By James Woodward, Illinois, USA
Attending the Parliament of the World's Religions in Melbourne late last year had an unexpected impact on me in several ways. It was my first big interfaith adventure, though I had heard wonderful and inspiring reports from Urantia Book readers who attended previous Parliaments. Living in Chicago, the home base of the non-profit organization, gave me the opportunity to attend pre-Parliament events, which offered a foretaste but nothing like the reality of being at the big event, held every five years. For more information you can visit: www.parliamentofreligions.org
To converse, study, worship, and pray for a full week with thousands of other devoted religionists who all believe in a Supreme Being (or Essence) was an intense and joyful experience. What impressed me the most was the friendliness of the participants and their sincerity about interfaith harmony, the focus on intrafaith relations, the program's deep commitment to social justice issues, my personal synchronistic experiences, and the benefits of serving with other readers.
The interfaith component of a Parliament is a given. The organization is the most active proponent of a worldwide spiritual mission to foster greater understanding and compassion between all religions. But the number of programs dedicated to intrafaith matters surprised me. Among others, there were sessions where Muslims were discussing the Shiite and Sunni problems, the Hindus addressed the challenges of their many sects, and of course the Christians were talking to other Christians about their different interpretations of the life and teachings of Jesus. I found the fact and the openness of such dialogues very hopeful. And more so, it encouraged hopeful thinking about the possibility (indeed, the necessity) of progressive action toward improved relations within our own Urantia community.
Even though I was aware of this Parliament's theme, "Making a World of Difference: Hearing Each Other, Healing the Earth," I wasn't prepared for the quantity and depth of programs devoted to social and moral issues. The most prominent example of this theme, as might be expected, was the plight of the natives of Australia. But aboriginal peoples from all lands were well represented and their sacred beliefs and ceremonies were honored. There was a strong emphasis on discussing how the ideals of religion interact with the less-than-ideal realities of secular life. Topics addressed included environmental and climate issues, the rights of women, the treatment of children, and one that I attended titled, "Has Economics Triumphed Over Ethics?" This forum featured a panel of prominent bankers and the famous religious scholar Hans Küng and delved into the morality of our financial institutions and their practices. Not what I expected at a conference about religion but very timely and essential in this era. It was encouraging to see religious leaders from all faiths confronting the challenges of a balanced approach to life just as Jesus did in his life.
"Jesus…is learning how to adjust his ideals of spiritual living to the practical demands of earthly existence." The Urantia Book, (1405.4) 127:6.12
It seemed that every day during the Parliament I was bumping into someone from Chicago or found that the person I'd just met was familiar with The Urantia Book. This entertaining chain of synchronicities was almost surreal but kept me focused on higher realities due to the spiritual kick that each one delivered. Perhaps the best was the last. At the airport I struck up a conversation with the woman behind me in the security line. First, she was from the same California town where I had lived prior to moving to Chicago, and after sharing our reasons for attending the Parliament she said, "Oh, that's so cool. I just started reading The Urantia Book with a friend back home, and we're enjoying it, but there's stuff we don't understand. Would you be willing to answer our questions?" Needless to say, we have become friends. She now has a personal Reader Services guy, and I'm helping her start a study group in the area where I hosted one ten years ago! She's a minister of Religious Science, and we discovered a lot of Urantia Book interest among the New Thought folks attending the Parliament.
A key reason for my traveling "Down Under" was to support Sheila Keene-Lund and her new book, Heaven Is Not the Last Stop ( www.heavenisnotthelaststop.com.) The book is a reconciliation of human knowledge with the revelations of The Urantia Book and is finding a very receptive audience among readers. The target audience, however, is that larger group of progressive religionists who are seeking something beyond traditional beliefs, and Heaven Is Not the Last Stop provides a very readable exposition of the Urantia Papers. Having worked with Sheila for the last four years on the project, we pre-published the book, in time to debut it at the Parliament, to coincide with her workshop presentation there, "Cultivating Universal Intelligence."
All of this elation, the education, the music and ceremony, the warm fellowship with diverse faithers, were touchingly underscored with the outstanding camaraderie of The Urantia Book team that gathered in Melbourne. From the local members of Urantia Association International, who did superb preparation work with logistics and the booth, to the readers from around the world who came in support, there was a generous feeling of a common sense of purpose. A special note of gratitude must go to Gard Jameson, our "interfaith Trustee." Gard has been active in this movement for many years, gently opening eyes and ears to the good news of the Revelation. He was also responsible for the "intrafaith" initiative that generated cooperation between Urantia Foundation, UAI, and the Fellowship – dedicated servants to the Father's will working together on a meaningful outreach project. Those readers who were fortunate to attend this remarkable event, whether affiliated with a fraternal group or not, can testify to the progress that's made when we become resolved through faith to unity of purpose.
From top left: Cristina Seaborn, Paula Thompson, Buck Weimer, Will Wentworth,
Kathleen Swadling, Trevor Swadling, Marvin Gawryn, Jeff Canton, Vern Verass, James Woodward,
Verner Sutter, Irmeli Ivalo-Sjölie, Susan Wentworth, Arlene Weimer, Francyl Gawryn,
Doug Childers, Meredith Tenney, Edward Harrigan, Larry Geis.
(Not pictured were Gard Jameson and Sheila Keene-Lund)
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