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NewsUnited Religions Initiative: Local Cooperation Brings Peace, Resilience, Restoration

United Religions Initiative: Local Cooperation Brings Peace, Resilience, Restoration

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Lauren van Ham
Lauren van Ham
Lauren Van Ham holds degrees from Carnegie Mellon University, Naropa University, and The Chaplaincy Institute. After completing a B.F.A. in music theatre, Lauren pursued her childhood dream of living in New York City and worked off-Broadway. She moved to the Bay Area in 1998 for graduate studies in psychology, creation spirituality, and interfaith worldviews. Following her ordination in 1999, and until 2007, Lauren worked as an interfaith hospital chaplain, serving St. Mary’s Medical Center in San Francisco, where she specialized in adolescent psychiatry, palliative care and bereavement support. Between 2005 and 2006, she was the Executive Director of Green Sangha, a nonprofit organization practicing spiritually-engaged environmental activism. She is featured in Renewal, an award-winning documentary, celebrating the efforts of religious environmental activists in Green Sangha and seven other groups from diverse faith traditions across America.

Planting thousands of trees along Malawi’s Lilongwe River; modeling regenerative lifestyles at an eco-village outside Amman, Jordan; banning new oil and gas wells in the US; improving soil health, food security and establishing income for women with a grove of mango trees in Kolkata; and teaching eco-literacy to children in Cambodia are only a few of the hundreds of ways Cooperation Circles across the United Religions Initiative (URI) network are inviting people around the world to restore Earth and establish local resiliency.

URI indigenous and multi-faith based groups not waiting for the policymakers

Whether the most recent IPCC report or progress updates on the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), current data makes it clear that the necessary global commitments or the required changes in human behavior and infrastructure will not happen in time to keep global warming beneath 2°C; nor will we reach the SDGs by the 2030 target.  The consequences will continue to be devastating and inter-related because everything is inter-related. 

Thankfully Indigenous groups and many faith-based organizations are not waiting for the policymakers.  Important, life-preserving work is being done by houses of worship and spiritual communities in the form of disaster preparedness or by becoming “resilience hubs” in their locations.  URI is a global leader in these efforts. URI is a global grassroots interfaith network that cultivates peace and justice by engaging people to bridge religious and cultural differences and work together for the good of their communities and the world. Since its founding 23 years ago, URI has celebrated Indigenous wisdom and the teachings of world religions by recognizing that working to restore Earth and taking good care of one another are always related.  Just as soil, birds and trees work together to create a healthy eco-system, gender equality, job security and clean water work together to create healthy communities.  URI’s thousands of local groups around the globe  — Cooperation Circles — are demonstrating that caring for Earth sometimes looks less like planting a garden and more like helping girls stay in school.  And tending our communities might mean buying locally but it’s also about divesting wisely, relinquishing excess and returning land to those who can best steward it into the future.

United Religions Initiative’s safe, innovative and peace-filled responses

Pope Francis in his 2015 encyclical, “Laudato Si,” stated, “While the existing world order proves powerless to assume its responsibilities, local individuals and groups can make a real difference. They are able to instill a greater sense of responsibility, a strong sense of community, a readiness to protect others, a spirit of creativity and a deep love for the land. They are also concerned about what they will eventually leave to their children and grandchildren.” And at the UN’s Environmental Assembly 5 (March, 2022), faith leaders offered a closing statement, acknowledging the necessary and vital role played by religious leaders and people of faith in responding to the intensifying, interconnected crises.

Across URI (United Religions Initiative), Cooperation Circles believe that, in even the most disruptive and emotionally challenging times, safe, innovative and peace-filled responses are possible, resulting in more resilient, collaborative communities.  Together, we can accept the weight of this moment by responding to the unique needs in each of our communities, and honoring our inter-relatedness as the source of strength it has always been.

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