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First “Big I” Conference Held in Nashville

New Ecclesial Order Reaches Out

Scarritt-Bennett Conference Center, Nashville, Tennessee, hosted the conference.

The first “Big I” conference (interfaith, interspiritual, and integral) was held Saturday and Sunday, February 4-5, at the Scarritt-Bennett Conference Center in Nashville, Tennessee. It felt like a mini-TED Conference on interfaith spirituality. Though brief, it included something for everyone passionate about building a world of interfaith harmony. With Rev. Timothy Miner and Rabbi Rami Shapiro at the helm, it was presented by the Order of Universal Interfaith (OUnI). Seventy-five attended, activists, clergy, scholars, and mystics from the broad area encompassing inclusive, interfaith, interspiritual, and integral ministry.

Eighteen minute presentations by each of 18 speakers made for a tightly packed schedule. Topics included a wide array of subjects, each related to the growing recognition of the interfaith movement. Presenters included Rev. Philip Goldberg, author of “American Veda,” on the Western embrace of Hinduism, Rabbi Steve Booth-Nadav of Wisdom House in Denver, and Camille Adams Helminski, co-founder of the Threshold Society, an educational arm of the Mevlevi order of Sufism. Brief descriptions of several of the presentations can be found on the OUnI Facebook page. The conference judiciously included numerous opportunities for the fully-engaged participants to actively dialogue with one another and the presenters throughout the day.

OUnI has grown rapidly since first conceived in 2008 by Rev. Miner and two associates. More than 500 individuals are now active members in the global order. Eight sub-orders, each focused on a specific aspect of interfaith ministry, such as eco-spirituality, have emerged as communities within the overall OUnI structure. Following the tradition of monastic orders like the Franciscans, OUnI was formed as an ecclesiastical order primarily but not exclusively serving as a community for clergy and lay leaders of all faiths.

“OUnI holds its members to no common dogma other than a sense of individual calling and commitment to serve the spiritual needs of people of all faiths, however they express that service,” said Rev. Miner. Chaplaincy is a common thread among OUnI members, many of whom are ordained in other faiths in addition to the interfaith ordination provided by the organization. In a distinct departure from the norm among faith-based organizations, OunI does not encourage its members to identify themselves by reference to a specific religion. “We stress verbs rather than nouns. What practice you follow is more informative about where you are in your spiritual path than confining yourself to such labels as Christian, Buddhist or Jewish,” said Rev. Miner.

Business cards were exchanged and networking connections made throughout the weekend, promising continued dialogue and potentially fruitful collaborations far beyond the weekend’s events. OUnI plans to publish the proceedings of this first conference in DVD format, an inaugural edition of an Interfaith Journal by the end of the year, and a book on the history of the interfaith movement since the first Council of a Parliament on World Religions held in 1893.

The overwhelming feedback received by the organizers from participants endorsed holding this conference on an annual basis. The next Big I event is therefore scheduled for February 1-3, 2013, again in Nashville. In future years, the conference will move to different parts of the country.