As I Step Down - A Letter to Friends of the Parliament
Dear Friends of the Parliament of the World's Religions,
In ten days I will step down as Chair of the Parliament and bring to a close one of the most stimulating and profoundly meaningful involvements of my life. Working alongside a group of skilled, imaginative, collegial, and wise Trustees from 16 different religious and spiritual traditions has broadened my perspectives and deepened my spirituality. Watching the enthusiasm and determination of a team of talented Staff members has offered many examples of self-sacrifice and commitment to a cause greater than self. Representing the interfaith movement in conference centers, meeting halls, worship spaces, classrooms, and private encounters has strengthened my conviction that we must all love our neighbors of other faiths as we love ourselves. Meeting and interacting with many of you in my travels regionally, nationally, and internationally has encouraged me to believe that peace among the religions is both possible and achievable.
My term as Chair has provided many opportunities I would not otherwise have had. To mention but a few: I was honored to be one of the invited observers at the historic meeting in Morocco that produced the Marrakesh Declaration, a document defending the rights of religious minorities in the world's Muslim-majority nations. Because of my position with the Board, I was privileged to sit in private conversation with Vice President Al Gore at a climate change seminar in New York City. Supporting an organization whose vision is to secure a more just world, I was selected as the keynote speaker for the Human Rights Coalition of the Central Valley in California. Along with a fellow Trustee and friend, I was able to explore Parliament connections and partnerships in Bratislava, Vienna, and Prague. I was asked to offer lectures and speeches in institutions stretching from Seattle University in the West to Princeton Theological Seminary in the East. Cooperating with a sister non-profit, I was entrusted with the final plenary challenge at the North American Interfaith Network gathering in Edmonton, Alberta. In a more casual setting, I was fortunate to spend four days in a snowy Wisconsin retreat at the Third National Baptist-Muslim Dialogue. As an advocate for global interfaith, I was enlisted for a presentation on peacemaking at the Alliance of Virtues Conference of Abrahamic Religions in the United Arab Emirates.
My immediate and ongoing response to these fascinating and life-enriching experiences is gratitude. I am thankful for the thousands of grassroots champions of inter-religious neighborliness around the world, for co-visionaries and co-laborers from the Board and Staff who dreamed big dreams and brought so many of them to reality, for Canadian partners who hosted our seventh convening in Toronto in November, and for the 8,300 persons from 81 countries and 200 religious and spiritual traditions who turned the Metro Toronto Convention Center into an exciting laboratory of inclusion and love. And, quite personally, I am grateful for my family, who gave me the excessive time and emotional space to do this work even when it meant my not being "present" to them as much as I would have desired. Finally, I appreciate so much the lasting friendships that will continue to enliven and uphold me in the years to come, especially that of Dr. Larry Greenfield, my companion on this journey and the Parliament's Executive Director--who also moves on to other challenges in January, but not without leaving an indelible mark upon my heart and mind.
As I close this chapter of my life and move into what many would say is actual retirement, I have a sense of great excitement about where the Parliament is headed. I applaud the ethos of conviviality and mutual respect that characterizes Trustee consultations. I affirm the leadership model that has led to a very engaged and dedicated working Board. I acknowledge that collaborative decision-making has become our new norm and that it is both deeply appreciated and highly effective. And I admire the one who will be my successor, Audrey Kitagawa, the first female Chairperson in the Parliament’s history.
Now, looking back on my seven years as a Trustee, the last three as Board Chair, and then gazing ahead into the Parliament's hopeful, bright future, I end by quoting UN Secretary General and Nobel Peace Laureate, Dag Hammarskjöld, whose sentiment summarizes my own feelings: "For all that has been, thanks--for all that shall be, yes!"
Dr. Robert P. Sellers