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Download Vern Barnet's 10th Anniversary 20-page essay in PDF:
The World's Religions: Pieces or Pattern?

Gifts of Pluralism
Finding the Sacred 
in a World without Direction
2001 Oct (26) 27-28

A Conference for Shaping the Future of Religion in the Kansas City Area:  
for everyone interested in learning about world religions and how they address environmental, personal, and social issues of our time 
using the appreciative inquiry method 


DOWNLOAD PDF Summary Report for Civic Council

Preconference Plans

Media and Other Reports

Participant Credits

Concluding Conference Declaration (PDF)

Concluding Conference Declartion (html)

.Fundraising Proposal
.Conference brochure 2pg
.Registration brochure 4pg



Summary prepared for the Civic Council
The Gifts of Pluralism
Kansas City’s First Interfaith Conference:
A Success — A Model for the Future
Overview.-- The “Gifts of Pluralism” conference, held Oct. 27-28, 2001, on the Ward Parkway (State Line) campus of the Pembroke Hill School, marked the metropolitan area’s first interfaith conference and set the stage for future collaboration among representatives of all faiths. Never before have so many people of so many faiths gathered here to learn from each other and to plan for the future. 
Participation.--  Over 250 people participated in the two-day event representing 15 faith groups — American Indian, Bahá'í, Buddhist, Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox), Free Thinkers, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, Zoroastrian.
  • Congressman Dennis Moore and Congresswoman Karen McCarthy opened the conference, held on State Line. Proclamations from Governors Graves and Holden and area mayors were acknowledged. 
  • Although the conference was focused on Greater Kansas City, several out-of-town, out-of-state, and foreign visitors learned about it and were drawn here. 
  • About two dozen high school and college students were involved. Students were represented on each of the three Saturday panels. The Pembroke venue was used to emphasize that we are all students learning from each other.
  • Eighteen civic leaders such as Beth Smith and Bob Stephan had provided early planning advice.
Program.-- A goal was to focus on the diversity in Kansas City, so out-of-town celebrity speakers were not engaged. The resources within our own area were displayed in many ways, including the Saturday evening of drama, dance, and music. 
  • A process called “Appreciative Inquiry” was used throughout the two days to help people, one-on-one and in small groups, encounter each other in the depths of their faiths quickly and with mutual respect. 
  • With preparation by four focus groups held last summer, three Saturday panels of religious leaders addressed (1) environmental, (2) personal, and (3) social failings of our time in the context of Kansas City, with the resources of their respective traditions. On Sunday a panel on the role of religion in Kansas City with leaders from government, media, business, and the non-profit sector was featured, and a final panel discussed “Where do we go from here?”
  • Many faith groups held  pre-conference open houses on Friday, and workshops were offered on most faiths on Saturday. Sunday began with an interfaith worship service. Throughout the conference, faith groups had displays and information for registrants.
Concluding Declaration.-- A 500-word declaration, edited from comments posted on a wall throughout the conference, was unanimously adopted and signed in a ceremony using the conference logo and water from rivers around the world and from area fountains from Independence to Olathe. 
The Declaration begins, “This is an historic moment because never before have people of so many faiths in the Kansas City area convened to explore sacred directions for troubled times.  Especially after the events of September 11, the need for our support for one another and the larger community is clear and commanding.” 
Evaluation.-- The formal evaluation instrument and informal comments have been overwhelmingly favorable. 
  • Participants valued opportunities to build relationships, to learn about other faiths, to experience the “Appreciative Inquiry” method, and to come to a better understanding of our community. 
  • A Nov 1 Kansas City Star editorial began, “If other communities want an example of how to conduct interfaith dialogue in this tense time among followers of different religions, they should look at the recent ‘Gifts of Pluralism’ conference in Kansas City.”
Organizers.-- This conference represents the cooperation of many organizations which understand the importance of faith in the life of the community.
  • “The Gifts of Pluralism” was conceived by the Kansas City Interfaith Council, a program of CRES, and under CRES auspices, direction, and support. Vern Barnet, president of CRES, was conference president. Larry Guillot is CRES Board Chair.
  • Co-sponsors were KC Harmony, NCCJ, and Spirit of Service. Churches with world headquarters here (Community of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, Unity School of Christianity) were official observers at Interfaith Council planning meetings and participated in the conference.
  • A list of some 80 leaders and presenters  (Clyde F Wendel, Stumbling Deer, Bill Tammeus, Bilal Muhammed, Saraswati Shanker . . . ) is available on our web site or by request, along with the members of the Interfaith Council.
Funding was provided by the Bank of America as Trustee of the George and Elizabeth Davis Trusts, the Ewing M Kauffman Fund for Greater Kansas City,  DST, the Norman and Elaine Polsky Fund, the Bank of Blue Valley, and Community Christian Church, with smaller gifts for scholarship funds from numerous individuals. The facility was provided as an in-kind gift from Pembroke Hill School. The conference fee was $75 (including all meals); donations made student scholarships and other subsidies possible.
Additional information (including extensive press coverage, the Concluding Declaration, and detailed program and participants) is available on the CRES website ( Conference notebooks (120 pages) with each faith’s section prepared locally, are available for $22 each from the address below. 
CRES, Box 45414, Kansas City, MO 64171
POSTSCRIPT. Since this report was prepared in 2001, new activities directly growing out of the conference have blessing our community, including the play, The Hindu and the Cowboy and Other Kansas City Stories and the nationally recognized Interfaith Passport. In 2002 network CBS did a half-hour special on Kansas City because of other work growing out of the conference, and in 2007 the nation's first "Interfaith Academies," with partners including the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, Religions for Peace-USA at the UN Plaza, the Saint Paul School of Theology, and the renamed Greater Kansas City Interfaith Council, with CRES providing local arrangements and Vern serving on the international faculty.

Click on tree to return to CRES.ORG.



This is a historic moment because never before have people of so many faiths in the Kansas City area convened to explore sacred directions for troubled times. Especially after the events of September 11, the need for our support for one another and the larger community is clear and commanding.
        As members of the greater Kansas City community and guests, we have assembled October 27 and 28, 2001, and worked together, worshipped together, enjoyed each other, and learned from each other. 
         Receiving suggestions made throughout this meeting for enlarging and improving this statement, we celebrate the gifts of pluralism we have begun to offer to one another.

We do hereby declare our resolve to work towards making Kansas City a model community, where interfaith relationships are honored as a way of deepening one's own tradition and spirituality, and where the wisdom of the many religions successfully addresses the environmental, personal and social crises of our often fragmented world. 

      ¶ The gifts of pluralism have taught us that nature is to be respected rather than controlled; nature is a process that includes us, not a product external to us to be used or disposed of.  Our proper attitude toward nature is awe, not utility. 
       ¶ We have also learned that our true personhood may not be the images of ourselves constrained by any particular social identities.  When we realize this, our acts can proceed spontaneously from the duty and compassion , and we need not be unduly attached to results beyond control. 
     ¶ Finally, when persons in community govern themselves less by profit and more by the covenant of service. the flow of history toward to peace and justice is honored and advanced.

We declare that through our encounter we have discovered that clearer directions for our several faiths and for our society at large are needed and possible.  In the names of our faiths too often prejudice and injustice have been perpetuated, and we know that bias and bigotry continue. 

The work we have done this weekend  is a turning point to overcome the misunderstandings that separate persons and communities of faith. We resolve to deepen our commitments to our own faith communities and to enlarge our understanding of kinship by honoring the faiths of others.  This conference, “The Gifts of Pluralism,” is thus the beginning of an expanded conversation by which we may show both our humility and our gratitude in offering service to that which is Infinite and Ultimate, which we call by many names but identify in our hearts as the Source from which come, to which we return, and which holds us in this present opportunity. 


Approved unanimously at the end of the Conference with each person 
ceremonially adding his or her signature while receiving the waters of the world 
mingled with waters from fountains of the Kansas City area to take home 
to water a plant to grow as a way of reminding us to help the community grow 
with the wisdom and relationships from the Conference.


Brainstorming ideas about a second "Gifts" conference have been removed from this page
so as not to precondition planning for another conference.
The material is now available at