any judicatory sense because this is an impossible task with so many variations within each faith. But we do ask members to share news of their communities and activities of interfaith interest.

My paradigm for the Council derives from my teacher at the University of Chicago Divinity School, Mircea Eliade. He is sometimes credited with studying religion sui generis, that is, in its own right. Seminaries used to view non-Christian faiths in terms of Christian theology, rather than in the ways each faith presents itself. In secular schools, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers examined religion through their own lenses, rather than allowing religion to be studied as a distinctive discipline with its own unique methods.
   For Eliade, the key to understanding religion is the experience of the sacred. While utilizing the insights of other disciplines, he insisted religion could not be reduced to any one of them, nor a compilation or combination of them. Religion deserves to be studied in its own right.
   But people often assume that interfaith work is about cooperation between faiths toward some socially significant goal, whether it is folks of several traditions joining to build a Habitat for Humanity house, ending racial discrimination,   or pursuing world peace.
   Such efforts deserve praise and support. But this parallels the anthropologists and theologians using their own lenses instead of asking of religions, “What can you teach us?”
   Organizations often want to employ the Interfaith Council not to receive the wisdom of the world’s religions but rather to deliver the organizations’ messages or services or gain the Council’s support. That’s fine, but such specific intentions cannot replace the larger work of folks of different faiths being open to the sacred. The sacred cannot have any agenda placed on it; it is what creates the agenda. The sacred is not a delivery vehicle; it is the driver.**

As a full-time volunteer, I have found interfaith work to be richly rewarding. But with the exhaustion of my pension, and my weak abilities as a fundraiser, the Council needs to seek other support.
   Even before the 2001 “Gifts of Pluralism” Conference, I thought that the Council needed to have an existence of its own or be a program of an organization with sufficient funding to move the Council forward. The Council appointed a committee to meet with representatives of NCCJ, Harmony, and Community of Christ to consider such alternatives, but the committee decided that no change then seemed appropriate.
   For 2004, CRES was able to continue supporting the Council with a $5,000 grant from the Kauffman Fund. The Council has never had its own funding. This year [2004], with Simon Gatsby as its manager, the Council was awarded a technical assistance grant from a national interfaith organization, Religions for Peace—USA, and the ensuing consultations should help the Council decide on its future.
   Some have asked whether the attacks from some leaders of one minority faith, with insinuations about my sexual preferences as a way of undermining my status with another minority faith, and using my columns in The Kansas City Star against me, was a factor in my departure. No. I do hope, however, that with my valediction the Council will be less affected by the animosity directed against me personally by these few.

Working with the Council has been one of the greatest pleasures and inspirations of my life, and I wish it and each member the greatest blessings! Vern Barnet

* Venues have included  the Grand Avenue Methodist Church,  the Village Presbyterian Church, Rockhurst University, All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church, Saint James Lutheran Church, Unity Temple on the Plaza, Shawnee Presbyterian Church, Grace and Holy Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Temple B’nai Jehudah, Central Baptist Theological Seminary, Congregation Beth Shalom, the Community Christian Church, St Monica Catholic Church, St Andrew Christian Church, and the Rime Buddhist Center and Monastery.

**That said, it is important to recognize interfaith groups that make contributions to civic life like the Kansas City Interfaith Peace Alliance, Project Equality, Worker Justice, the Independence Ministerial Alliance, the Kansas City Office of the National Conference for Community and Justice, Hatebusters, Raytown Community Inter-Faith Alliance, and Wyandotte Interfaith Sponsoring Council. Interfaith in the sense that they involve people from several traditions, but not in the sense that their focus is the sacred as revealed through different faiths.
   Congregational Partners, a program of KC Harmony, now involves 29 congregations and is growing. It provides opportunities for committed people of various faiths to meet repeatedly, develop friendships through various activities and learn about their traditions. Pathways promotes interfaith understanding through a monthly discussion and annual dinner.

Kansas City’s 
Organizational Failure

The Kansas City area has never had an organization that embraced all congregations. Efforts to remedy this situation have failed to date. Congregations are fragmented by race and ethnicity, economic outlook, denomination, the State Line and other jurisdictional boundaries. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been wasted on foolish attempts to unite religious organizations for social purposes through electronic means, and with few exceptions the philanthropic community has failed to see how important the spiritual life of the community is and how it can be assisted in ways that favor no particular faith and respect the important American tradition of separation of “church and state.”

MICA, the Metropolitan InterChurch Agency, dissolved in the 1970s from disagreements over issues such as abortion. Its focus had included social service and was not broadly interfaith.
   In 1990, Maurice Culver, then head of Project Equality, took a sabbatical to study metro-wide religious associations in other cities and to explore whether one might be possible for Kansas City. His reluctant conclusion was that financial support for such an organization does not exist here.
   Since 1990, there’ve been other proposals and studies with the same result. The 1996 Religion/Spirituality Cluster of Mayor Cleaver’s Task Force on Race Relations unanimously issued a recommendation (which I drafted) establishing such a body, but instead of finding new money as specified in the recommendation, three existing organizations were tasked to carry out the mandate with insufficient funding, another dead end.
   In 1999, at the urging of several friends, I prepared an “Outline for a Study: An Umbrella for Kansas City Area Religious Organizations” citing Culver and other work. The proposal was not funded.
   In 2000, an ad hoc group was asked to plan an interfaith ceremony to conclude the Kansas City sesquicentennial “peak week.” After months of work, the group had to cancel the event because such an effort required a network, infrastructure, and funding that does not exist.
   Also that year, folks meeting at Heart of America United Way began to wrestle with the myriad problems that our community faces and the opportunities lost by not having an umbrella organization. In the spring of 2003, HAUW concluded another study with the same result.
   Many of us hoped that Spirit of Service would develop into such infrastructure, but expected funding never appeared and the organization effectively folded in 2002.
   In 2003, during the debate on the demolition of B’nai Jehudah’s facility on Holmes, another conversation erupted briefly about a diversity center there or elsewhere, to serve all religious communities, but money never materialized for the project.
  While I have strongly supported the development of an umbrella organization, I have also tried to be clear that this is a role that CRES, created in 1982, is unable to play, although we have been called to do so on several occasions. CRES, which hosted the Interfaith Council, was primarily an interfaith network representing each religion rather than each congregation or faith-based group (more of a Senate than a House model), and did not assume the other roles or polity either of an umbrella organization or a Council of Congregations.
   See “Models” on page 4.  -vb
 



THE KANSAS CITY 
INTERFAITH COUNCIL’S MISSION

   1. to develop deeper understanding among members of  the Council of each other's faiths and traditions, and to foster appropriate bilateral and multilateral interreligious conversations

   2. to model religious values (especially mutual respect and cooperation) in a society which often seems non-religious and intolerant

   3. to provide resources, networking, and programs to increase appreciation for religious diversity, and

   4. to work with media and with educational and religious leaders and groups in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths.
 

   Fundraising and political or social action activities are not normally the focus of the Council, though the Council may refer suggestions about such matters to other, more appropriate organizations.
 



 
 

Interfaith Council [Dec 31, 2004]
Simon Gatsby, manager

American Indian - The Rev Kara Hawkins
Bahá'í - Barb McAtee
Buddhism - Lama Chuck Stanford
Christianity, Protestant - The Rev Wallace S Hartsfield
Christianity, Roman Catholic - George M Noonan
Hinduism - Kris Krishna
Islam - A Rauf Mir, MD
Judaism - Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn
Paganism - Caroline Baughman
Sikh Dharma - Karta Purkh S Khalsa
Sufism - Ali Kadr
Unitarian Universalism - The Rev Kathy Riegelman
Zoroastrianism - Daryoush Jahanian, MD
Official Vedanta Observer – Uma
Chair – The Rev David E Nelson, DMin
Convener Emeritus – The Rev Vern Barnet, DMn

Observers from World Headquarters
The Rev W Grant McMurray, Community of Christ
The Rev William C Miller, Church of the Nazarene
The Rev Sharon Connors, Unity School of Christianity
 



1989 Criteria for Membership 
in the Interfaith Council

This note supplements the main text.

     Religious distinctions are messy and criteria for membership in an interfaith group is to some extent arbitrary. The 1989 goal was to recognize each distinctive faith tradition in Kansas City without regard to size. However, because of its Christian majority, both a Catholic and a Protestant were invited to join the Council. Attempts then to offer a seat to an Orthodox Christian were rebuffed. Early attempts to seat a Freethinker were unsuccessful. Because Sufism in Kansas City had no organizational tie to Islamic organizations and is syncretistic in its approach, it was regarded as distinctive and thus a Sufi was invited to join the Council. Unitarian Universalists derive from the Christian tradition (as Christianity arose from Jewish origins) but no longer defines itself as Christian, and its application in the World Council of Churches was declined. Since the Canadian government, which relates to religious groups differently than the US government does, recognizes Unitarian Universalism as a distinctive group, a Unitarian Universalist was asked to join the Council. But Mormonism, Adventism, Christian Science, and other newer groups retain their Christian roots and thus have no separate seat on the Council. Since the Jains in Kansas City participate in the Hindu Temple, no separate seat for them seemed appropriate.

     Also guiding the Council’s composition was the list of faiths featured in the Multifaith Calendar produced each year by an extraordinarily competent committee. The Calendar does recognize one faith not on the Kansas City Interfaith Council: Shinto, but no Shinto groups were evident in Kansas City. The faiths of other members of the Council probably require no special explanation for their inclusion.

     In addition to Council membership, an observer from Vedanta was arranged because of her extraordinary service to interfaith understanding.

     During the 2001 conference planning, observers from each of the three denominations with world headquarters here were added (Community of Christ, Church of the Nazarene, Unity) and the later Council invited them to continue to sit with the Council.



NETWORKING HUB 080325

a response to an inquiry about 
the meaning of "network hub" 

The networking function of the Council seems so obvious to me I just don't know how to describe it. It is the essence of the original Council mission item #3, "to provide resources, networking, and programs to increase appreciation for religious diversity" and to my mind is what networking means with the resources and programs mentioned in that mission item.

I'll try this way: If the Council were as visible as it could be, people would turn to the Council for advice, programming, information, etc, because the Council would be in the center ("hub") of interfaith activities in the metro. With the 30 some organizations now doing interfaith work, such a function may not be necessary, but then the question is, what is the function of the Council if it is not doing these things? (Of course there are answers, but they don't make sense to people not involved with interfaith work.) With so many interfaith efforts, some kind of clearing-house or coordinating agency makes sense to me, and I just don't know how I can make that any plainer. The Council would be the Go-To place for folks with interfaith interests, as it used to be. The Council might refer out to other groups and cooperate with them, but the Council would ordinarily be the First Stop for someone seeking assistance. To be successful, your staff person must know the community well and have the trust of the community. Union Station was once a train hub; if you traveled somewhere by train, regardless of the line, you went to Union Station because all the rail companies had lines there. I have already suggested background material and different models for interfaith organizations at http://www.cres.org/pubs/HistoryofKCIC.htm -- please see the section KC's organizational failure, and the section on Models for Multi-Faith Groups.

I'm afraid this is about all I can do at this point to answer your question. Perhaps an organizational consultant might be able to clarify this for you better than I am able to -- again, it seems so very obvious to me, I just don't know how to explain it.

Vern Barnet

 


Models for Multi-Faith Groups

See “Kansas City’s Organizational Failure”

The Rev Jane Heide prepared a report in 2003 April for a task force convened by the Heart of America United Way to see if sufficient support existed within the community to to create an alliance of faith-based organizations in the Kansas City metropolitan area. The group, composed of clergy and officials of several non-profit organizations with an interest in interfaith work, met a number of times, drew upon previous studies (see page 2), and asked Heide for a new survey of other cities and their interfaith organizations. Because the models Heide identified might be useful for future work, they are excerpted from a 2003 October 9 summary. A complete copy of the summary is available by request. [Bracketed materials in blue are later CRES comments.]
 

Models for Interfaith Coordination

   · The Understand and Appreciate Model – This approach, characterized by members of diverse faith groups coming together to share perspectives and learn more about each other, is best represented by the CRES organization, headed by Vern Barnet. CRES sponsors an Interfaith Council, which meets regularly to promote increased understanding among the thirteen major faith groups in Kansas City. In October 2001, CRES held a pluralism conference, and established ongoing workgroups related to faith perspectives on personal, social and environmental issues. In addition, CRES has a programmatic arm, called Mosaic, which promotes a book club and is working on an interfaith “story project.” 
     [While understanding is important, it is multi-faith relationships that build community strength, a purpose of which is to access wisdom from Primal, Asian, and Monotheistic faiths as we face the three great crises of our time: in the environment, in what it means
to be a person, in how society should govern itself. In this model, interfaith is seen as essential to the health of the planet, the individual, and society and civilization itself. Interfaith understandings and relationships in our secularistic culture offer us the healing of such profound awareness of the sacred that we live with awe, gratitude, and service.]
   · The Organizational Support Model – This approach was being considered by the Center for Management Assistance (CMA) as it applied for federal funds to provide technical, grant-writing help to faith-based organizations.  The task force supported Carol Suter in her grant application process. However, the proposal was not funded, and CMA itself eventually went out of business.
     · The Cyberspace Model – SOS represents this approach with its internet capabilities and its data base of 2,401 faith-based organizations in the 11-county Kansas City metropolitan area.  This data base is now a part of the Community Resource Network (CRN), and Linda Nixon serves on the CRN board.  The task force recognized the potential of this service for communication among faith-based organizations as well as for matching social service needs with faith community resources.
   · The Special Project Model – This approach encompasses the many efforts in Kansas City that involve a joining of a specific group of faith-based organizations around a particular issue or project.  The Mainstream Coalition, led by Bob Meneilly, and the Church Community Organization (CCO), led by Warren Adams-Leavitt, are two examples of such focused efforts.
     · The Alliance Model – This approach is the closest to what Neal Colby proposed, and could be an umbrella for the work done in accordance with the other four models.  As Neal described it, such an alliance would be congregationally based, and could provide a structure for ongoing communication and information-sharing among faith-based organizations. In his vision, it could also serve as a point of contact for those wishing to access faith communities, as well as a representational group offering a public voice of faith-based concerns within the metropolitan community.
     [The Social Service Model  – This model arises from responses to accute community needs, such as hunger and homelessness. Even when a particular faith group spearheads such efforts, support and participation are from several or many faiths. Habitat for Humanity and Unbound (formerly the Christian Foundation for Children and Aging) are examples.]

Three Recommendations and Conclusion

Considering organizational models within Kansas City and examples from other cities, the task force came to three conclusions about the characteristics of a potential interfaith coordinating group for the Kansas City area.
     · First, if such a group were to be formed, it should be based on congregations, not judicatory bodies.
     · Second, such a body would not provide social services, but rather would harness energy to enhance the work of existing organizations.
     · Third, internet connectivity would be integral to such an effort.
     In spite of these conclusions, the task force did not come to a consensus about the need for such a group or about its purpose, structure, and means of support. At most, the task force could see the value of enhanced communication among faith groups in order to support collective action around the community’s human service needs.

[adapted from Jane Heide’s summary]


Before the Council

By Larry Guillot

In the early part of the twentieth century, few persons had many religious connections outside their own congregations.  Some organized connections existed between a small number of congregations, generally through “ministerial alliances”.  It is difficult to know how many there were, where they were, and how they were grouped.  It appears they were mostly for ministers, mostly Protestant, with separate groups for black ministers; in some cities, there was an alliance of rabbis.

We know that by the middle 1920’s there was an organized Council of Churches in Kansas City.  In the Missouri Valley collection of the K C Public library, there is a handout promoting a “World Justice and World Peace Mobilization day” scheduled for Nov 9, 1926.

In 1948, following the Second World War, the K C Council of Churches had grown to 139 congregations representing 22 denominations.  Another sign of progress was that it included black and white congregations and denominations, an expression of the incipient civil rights movement in our community.

In 1964, a “Metropolitan Council of Churches” was formed, merging a Kansas City Kansas Council with the Kansas City Missouri Council.  While the “ecumenical movement” among Christian denominations was gaining strength—witness the new World Council of Churches (1948), the National Council of Churches (1950) along with our Metropolitan Council, at the same time the Roman Catholic Church, some Orthodox bodies and many fundamentalist evangelical bodies chose not to join any of these councils.

Gratefully, in Kansas City, we had for many years a local chapter of the National Council of Christians and Jews, which began nationally in 1928, following the failed presidential campaign of Alfred Smith.  And we had the pioneering efforts of the “Panel of American Women,” composed of Jewish, Catholic and Protestant women who initiated interfaith dialogue and promoted “Brotherhood Week” in our area.

In 1964-65, WDAF hosted a monthly radio show called “Trialogue, featuring a minister, priest and rabbi in an early form of interfaith dialogue. 

In 1967, the Metropolitan Council of Churches was replaced by an expanded organization, the Metropolitan Inter-Church Agency, “MICA” which included Roman Catholics and had direct connection with denominational, judicatory leaders.   Sadly, it did not have Jewish membership.  It was focused on social action, not doctrine, and involved a wide range of denominations and congregations in joint social action activities. It came to an end in 1979, due in large part to the withdrawal of Roman Catholic leadership, followed by others, over issues of supporting abortion.

From the 1960s through the end of the century, several paradoxical shifts in interfaith relations occurred. On the one hand, the Consultation on Church Union, “COCU”, starting out in 1962 became “Churches Uniting in Christ” in 2002. It never achieved full intercommunion nor a common ministerial model between a large number of participating Protestant churches, but it did achieve a great deal of intercommunion and mutual acceptance of sacraments and ministries.  Considered great progress by some and a failure by others, it seemed to have lessened denominational differences to many church goers. 

During the same period, Roman Catholics, nationally and internationally, created a series of formal dialogues with many Protestant denominations, the Orthodox, Judaism, Islam and nonbelievers.  But Christian ecumenism and formal institutional dialogues seemed to lose its steam.  Judicatories and denominational institutions seemed to shift to the background while most of the action came from individual congregations.  But the bigger picture was that inter-religious relations were morphing into global interfaith connectedness.  The study of world faiths became a standard part of most universities’ curriculum.

Nevertheless, a widespread cultural, political and religious divide was growing and has carried into our own day, creating rifts within and well as between many of the world’s global faiths. . . .

Excerpt from a slightly revised version of remarks made at the 28th Annual Thanksgiving Sunday Interfaith Thanksgiving Ritual Meal, November 18, 2012, by Larry Guillot, on receiving "The Vern Barnet Interfaith Service Award." Used with permission.

 

 



Summary prepared for 
the Civic Council
The Gifts of Pluralism--
Kansas City’s First Interfaith Conference:
A Success —
A Model for the Future

Overview. The “Gifts of Pluralism” conference, held Oct. 27-28, 2001, on the Ward Parkway (State Line) campus of the Pembroke Hill School, marked the metropolitan area’s first interfaith conference and set the stage for future collaboration among representatives of all faiths. Never before have so many people of so many faiths gathered here to learn from each other and to plan for the future.

Participation.  Over 250 people participated in the two-day event representing 15 faith groups — American Indian, Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox), Free Thinkers, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, Zoroastrian.
     Congressman Dennis Moore and Congresswoman Karen McCarthy opened the conference, held on State Line. Proclamations from Governors Graves and Holden and area mayors were acknowledged.
     Although the conference was focused on Greater Kansas City, several out-of-town, out-of-state, and foreign visitors learned about it and were drawn here.
     About two dozen high school and college students were involved. Students were represented on each of the three Saturday panels. The Pembroke venue was used to emphasize that we are all students learning from each other.
     Eighteen civic leaders such as Beth Smith and Bob Stephan had provided early planning advice.

Program. A goal was to focus on the diversity in Kansas City, so out-of-town celebrity speakers were not engaged. The resources within our own area were displayed in many ways, including the Saturday evening of drama, dance, and music.
     A process called “Appreciative Inquiry” was used throughout the two days to help people, one-on-one and in small groups, encounter each other in the depths of their faiths quickly and with mutual respect.
     With preparation by four focus groups held last summer, three Saturday panels of religious leaders addressed (1) environmental, (2) personal, and (3) social failings of our time in the context of Kansas City, with the resources of their respective traditions. On Sunday a panel on the role of religion in Kansas City with leaders from government, media, business, and the non-profit sector was featured, and a final panel discussed “Where do we go from here?”
     Many faith groups held  pre-conference open houses on Friday, and workshops were offered on most faiths on Saturday. Sunday began with an interfaith worship service. Throughout the conference, faith groups had displays and information for registrants.

Concluding Declaration. A 500-word declaration, edited from comments posted on a wall throughout the conference, was unanimously adopted and signed in a ceremony using the conference logo and water from rivers around the world and from area fountains from Independence to Olathe.
     The Declaration begins, “This is an historic moment because never before have people of so many faiths in the Kansas City area convened to explore sacred directions for troubled times.  Especially after the events of September 11, the need for our support for one another and the larger community is clear and commanding.”

Evaluation. The formal evaluation instrument and informal comments have been overwhelmingly favorable.
     Participants valued opportunities to build relationships, to learn about other faiths, to experience the “Appreciative Inquiry” method, and to come to a better understanding of our community.
     A Nov 1 Kansas City Star editorial began, “If other communities want an example of how to conduct interfaith dialogue in this tense time among followers of different religions, they should look at the recent ‘Gifts of Pluralism’ conference in Kansas City.” [See column right.]

Organizers. This conference represents the cooperation of many organizations which understand the importance of faith in the life of the community.
     “The Gifts of Pluralism” was conceived by the Kansas City Interfaith Council under the auspices of CRES. Vern Barnet, president of CRES, was conference president. Larry Guillot is CRES Board Chair.
     Co-sponsors were KC Harmony, NCCJ, and Spirit of Service. Churches with world headquarters here (Community of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, Unity School of Christianity) were official observers at Interfaith Council planning meetings and participated in the conference.
     A  list of some 80 leaders and presenters  (Clyde F Wendel, Stumbling Deer, Bill Tammeus, Bilal Muhammed, Saraswati Shanker . . . ) is available on our web site or by request, along with the members of the Interfaith Council.

Funding was provided by the Bank of America as Trustee of the George and Elizabeth Davis Trusts, the Ewing M Kauffman Fund for Greater Kansas City,  DST, the Norman and Elaine Polsky Fund, the Bank of Blue Valley, and Community Christian Church, with smaller gifts for scholarship funds from numerous individuals. The facility was provided as an in-kind gift from Pembroke Hill School. The conference fee was $75; donations made student scholarships and other subsidies possible.

Additional information (including extensive press coverage, the Concluding Declaration, and detailed program and participants) is available on the CRES website (www.cres.org). Conference notebooks (120 pages) with each faith’s section prepared locally, are available for $22 each from the address below.

The printed version of this document reproduces The Kansas City Star editorial, "An Interfaith Model," Nov 1, 2001

CRES, promoting understanding among peoples of all faiths, Box 45414, KCMO 64171.



“The Gifts of Pluralism” 
Concluding Conference Declaration

This is an historic moment because never before have people of so many faiths in the Kansas City area convened to explore sacred directions for troubled times. Especially after the events of September 11, the need for our support for one another and the larger community is clear and commanding.
     As members of the greater Kansas City community and guests, we have assembled October 27-28, 2001, and worked together, worshipped together, enjoyed each other, and learned much from each other.
 

We do hereby declare our resolve to work towards making Kansas City, which we often call the Heart of America, a model community – one that opens its heart to the world. Here interfaith relationships shall be honored as a way of deepening one’s own tradition and spirituality, and the wisdom of many religions shall help to successfully address the environmental, personal, and social crises of our often fragmented world.
    * The gifts of pluralism have taught us that nature is to be respected, not just controlled. Nature is a process that includes us, not a product external to us that can just be used or disposed of. Our proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility. When we do use nature as we must – for food, housing, and other legitimate purposes – we should do so with respect and care, preserving its beauty and mindful of its connection to the Sacred and ourselves.
    * We have also learned that our true personhood may not be in the images of ourselves constrained by any particular social identities. When we realize this, our acts can proceed spontaneously from duty and compassion, and we need not be unduly attached to results beyond our control.
    * Finally, when persons in community govern themselves less by profit and more by the covenant of service, the flow of history towards peace and justice is honored and advanced.
 

We declare that through our encounter with one another, we have discovered that clearer directions for our several faiths and for our society at large are needed and possible. In the name of our faiths, too often have prejudice and injustice been perpetuated, and we know that bigotry and bias continue. We pledge ourselves to guide our own faith communities in examining our own beliefs and practices, so we may be sincere beacons for reducing the incidence of unfair treatment of people, war, suffering, and other inhumanities in our world.
 

The work we have done this weekend is a turning point, we fervently hope, in overcoming the misunderstandings that separate persons and communities of faith. We commit ourselves to deepen our commitments to our own faith communities and to enlarge our understanding of kinship by honoring the faiths of others.
     This conference, “The Gifts of Pluralism,” is thus the beginning of an expanded conversation by which we may show both our humanity and our gratitude in offering service to that which is Infinite and Ultimate, which we call by many names but identify in our hearts as the Source from which we come, to which we return, and which holds us in this present opportunity.
 
 

2001 October 28
unanimously approved
by the entire Conference
at the Pembroke Hill School, 
Ward Parkway (State Line) Campus

NOTE: Over 250 people participated in the two-day event representing 15 faith groups – American Indian, Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox), Free Thinkers, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, Zoroastrian.


 
ADDENDUM 2005 October 14
in response to the characterization in the 
KC Jewish Chronicle
that the IFC was political 
rather than theological 
when it was a program of CRES,
and other errors
 
 

By: Rick Hellman, Editor 
October 14, 2005

[response in blue by Vern Barnet]




The Kansas City Interfaith Council is marking its independence from Vern Barnet's CRES organization with a Nov. 10 luncheon at the Marriott Muehlebach Hotel honoring the former Unitarian Universalist minister. [I am not a "former" Unitarian Universalist minister. I am a Unitarian Universalist minister and have been so for 35 years with no interruption of this status.]

Barnet formed CRES as the Center for Religious Experience and Study in 1982, and he convened the Kansas City Interfaith Council in 1989. Both groups shared a mission of bringing together members of various local faith communities. [There are several problems with the wording here, but the main problem is the omission that the Interfaith Council was one of several programs supported by CRES.]

In 2000, Barnet dropped the name Center for Religious Experience and Study but kept the CRES acronym as the name of his non-profit group. Now he has spun off the Interfaith Council, to stand alone as its own non-profit entity, with its own members and steering committee. [The legal name of CRES has been and remains "The World Faiths Center for Religious Experience and Study, Inc."]

"It was his vision, and he has nurtured these baby birds until they are able to fly and get out and go do things on their own," said Gayle Krigel, who is one of the four co-chairs of the "Table of Faiths" luncheon Nov. 10. The other three co-chairs are Mahnaz Shabbir, Lama Chuck Stanford and Alvin Brooks. Kansas City, Mo., Mayor Kay Barnes is the event's honorary chairwoman.

The luncheon is a fund-raiser for the Interfaith Council, with individual tickets starting at $45. To request an invitation, send an e-mail note to Krigel at: gkrigel@kc.rr.com. Or simply make out a check payable to Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, and mail it to Registration Chairwoman Jenny Morgan, Table of Faiths Celebration, 4205 SE Willow Ridge Drive, Blue Springs, Mo. 64014.

Krigel said Barnet would receive the first "Table of Faiths" award at the luncheon, which the council hopes to make an annual event.

"We're trying to craft the wording of the award so that it will always be somebody who is working for interfaith dialogue in the community," Krigel said.

In years past, the Jewish representative [there never was a Jewish "representative" or a Hindu "representative," etc -- only a Jewish member, a Hindu member etc -- see A History of the KC Interfaith Council, paragraph 14] to the Interfaith Council has been one of the community's pulpit rabbis. [The first Jewish member was Cantor Paul Silbersher who served for several years, not as a pulpit rabbi but as cantor.] However, the Rabbinical Association has tapped Doug Alpert, special projects director for the Jewish Community Relations Bureau/American Jewish Committee, to be its representative on the reorganized council.

"I was told Vern had started the former Interfaith Council, and that this group was looking to move the council in a somewhat different direction, more focused on understanding everybody's theology and less on politics," Alpert said. "That's a laudable goal, and I am willing to be involved in that kind of effort." [See COMMENT, column right.]

The new council will have four at-large members, plus 14 members from the following faith groups: American Indian spirituality, Baha'i, Buddhist, Protestant, Roman Catholic, Hindu, Muslim, Sikh Dharma, Sufi, Unitarian, Vedanta Society, Pagan and Zoroastrian. [I count 13 in the list;  curiously Mr Hellman omits the Jewish faith.]

For more information about the Kansas City Interfaith Council, visit its new Web site, ww.kcinterfaith.org.

 
COMMENT ON THE IMPLICATION THAT MY INVOLVEMENT WITH THE INTERFAITH COUNCIL WAS CONCERNED WITH "POLITICS."

A review of the history of the KC Interfaith Council will show I did all in my power to focus the work of the Council on theology and dialogue and not on politics.I believe I was successful. 

In fact, the mission statement of the Council when it was a program of CRES was clear in excluding political directions: "Fundraising and political or social action activities are not normally the focus of the Council, though the Council may refer suggestions about such matters to other, more appropriate organizations." This sentence concluded the four-part mission statement of the group:
     1. to develop deeper understanding among members of  the Council of each other's faiths and traditions, and to foster appropriate bilateral and multilateral interreligious conversations
      2. to model religious values (especially mutual respect and cooperation) in a society which often seems non-religious and intolerant
      3. to provide resources, networking, and programs to increase appreciation for religious diversity, and
      4. to work with media and with educational and religious leaders and groups in promoting accurate and fair portrayal of the faiths.

Of course, some one may interpret a moral statement as a political statement, but I am not aware of any partisan stance the Council has ever taken, and no statement has ever been issued in the name of the Council without the unanimous consent of its members. In one case, a statement condemning the attacks  of  9/11 was unanimously agreed to, but later the American Indian member withdrew support for the statement to avoid "condemning" anything. The statement certainly was not political but intensely moral, to wit:

STATEMENT ON THE TERRORIST ATTACKS
    Members of the Kansas City Interfaith Council join with religious leaders throughout the world in condemning the terrorism which struck the United States Tuesday, September 11, 2001. Our prayers are with the victims and their families and all of us affected by the enormity of these events.
     Our faiths teach us to work for understanding, peace and justice. We call upon all citizens of the region, whatever their faiths, to deepen their commitments and to enlarge their compassion. We must open our hearts to all peoples as we grieve together.
     We are concerned that stereotyping may impede our sense of human kinship, and fear may stifle our trust in those of other faiths. We need to grow with mutual reassurance. This is why leaders of the various faiths here join in this common statement.
     At the very moments we were learning about the attacks, we were announcing plans for Kansas City's first Interfaith Conference, Oct 27-28. The need for such a conference is made even clearer by the tragic events we have just witnessed.
     We have much work to do, and that work must be guided by compassion and understanding.

Simeon Kohlman Rabbani—Bahá’í
Chuck Stanford—Buddhist
The Rev Rayfield Burns (for Wallace Hartsfield)—Christian, Protestant
George M Noonan—Christian, Roman Catholic
Anand Bhattacharyya—Hindu
Rabbi Joshua Taub—Jewish
A Rauf Mir, MD—Muslim
Karta Purkh S Khalsa—Sikh
Ali Kadr—Sufi
Kathy Reigelman—Unitarian Universalist
Mike Nichols—Wiccan
Daryoush Jahanian, MD—Zoroastrian
Uma—Vedanta Observer
David E Nelson—Chair
Vern Barnet—Convener

This statement was issued by the named "members" of the Council, rather than in the name of the Council itself, in order to respect the position of the American Indian member. I think if you review the history and the documents, you will find meticulous attention to avoid partisanship.

A more accurate history of the Council than what might be inferred from the Chronicle appears at http://www.cres.org/now/ifc-hist.htm .

It might have been helpful the editor, who also wrote the story, had simply refered to appropriate documents or taken the trouble to call "Vern Barnet" who is named frequently in the article, instead of perpetuating this misunderstanding which does not serve the cause of interfaith understanding.

Better than hearsay are the docments and testimony of those actually involved with CRES and the interfaith Council, and fair and accurate reporting provides a better environment from which the community can move forward.  I, for one, would be delighted to respond, and to supply any inquirers with any documents desired for the preparation of a comment. 

Vern Barnet