"CIE/UNIITE: Organizations for a New Millennium
Work is love made visible.
And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better
that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and
take alms of those who work with joy. For if you bake bread with
indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man's hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a
poison in the wine. And if you sing though as angels, and love not
the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.
[Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet, extract from the chapter on “Work”]
The Center for Interfaith Encounter (CIE) was co-founded by Mariani and Malcolm Nazareth in January 2000 at St. Cloud, MN. For more than two years the Nazareths ran over 150 interfaith/intercultural programs pretty much at their own expense with generous in-kind donations (space, food, voluntary help, pro bono presentations) from large-hearted individuals and organizations of diverse area religions and no-religions.
For over two years in vain did the Nazareths hope that local foundations would respond to their applications for funding. Mariani has worked tirelessly at St. Cloud Hospital as the breadwinner of the home, supporting her husband and his pro bono public service. “Work is love made visible.”
The Nazareths’ friend and admirer Elaine Hanson refused to sit and watch as the Nazareths seriously contemplated joining in “minority flight” from what seemed to them as an uncaring, ungiving St. Cloud. Inviting to her house other committed CIE supporters from diverse faiths, Elaine began in March 2002 the process of grafting a non-profit wing UNIITE to the stem of CIE. This process succeeded. We got ourselves an EIN number before the end of 2002 and we were incorporated with the office of Minnesota’s Secretary of State on 10 April 2003. However, comic errors in 2003 have incredibly delayed UNIITE’s attainment of 501(c)3 status right up to the present day.
Meanwhile, UNIITE (not yet fully a non-profit) celebrated its first birthday in October 2003 at the Newman Center, and CIE/UNIITE continued their offerings to the peoples of St. Cloud and beyond.
Their more than 325 programs to this day are as diverse as one may dare to dream--ongoing Saturday morning yoga-meditation classes, 17 powerpoint presentations on Islam, interfaith weekend retreats, interfaith jail ministry, interfaith spirituality book clubs, interfaith marriage preparation; interfaith counseling, chaplaincy, and inspirational services; interfaith celebration of millennium babies, Native American pipe ceremonies, interfaith/intercultural celebration of the Mississippi River at Itasca, interfaith consultancy, interfaith/intercultural house blessing/house warming, interfaith celebration of feasts and festivals of world religions, peace events, formal dialogues, and much, much more. Well over forty different types of programs!
Thanks entirely to their many and generous admirers, CIE won a Minnesota level award in April 2000 and UNIITE won a St. Cloud award in September 2003. UNIITE is grateful to all of its patrons, past and current, who attend, applaud, celebrate, and support our ventures in cash or kind. A few representative photographs of diverse programs and participants may be viewed at CIE and UNIITE’s websites: http://www.uniite.org/cie.html and http://www.uniite.org, respectively.
We thank Central Minnesota Community Foundation, Create CommUNITY, and others who have tangibly thumped CIE/UNIITE on their backs and thus enabled the latter to float their dream. Along with many other local organizations, the 3rd millennium mother/daughter organizations CIE and UNIITE are pledged to put St. Cloud on the nation’s map. They work shoulder to shoulder with others to make it possible for their city of adoption to become culturally competent and interreligiously welcoming to all. With St. Cloud’s citizens we’re proud that, already since 9/11, our interfaith/intercultural programs grabbed New England observers’ attention, for example. Visit: http://www.pluralism.org/research/profiles/display.php?profile=70928
Turning Point #1
Towards the close of 2001, CIE was at a strategic crossroads. The question was: Should we continue to operate within everybody’s comfort zone and offer programs that primarily reinforce awareness of similarities between religions--and thus remain on a plateau? Or should we—contrary to the advice of some of our staunch supporters— encourage our clients to look into every religion’s uniqueness and difference without fearing that some friends might misunderstand our intentions and turn hostile?
September 11 resolved our dilemma for us. We chose the riskier path.
Islam was then “in the dock,” as it were. CIE took it personal when Muslims nationally and locally came under attack. We went all out, in 2002-03, to educate people, via powerpoint presentations, about the greatness and specificities of Islamic religiosity. In our energetic strivings against hardening anti-Muslim stereotypes we organized “Muslims-Dialogues-Beliefs” (Spring 2003) and were supported by Faith Communities: Building Racial Harmony (FC:BRH).
An unintended effect: very few friends (two families of a particular faith) walked away from us for good—for being partisan to Islam. But, having put our hand to the plough, CIE/UNIITE never turned back.
Turning Point #2
Thanks to the Erpeldings, the Wetterlings, the Baha’is, Elaine Hanson, FC:BRH, the Newman Center, University Lutheran Church of the Epiphany, St. Cloud Area American Indian Center, and others far too many to mention, CIE/UNIITE have been able to elicit the beginnings of financial support piecemeal, program by program. This started out with a trickle in 2002 and has been promising to grow into a steady stream—only promising, mind you.
Today, early in 2004, in the midst of “Jews-Dialogues-Beliefs,” UNIITE finds itself at another crossroads—a material one, this time. The following analogy may clarify the nature of this turning point.
On a hot summer day, it may be perfectly appropriate to offer delicious ice-cream to one’s friend who is working in the hot sun. Any hot and thirsty person would gratefully welcome such a gift from a friend. But would one offer ice-cream to a friend working outdoors on a cold, wintry day? And, if the worker is hungry for a good meal, would an offering of ice-cream be adequate?
CIE and UNIITE have been laboring in the heat—and severe cold—of Central Minnesota full four years running. All that we’ve received from the public can be spoken of in terms of dessert. Not bread. We’ve been receiving the dessert of program funding for the past twenty months--not just in the summer but through fall, winter, and spring. We have yet to find the bread of operational funding.
UNIITE is asking the nice people of Minnesota: Do you believe we’ve been meeting some of your felt needs? If you do, is it perhaps time that you offered us not cakes but bread?
UNIITE may be one of few non-profits that was initiated and run for two long years with zero start-up funds, no office, no salary for its executive director, no secretary, no intern, no phone. If four years of in-kind and cash donations made by the Nazareths and their supporters to CIE/UNIITE were to be computed, would it perhaps run up to the tune of a couple hundred thousand dollars? Indeed, probably far more. Is it conceivable to place a price-tag—any price-tag at all—on service that seeks to blend, unite, and harmonize all? Aren’t such services beyond the ken of market value? In today’s fragmented USA with diminished “social capital” and “declined civic engagement” can the worth of CIE/UNIITE’s service to the community ever be computed? For these two organizations have served in the “no-person’s land” beyond race, ethnicity, religion, no-faith, language, gender, and sexual orientation.
I repeat: Donations to UNIITE have come in for program funding only! “What?!” one may ask, “Sterling service to the community for four long years by two fledgling organizations—and they were fed by the people on non-staple food?” “Yes, ma’am. Only dessert.” “If they can’t have bread, let them eat cake!”
Need for Structural Support
The last sentence has been mocked at for centuries as coming from callous French royalty that failed to perceive the dire material needs of its subjects. No royalty exists in Stearns County or in this republic-cum-democracy we call the “United States,” but good, simple people have been openhandedly regal to CIE/UNIITE in very many ways. Programs thus far have been supported by the Nazareth family living out-of-state and abroad, by area churches and businesses, by a local foundation and by some encouraging individuals. However, their munificence has yet to provide UNIITE with operational expenses. UNIITE is now asking unabashedly for the real thing. For, “the laborer is worthy of his/her hire.”
Taking a Break
After “Jews-Dialogues-Beliefs” in February and March, UNIITE reluctantly proposes to take a break. We hope meanwhile that issues, which have been delayed far too long, such as 501(c)3 status, basic fiscal soundness for UNIITE, and office space in an accessible public location, would enable us to engage in more sustained service to St. Cloud where diversity—religious, ethnic, cultural, linguistic--keeps exploding in everybody’s face from week to week. We trust that by then our bases will have been covered, necessary equipment all set up, and that we will be able to return to bat in the summer or fall of 2004.
“And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.”
Some Programs Contemplated by UNIITE—pending operational funding:
1. A summer institute on World Religions (field-trip based 3-credit university offerings, July-August 2004-06) in three phases—a general introduction to 10 area religions (2004), intro to world religions for K-12 teachers (2005), and world religions for healthcare professionals (2006). Will this be supported by St. Cloud State University? By Centra Care?
2. Caravaning with Dr. Jerry Wetterling for the Silver Jubilee of his Grand Portage American Indian Spirituality Institute (an overnight campout trip, mid-August 2004). Will this be co-sponsored by the Baha’i community?
3. Equinox and solstice celebrations (4 times annually)
4. Native American Pipe Ceremony (one per season, 4 times annually)
5. Social Justice and World Religions series (Interfaith Sacred Texts and Communities Series, part 3). We’re obliged to postpone this offering to Fall 2004. Will St. Cloud State University and others support CIE/UNIITE?
6. Intercultural/international Christmas carols program (December 2004). Will area faith communities support this venture?
7. International/interfaith/intercultural 2-week study-trip to Kerala, India, living with St. Thomas Christian families, celebrating Christmas and bringing in the New Year there, and studying the successful confluences, till the present time, of three semitic religions in Hindu South India for over a millennium (December 04-January -05). Will St. Cloud State University and/or the Minnesota Humanities Commission support this venture?
8. Interfaith/intercultural/international 1-week Circle Tour of Lake Superior (summer 2005). Will area religions co-sponsor this spiritual celebration of a North American natural wonder?
9. Interfaith jail ministry to be offered to inmates 2 hours/week (Restorative Justice Spirituality Circle from 2005).
“And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distils a poison in the wine.
“And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man's ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”
Putting our Dream on Hold:
While these programs are being placed on hold for reasons spelt out above, CIE, for its part, will continue to offer at 819 N 14th St, St. Cloud, MN:
1. Ongoing Saturday morning yoga-meditation sessions
2. Its incipient resource center (interfaith calendar, books, videos, CD-Roms, other artifacts; counseling center; consultancy, diverse interfaith/intercultural services) for visiting and exploring world religions and their sacred sites and ceremonies—one-on-one, group-to-group, distance learning, field trips...
As CIE and UNIITE go on to score all-time high records of interfaith/intercultural home-runs, materially we shall continue to depend on the largesse, the vision, the ongoing (tangible, please) back-thumping of the many and diverse peoples and communities of St. Cloud—this time in structural ways.
Root for St. Cloud—donate to UNIITE in cash or kind. Call 320/240-2276 or 320/230-6669
Purchase a music CD “Spirit Wind” freshly burned by Cristina Seaborn (East-West intercultural instrumental music) in St. Cloud in February 2004. The CD features UNIITE board member Seaborn on violin and viola, UNIITE executive director Nazareth on tamboura, Gauri Devi Marie L. Logan on dumbek, and Mark Zeleny on bass. Call 320/654-9048
Or visit: mediafiles
Pre-order a set of 6 VHS tapes capturing the 2004 Jewish Dialogues series. Call 320/240-2276
Or visit: http://www.uniite.org/video_jewishdialogue.html
Donate office space. Volunteer your services. Call 320/230-6669 or 320/240-2276
Institutions! Become organizational members of UNIITE. Call 320/240-2276 or 320/230-6669
Malcolm Nazareth, Executive Director
P.O. Box 6162, St. Cloud, MN 56302-6162