By Dr. Robert P. Sellers
It has been a little over a week since the conclusion of a massive conference that I have worked toward for three years—the seventh convening of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, held November 1-7 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
Along with the dedicated members of the Board of Trustees of the Parliament, the skilled professional Staff, our hospitable Canadian partners, and hundreds of eager volunteers from many countries around the world, I celebrate what many have judged to be the best Parliament gathering in our 25-year modern history of such events.
More than 8,000 registrants from several dozen religions and more than 200 sub-traditions brought their stimulating ideas, prophetic messages, worship expressions, deep devotion, artistic offerings, religious and cultural clothing, and gracious smiles to the Metro Toronto Convention Center. As many as 1,000 breakout sessions throughout the week provided stunningly diverse programmatic choices that forced attendees to make difficult choices between hearing important presentations from leading spiritual teachers and practitioners, academics, scientists, and change agents; attending screenings of a fascinating array of documentary films; watching musical or dance performers from around the world; exploring crowded aisles of colorful booths in the bazaar-like atmosphere of the exhibit hall; pondering religious art located throughout the giant complex; joining hundreds of guests for free vegetarian lunches provided by the Sikh community each day; or simply sitting down over hot tea to share life stories with people of other faiths from parts of the world never before visited. During the week, some 600 news stories were published in various parts of the world chronicling this remarkable experience.
It was a week that too many people to count have already testified was life-changing—a veritable “World’s Fair of Religions and Spiritualities.”
But more than any of these things, the Parliament was for me, personally, as a Christian and a Cooperative Baptist, a way to live out my conviction that being the presence of Christ calls me to be a friend among those who follow other spiritual paths. Christ’s example challenges me to live among others with gentleness, kindness, and respect. His teaching to “love my neighbor as myself” compels me to engage this important work of interfaith relations. This is my calling and my mission. I hope that if you did not join us in Toronto, you will be intentional about finding your own place in the interfaith movement, and that we might have the privilege of your participation when we gather again at our next great convening.
Dr. Robert P. Sellers is professor of theology and Connally Professor of Missions at Logsdon Seminary and serves as chair for the board of trustees of Parliament of the World’s Religions.