Written by Dr. Ted Reeve, Executive Director 2000-2013.
Bill (left), Ted (right), circa 2000.
This idea of engaging interfaith groups in ethical or common good issues emerged from our cross-country travels in the late 1990s when Bill Phipps was Moderator of The United Church of Canada (UCC). Bill gave special attention to a national consultation on Faith and Economy and so we travelled from coast to coast (unfortunately, not to the third coast) holding town hall meetings on regional economic challenges and how faith communities were responding.
While primarily focused on United Church responses we found that folks from different faith traditions were coming to these meetings and expressing their appreciation for, and engagement with, local UCC social justice work. This experience triggered for us that coming into the new millennium our social justice engagement needed to be from an interfaith perspective. We choose the language of seeking the common good because folks from different cultural/religious backgrounds had mixed experiences with political, economic, and social justice engagements in their countries of origin.
With this interfaith engagement idea in mind, Bill and I approached the Atkinson Foundation to see if they would sponsor us to test this idea. As background, the foundation had been started by Joseph Atkinson, the founder of the Toronto Star, who had been a strong United Church member and had shared the church’s “social gospel” thinking in the underlying values of the Toronto Star. When Bill was Moderator of the UCC, this social gospel link was re-established with the Atkinson Foundation and they greatly assisted with our community engagement on social justice issues. This interfaith idea was supported by the Atkinson Foundation and instead of giving us a one year grant, they gave us a modest amount of funding over five years to develop the idea.
Looking at the impacts of consumerism
We began by looking for a social and economic issue that affected all of us as Canadians and was counter to all our faith tradition’s concern for the “other” — our Golden Rule. We thought that consumerism offered this window into economic justice issues because all of us are deeply influenced by capitalism’s efforts to have us see the world through consumerist eyes. We produced an educational video reflecting on how consumerism affects us all and distracts us from our care for others and planetary health. We highlighted case studies from the Buddhist, Muslim, Sikh and Christian communities.
Royal Commission on Health Care Reform
Another ethical issue that affects all Canadians is our health care system. In the early 2000s there was a Royal Commission on Health Care Reform looking at the strengths and weaknesses of the Canadian system. We joined together with Kairos Canada, a Christian ecumenical justice organization, and began organizing interfaith study sessions across Canada. We both appreciated what we have in Canada and encouraged improvements by having more focus on issues such as prevention and public health, long term care, and more pay equity across the system. Out of these gatherings, we organized for an interfaith grouping of folks to go to the public hearings being held across the country. We know these were effective because the chief Commissioner, Roy Romanow, commented in tabling the final report that the strong “rights” emphasis given in the report was because of faith group representation across the country.
FCG event posters, circa 2002
Young people interested in environment
In all the conversations about health care, a consistent theme, particularly from young people, was concern about the environment and the impacts of climate change. Following our grassroots approach we determined that this would be our next ethical theme to explore. This was in 2003, and while some of us had been environmental campaigners since the 1980s, it was not a widespread concern among Canadians. The David Suzuki Foundation had decided to do a national Nature Challenge and so in collaboration with them, we launched our Renewing the Sacred Balance campaign. We utilized the Nature Challenge suggestions of how Canadians could reduce their carbon footprint in a pamphlet we produced for faith communities. Again, we organized speaking engagements all across the country and invited people to pledge to do at least one or two of the ten suggestions. I had told David Suzuki that this would be easy for us to get thousands of pledges from people of faith to join his cross-country campaign.
To all of our surprise, both Suzuki and us, we had a really hard time getting people to commit to even doing a few simple things. Actions like, not eating red meat one day a week, turning down your thermostat a degree or two, taking public transit one day a week, and so on. So while lots of people were nodding their heads in agreement that climate change was a problem, few were willing to pledge to actual behavioural change. This was a big learning curve for us as we struggled to recognize what would motivate people to change. It was clear that just making the facts known was not enough. It seemed to be a deeper concern about people’s whole way of life being threatened and to even open the door to change led to much deeper questions. Even Suzuki, a hard-nosed scientist and religious skeptic, came to an understanding that for change to happen it would fundamentally need to be a spiritual change. In other words, that folks would have to renew, or find, a spiritual connection with the earth and each other so that we could love the planet and stop thinking of it as a resource for our exploitation.
Our Renewing the Sacred Balance work took up this spiritual challenge and we began to produce educational resources and action plans to help faith communities explore this perspective. A lot of work went into producing our Green Rule poster, as a complement to the Golden Rule poster, and in affirmation that all major faith traditions had a “care for the earth” ethic. It took us over a year to consult with this diverse group of religious leaders and to find sayings that conveyed this earth-friendly spiritual bias.
Renewing the Sacred Balance, 2003
Green Rule Poster, 2003
Another highlight of this time was an interfaith event that we held at the Scarborough Islamic Centre with 1,300 people in attendance. On the evening of the event, the Islamic Centre hosted a dinner for 200 faith leaders from across the GTA. David Suzuki was the keynote speaker for both the dinner and the evening event. It was such a good event that it was later broadcast by the CBC’s Ideas program. Suzuki was so impressed with our interfaith organizing that for quite a while afterwards he kept referring to this event as an example of how faith communities could rise to the climate crisis.
With David Suzuki, circa 2003
Greening Sacred Spaces
Beyond our educational efforts, we took the approach that faith communities needed to demonstrate to their members that they were willing to practice what they preached. The Greening Sacred Spaces program (launched in 2003) was developed to help with that. Initially, with the aid of the McConnell Foundation and then most extensively, the Ontario Trillium Foundation, we were able to build a team of Animators across Canada to help develop this program. Each Animator had the freedom of creating their own Green Team and to initiate programs that related to their particular contexts. Kristina Inrig stepped up to be the coordinator of these Animators and did an amazing job in keeping funders happy. Stephen Collette and David Patterson pioneered an audit program that continues to serve faith communities. For about 10 years we were also active in helping faith communities participate in the Ontario’s Feed-in-Tariff solar program. At least 20 faith communities put up solar panels and now receive income back from Ontario Hydro for the electricity they produce. This only begins the list of creative projects that Animators have initiated with all kinds of faith communities and local green-related groups.
These memories only skim along the surface of all that FCG has gotten up to over the last two decades. Speaking for Bill Phipps and myself, we feel deeply privileged to have worked with all the great board people who guided the work and the amazing staff who spread our call for the common good far and wide. We had some wonderful times together on our retreats and the many workshops and presentations that we put together over the years.
Both Bill and I are so pleased that FCG has continued to do important and effective work beyond our time with the organization. I certainly count my 13 years of involvement as being the highlight of my vocational life. I believe we have made a significant contribution to interfaith work in Canada, contributed to the whole greening effort, and have moved the marker a bit closer to the common good of all.
To another 20 years!
Rev. Dr. Ted Reeve
Executive Director (2000-2013)
Photos: Events circa, 2002-2013
Raging Grannies, FCG Annual Conference, 2003
A gathering at the 6 Nations Territory, circa 2004
A gathering at the 6 Nations Territory, circa 2004
Hindu panel at a FCG Conference,Victoria University, Toronto, circa 2006
Haida Elders, Haidi Gui, circa 2010
Retreat, circa 2013.