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John Henry Barrows: Producing the First Parliament of Religions

Rev. John Henry Barrows, the “architect” of the 1893 World’s Parliament of Religions.

by Marcus Braybrooke
from The Interfaith Dispatch

John Henry Barrows was the architect of the 1893 Parliament of Religions. Charles Carroll Bonney has been properly credited for coming up with the idea of a World Parliament of Religions. It was Bonney’s notion that the World Fair in Chicago and its great exhibits should be accompanied by a series of “congresses” or parliaments to provide a forum for discussing the state of anthropology, art, commerce and finance, education, labor, literature, medicine, philosophy, temperance, and religion. The most important congresses to Bonney were about religion. He, therefore, established a committee to organise them and appointed Rev. Dr. John Henry Barrows the chair.

Barrows, born in 1847, was pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Chicago. He had studied at Yale, at Union Theological (NY) and Andover Newton seminaries, and served congregations in Kansas, Massachusetts, and Paris. Rather than trying to describe the Parliament itself, this essay briefly summarizes Barrow’s contribution and theological stance.

Rev. Barrows, known as a powerful preacher, was clearly a tireless worker. Besides the World Parliament, his Committee organised 45 denominational congresses. In preparation for the Parliament of Religions, some ten thousand personal letters – not to mention forty thousand documents – were sent to the far corners of the world inviting support. “We affectionately invite the representatives of all faiths,” the letter said, “to aid us in presenting to the world, at the Exposition of 1893, the religious harmonies and unities of humanity, and also in showing forth the moral and spiritual agencies which are at the root of human progress.”

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“Sharing Sacred Spaces” Leads to Interreligious Solidarity in Chicago

Sacred Solidarity in Chicago

"Sacred Solidarity," the culminating event of the Sharing Sacred Spaces program, takes place in downtown Chicago on June 10

by Sarah Fentem

For the past eight months, Chicago has served as the site of a pilot interreligious program designed to foster religious dialogue and understanding, using a resource most religious and spiritual communities already have at their fingertips—spaces to gather.

The last of eight hosted events of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions’ (CPWR) “Sharing Sacred Spaces” series took place May 12, wrapping up a program that intended to “deepen appreciation for the diverse religious and spiritual traditions by focusing on the spaces that are sacred to these communities.”

A final, culminating event, “Sacred Solidarity” will take place on June 10th in downtown Chicago, at which representatives from the eight participating communities with gather to sign a pledge committing to work to maintain the ties of trust and friendship built during the last eight months.

“At a time when hatred and violence erupts over religious differences internationally, [this] quiet collaborative effort in Chicago has forged alliances and fostered new friendships across religious lines”, said Rev. Dirk Ficca, executive director of the CPWR.

Chicago architect Suzanne Morgan, inspired by her work with liturgical architecture, served as the impetus of the program. Since mosques, churches, synagogues, and temples are in a sense a spiritual group’s “home,” sharing them would lend a sense of kinship and community not unlike when neighbors visit each other.

“Spaces become sacred through the meaning they have for their communities,” said Morgan. “Sharing that meaning can build bridges of trust and reduce social tension and cultural misunderstanding.”

Chicago served as the inaugural city for the event, with one of eight participating communities opening its doors every month to give a tour of their community’s “home,” explain their traditions, and answer questions for visitors.  The program kicked off in October at the Midwest Buddhist Temple, an experience Sacred Spaces visitor Gale Kryzak said was “bridge-building at its best.”

The interreligious fellowship carried on through the fall, where visitors were touched by the Fourth Presbyterian Church’s spirit of reform and reinvention and St. James Episcopal Cathedral’s blend of history, music, and tradition.

In January, visitors were impressed by the Chicago Sinai Congregation’s intricate blending of architecture and faith. The First United Methodist Church and Old St. Patrick’s Cathedral both showcased how intricately a congregation’s history can be combined with the City’s past and present. The Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist and the Downtown Islamic Center offered clarity to traditions that are sometimes underrepresented or misunderstood.

While each venue was vastly different, visitors saw common threads running through each community. “Each time, I was struck by just how different the spaces, rituals and practices are from what I am accustomed,” said Peter Rubnitz, a member of Chicago Sinai who attended most of the events. “At the same time, I was equally struck by how similar the commitment to faith, values and community is to what I see at Chicago Sinai.”

“Whenever you see people who are earnestly striving for truth and living truth, there’s a heart bond here regardless what the theology or doctrine is,” said Lois Carlson, a member of the Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist.

Carlson mentioned how learning about other traditions helped her grow in her own faith.

“Theologically, I learned something that contributed to my prayer life from every one of the events”, she said. “I didn’t expect that. I expected to be educated, but I didn’t expect it to touch my heart in the way that it did.”

“I was very touched when the Muslims explained the proportion of their ten-minute prayer period was nine minute praise for 1 minute of petition. I saw myself checking my conversation with God to make sure it’s weighted on the side of praise.”

Sacred Solidarity,” the culminating event of the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” program, will take place on Sunday, June 10th at Federal Plaza at the intersection of Adams and Dearborn in the Loop from 2-4 PM.  The event, which is open to the public, will feature the signing of a pledge of solidarity that the communities composed together as a result of their experiences of sharing their sacred spaces over the last eight months.

Said Ficca: “Chicago is just the beginning. Together, we hope to chart a course that will strengthen bonds between diverse religious and cultural communities throughout the world.”



“Why Don’t You Just Convert?” The Story Of My Interfaith Family

by Paul Brandeis Raushenbush
from the Huffington Post

“Oh Paul, why don’t you just convert to Judaism?”

This invitation was extended to me after a book talk in Washington D.C. and I have to admit it took me by surprise. First, I had always heard that Jews aren’t supposed to proselytize. Second, I’m not just a blank slate; I’m a Christian minister by profession, and the book talk I had just given was about a Christian book. And the third reason for my surprise is that two people who posed the question were my cousins.

Let me back up a bit and tell you how I arrived at this moment. I’m from an interfaith family. My side of the family is Christian, and my cousins are Jewish. The reason my family went to church at all was because of my mother, Marylu Raushenbush. Every Sunday she would wake up her four resentful children by snapping up the rolled shades and greeting us with a pointedly bright voice, “Good morning!” This was not a casual “good morning,” this good morning meant that if you were not up in five minutes the next greeting would be much less pleasant. So up we would go from our Frank Lloyd Wright inspired home to our Frank Lloyd Wright inspired church–complete with the wide open sanctuary space, and stain glass that served as a great distraction during the services.

My father, Walter Raushenbush, was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church, which is surprising to people who know his background. Dad’s mother, Elizabeth, was the daughter of Jewish Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis. So, according to Jewish law, my dad was Jewish. However, my dad’s father, Paul, was the son of the social gospel pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch, and my grandfather was raised Christian.

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Sharing Sacred Spaces in Chicago

Fourth Presbyterian Church

by Susan Schwendener

Approximately 100 people of different faith traditions came together on Oct. 23 at Chicago’s Fourth Presbyterian Church on a journey toward better understanding each other’s beliefs and building stronger bonds among a variety of faith communities.

The journey, called “Sharing Sacred Spaces,” was created by Suzanne Morgan, ambassador of the Sacred Space dimension of the Council for a Parliament of the World’s Religions (CPWR), a Chicago-based organization.

CPWR works to build bridges among religious and spiritual communities worldwide in order to create a more just, peaceful and sustainable world. CPWR was born 100 years after the first World Congress of Religions at the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago which took place in 1893. Now the CPWR sponsors a parliament every five years, to continue the work of interreligious engagement started at the first parliament.

“Sharing Sacred Spaces” has engaged eight different places of worship in the Chicago Loop. The first event was held on Oct. 2 at the Midwest Buddhist Temple. The last event will be held on May 12, 2012 at the Downtown Islamic Center.

The meanings that congregants give their worship spaces make these sites sacred, Morgan believes. Sharing that meaning is a way to build bridges of understanding among faith traditions and reduce cultural misunderstandings.

Attendees at the Oct. 23 event at Fourth Presbyterian Church agreed with Morgan.

“The more we know about each other and each other’s ways and places of worship, the more we can be open to each other, ” said Sharon Rader, a bishop of the United Methodist Church.

“As faith communities talk about our commitments to understanding one another, the more we can make real our commitment to helping create world peace,” she said.

Dave Hohle, of 17th Church of Christ Scientist, said Sunday was the first time he had visited Fourth Presbyterian Church.

The afternoon meeting at Fourth Presbyterian Church consisted of a brief tour of the building and presentations about the history of the Presbyterian denomination, the history of the sanctuary and the history of the denomination in Chicago back to its inception, Hohle noted.

“The playing of a hymn written by Martin Luther, the initiator of the Protestant Reformation, was particularly moving,” Hohle said.

“I was also encouraged by church members’ statement that their tradition was “reformed and always reforming,” Hohle said. “I believe that this is the exact way that everyone needs to live.

“After this event, I now feel very welcome,” he said.
Tom Corbett, of the Midwest Buddhist Temple, said that he was inspired by the building and the grounds.

“There is a feeling of nature with the exposed oak (inside), and the intricately designed stained glass windows are so colorful,” he said.

“I particularly like the way that the fountain provided a sense of community,” he said. “I’ve been in Europe and other places where everyone hangs out near a fountain. I found that feeling here.”

Corbett noted that Fourth Presbyterian Church members emphasized what their faith tradition had in common with other traditions.

“Our faith group is about wisdom and compassion,” Corbett said. “I could sense a lot of compassion and wisdom in this group.”

In June, those who have visited and hosted the “Sharing Sacred Spaces” events will have the opportunity to sign a solidarity pledge to build and strengthen bonds of understanding among the faith communities.

These bonds will be key when one of the traditions is faced with acts of religiously-motivated hatred or defamation.

A schedule of the Sharing Sacred Spaces events is listed below. For engaging information about each of the sacred spaces participating, go to the Sharing Sacred Spaces web page on the Council for a Parliament of World Religions website.

Sharing Sacred Spaces

Schedule: Chicago 2011-2012

October 2, 2011
Midwest Buddhist Temple
2-4 pm, 435 West Menomonee Street, Chicago, IL, 60614,
October 23, 2011
Fourth Presbyterian Church
2-4 pm, 126 E. Chestnut Street, Chicago, 60611-2094,
November 6, 2011
Saint James Episcopal Cathedral
2-4 pm, 65 E. Huron Street, Chicago, 60611,
January 29, 2012
Chicago Sinai Congregation
1-3 pm,15 West Delaware Place, Chicago, 60610,
February 19, 2012
First United Methodist Church at the Chicago Temple
2-4 pm, 77 West Washington Street, Chicago, 60602,
March 18, 2012
Seventeenth Church of Christ, Scientist, Chicago
2-4 pm, 55 East Wacker Drive Chicago, 60601,
April 22, 2012
Old St. Patrick’s Church
2-4p m, 700 West Adams St., Chicago, IL 60661,
May 12, 2012
Downtown Islamic Center
1-3 pm, 231 S. State Street, Chicago, 60604,