Saturday, October 24, 2009

Visiting Pendle Hill and Friends General Conference....

The weather has been seasonably unpredictable--cold and rainy, then sunny and hot, now rainy and warm--as I spent the past week traveling among Friends in the Philadelphia area. I left LA last Thursday to go to Pendle Hill, a Quaker retreat center near Philadelphia where Kathleen and I met 20 years ago. Last weekend I attended a meeting of the Pendle Hill board and took part in a restructuring process that reduced the size of the Board from 60 to 21 members. We had a good meeting and I bid farewell to the Board after serving on it for over 6 years. "Now let your servant go in peace" since PH is in good hands!

I spent the rest of the week working on the Brinton book and made good progress. I had lots of conversations with Friends who helped me move forward on this work. Joan Erickson, one of Brinton's daughter, joined me for lunch on Tuesday and we spent a couple of hours reminiscing about her parents.

I also had thoughtful conversations with various students and staff who helped me put the life of the Brintons in perspective. As a result, I was able to produce two articles about the development of Howard Brinton's theological thought.

I am now attending a meeting of the FGC Central Committee in New Windsor, MD, where I am a member of the Christian Interfaith Relations Committee. Yesterday I took part in a discussion about the role of CIRC in the World and National Council of Churches. Today I gave this report which sums up my work with SCCPWR over the past year. The CIRC committee (which is pictured here) responded so warmly and generously that I was deeply moved. Thank you, Friends, and thank you, Spirit, for your amazing grace!

Report on the Parliament of Religions
for the Christian Interfaith Relations Committee of Friends General Conference

I want to share with you about how the Holy Spirit has been at work in my life through the Parliament of the World's Religions. I have felt led by Spirit to do interfaith work ever since 9/11 and it has deeply enriched and empowered my life. In fact, this work has become my life.

Last year I had planned to Pendle Hill to write a book about the Brintons but Spirit had other plans. I had to stay in Santa Monica to take care of my beloved wife. While on this healing journey, I joined the steering committee of the local chapter of the Parliament of the World's Religions. I found this to be a diverse and enthusiastic group consisting of around 25 members: Bahais, Buddhists, Sikhs, Jews, Christians, Muslims, Sufis, etc. There were clergy, professors, and spiritual leaders. I use the term “spiritual leaders” to distinguish them from religious leaders—those who work professionally for institutions and are part of a religious bureaucracy. Spiritual leaders work at the grass roots level and inspire and empower their communities through their enthusiasm and example.

The Parliament of the World Religions organizes mega global events every five years attracting 6,000-10,000 participants and major religious leaders, but it also organizes hundreds of local pre- and post-Parliament events. Most of this work is done by volunteers. These local events seem to me very Quakerly. In Kenya there was an event entitled “Peace and Reconciliation for Socioeconomic Stability in Kisumu.” In Oxford there was an event called “The Inner Voice of Silence: Interfaith, a Life-Transforming Experience.” In Santa Monica we organized an event called “Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth” at the Sokka Gakkai Buddhist center. Over 150 people took part, including many members of Santa Monica Friends Meeting. One member led a workshop on the environment. Another brought a group of teens from our Friday night teen program.

I organized the youth program for this event and over 40 college and high school students took part. My goal was not only to engage young people in the interfaith movement, but also to empower them to assume leadership. Most of the workshops were led by youth. Some of our youth leaders also took part in the plenary program and shared inspiring messages about what interfaith work meant to them.

After this event, I was asked to organize a pre-Parliament event at the University of Southern California, which has made a major commitment to the interfaith movement and hopes to become a national center for interfaith studies. We organized an event on Gandhi and religious pluralism. There was a panel discussion in which two distinguished college professors and two gifted college students talked about the legacy of Gandhi. There eleven workshops on a wide variety of topics, ranging from community organizing to sacred drumming. I invited the AFSC to lead a workshop. Several members of my Meeting took part.

I have taken care to involve my Meeting in all my interfaith work. When I realized that I was becoming a “Public Friend” and was representing Quakerism in the LA area, I asked for a clearness committee to discern how best to follow this leading. My Meeting has supported my work financially as well as spiritually. Among other things, it has given me a grant of $900 to go to Australia. I am very grateful for my Meeting's involvement and support.
I now serve the local chapter of the Parliament in many capacities. I am their web designer, youth program coordinator and development officer. I serve on the executive Board as a vice president. I am also leading a workshop in Melbourne entitled “Listening with a Heart of Mercy.” My co-presenters include a Sufi active in Jewish/Muslim dialogue and a Jewish film-maker, who created the documentary “God and Allah Need to Talk.”

I am carrying this concern to Friends. I wrote an article about interfaith work for “Friends Journal.” I have not only given workshops at the FGC gathering and at Yearly Meetings, I am also inviting some of my Parliament interfaith friends to take part in a panel at a Quakerly Meeting session in Novembers. A Mormon, a Jew and Muslim active in interfaith work will be panelists. We are also integrating the youth into this program and hope to involve them in our interfaith youth events.

When I informed Australian Friends that I was coming to Melbourne for the Parliament, I was enthusiastically welcomed. I was invited to visit and speak to Friends in Sydney and Canberra, as well as Melbourne. I decided to extend my stay so that I could attend Australia YY, which will take place in Adelaide on Jan 3-9. My Meeting wrote a letter supporting my travels in the ministry and uniting with my concern for interfaith work. As a result, I feel that I am not doing this work alone, but with the full support of my beloved Meeting.

After I return from Australia, I plan to be involved in post-Parliament events that are taking place throughout the LA area almost monthly. I am especially excited about interfaith youth work. This year I am working with the South Coast Interfaith Council and the Parliament to organize three interfaith youth events: a homeless feeding event at my wife's former church, a Heal the Santa Monica Bay beach cleanup on Earth Day, and an interfaith tall ships sail in San Pedro harbor—our third annual sailing event. Through these activities we are creating a core group of youth people committed to interfaith work who will carry this work into the future. It is my hope that at some point Quaker youth will find their place in the interfaith movement.

I believe, as Howard Brinton did, that authentic Quaker work begins in our local meetings, in meeting for worship, where we listen deeply for what Spirit is calling us do do. If we are faithful to and in harmony with Spirit, way opens for us to do our part to transform the world. This is the goal of the interfaith movement—transforming ourselves and transforming the religious culture of the world so we can experience our unity and celebrate our diversity. I am inspired by what Hans Kung said at the first modern Parliament of the World's Religions in Chicago in 1993: “There can be no peace without peace among the religions. There can be no peace among the religions without dialogue. There can be no dialogue without a common ethic.”

I am grateful to Spirit that I am being led to foster not only this dialogue but also something deeper—what Douglas Steere called “mutual irradiation.” “Mutual irradiation” is defined as a interfaith encounter in which “each is willing to expose [him or herself] with great openness to the inward message of the other, as well as to share its own experience, and to trust that whatever is the truth in each experience will irradiate and deepen the experience of the other.”. The Parliament's work truly is mutually irradiating since it consists not only of talk, but also of deep worship and “spiritual intimacy” conducted in myriad ways.

This year, because of the challenges in my life, I have grown closer to the interfaith community that ever before through our practice of prayer and worship. During this trying and painful period, my friends in the Parliament and in the interfaith community were there for me, praying for me and supporting me in ways too deep for words. Through their love and support I know now in my heart of hearts that God truly wants us to realize that we are all one family, and that the business of our lives is to help everyone to experience the love and peace that passeth understanding. May it be so with you and with every soul on this earth....

Yours in love and peace,
Anthony Manousos

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