Toronto Pagans gear up for the Parliament of the World’s Religions

Dodie Graham McKay —  January 18, 2018 — Leave a comment

TORONTO, Ont. – The city of Toronto is preparing itself for November 1 -7, 2018, when the global interfaith movement known as The Parliament of the World’s Religions (PWR) is held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre.

Organizers are anticipating as many as 10,000 attendees, hailing from every corner of the globe, to attend the seven-day event.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Pixabay)

The chair of the Site Selection Committee is EarthSpirit’s co-founder Andras Corban-Arthen, the board’s sole Pagan member. His involvement with the organization also includes serving on the Executive Committee, the Nominating Committee, the Indigenous Task Force, and the Program & Plenary Committee. Additionally Corban-Arthen is a member of the Parliament’s delegation to the United Nations.

In an interview, Corban-Arthen explained what Pagan attendees can expect at the 2018 Parliament:

They will be able to select from a menu which includes hundreds of workshops, lectures, panel discussions, religious ceremonies, concerts and performances, art exhibits, and films. And they can expect to participate in plenaries and assemblies where they can listen to stimulating presenters from all over the world: spiritual and political leaders, Nobel Peace Laureates, celebrated artists, and social and environmental activists.

Keynote speakers have yet to be announced for this year; the organizers will be making those announcements over the coming months. Past speakers have included such influential voices as Nelson Mandela, Shirin Ebadi, the Dalai Lama, Mairead Maguire, Jimmy Carter, Jane Goodall, and Desmond Tutu

Pagans at the the Parliament in Barcelona, 2004

In order to build excitement for the Parliament, official pre-parliamentary events are being held to raise awareness .For example, the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot (TPPM) will host one such event in February. As posted by organizer Karen Dales on the moot’s Facebook page, the upcomin g February Moot will be both a celebration of TPPM’s 22th anniversary and also a gathering to talk about the Parliament.

The theme of this year’s PWR is “The Promise of Inclusion, The Power of Love: Pursuing Global Understanding, Reconciliation and Change.” A call has been put out for programming submissions. Individuals and communities are invited by the organizers to submit proposals for lectures, seminars, panel discussions and academic papers. Submissions may also be a religious or spiritual observance, an artistic performance, or film screening.

One of the local Toronto Pagans submitting proposals is storyteller Brian Walsh. Walsh, who serves as a Pagan chaplain at the University of Toronto and has worked as a hospital spiritual care provider for more than a decade, has put forward two proposals. “Sacred Stories: Narrative as Magic and Sacrament” and also a joint effort with the Montreal-based Pagan storyteller and festival favourite JD “Hobbes” Hickey.

The pair hope that their proposal for “Bardic Night: An Evening of Pagan Storytelling and Music” will be accepted. They plan to enlist local talent to present this entertainment.

Toronto is a city with a well-established Pagan community, with many traditions represented. Local people are joining forces to form a committee, led by Catherine Starr, a Toronto resident, Gardnerian High Priestess and Local Planning Committee Coordinator.

Starr became involved with the PWR in 1993 through her work with the Covenant of the Goddess. She was able to attend the 1999 Parliament, in Cape Town, South Africa. It was here that she was impressed by the community effort that creates the event.

“For me, this was a life-changing experience,” Starr explained. “While I will admit to meeting some very important people, it was really meeting locals and volunteers that left the biggest mark on my heart. The last night, I got to attend a special interfaith gathering on top of Table Mountain at sunset and we sang songs with Arlo Guthrie. So, for me, bringing the parliament to my home is so very special and I know that will be filled with all sorts of surprises for everyone who attends.”

Creating excitement and building enough interest in the Pagan community to have a good presence at the PWR, will demand some careful organizing.

Starr said, “We have a planning committee of over twenty people working on various things, including several pre-parliament events, such as the 22nd anniversary of the Toronto Pagan Pub Moot in February as well as a host of other events leading up to October 31.”

“There are plans for training sessions to improve multifaith dialogue, creating informational publications and a timeline of Paganism in Canada,” she continued. “Several people are working on presenting programs at the event and possible programming for a Pagan Faith Space. We are looking for many ways to support Pagans coming to Toronto, including housing, transit information and other helpful tips.”

PWR Local Committee Coordinator Catherine Starr

Corban-Arthen stresses that although PWR is not specifically a Pagan event, it is one that has been extremely inclusive and supportive of Paganism. It was one of the first interfaith organizations to elect a Pagan to its Board of Trustees: Angie Buchanan who served from 2002 – 2010. Phyllis Curott was then elected, and served from 2010 – 2015. She also chaired the Woman’s Assembly at the Salt Lake City edition of the Parliament.

“I find that most Pagans who’ve never attended a Parliament before have a hard time grasping the complexity and the scope of the event, as well as the potential benefits it can have for the local Pagan communities.” he said.

Corban-Arthen also sees the long-term advantage that Pagan communities in host cities can expect, and how Toronto’s Pagans have an advantage.

“The local Pagans who did attend (past Parliaments) told us they’d experienced a level of visibility, inclusion, respect and credibility which surpassed anything they’d imagined, and which translated into a much greater acceptance of them by their neighbors, workmates, police, etc.,” he explained.

“I think Toronto is going to be different, in that it has been home to a very large and diverse Pagan population for a very long time, and they seem to be much better organized, so they will probably get a lot more out of being at the Parliament”

Although it is an advantage to have so many Pagans around, the diversity in paths needs to be respected, and considered, as Starr explained, “The response has been great, but challenging! Unlike other faith groups, we are a multifaith group within the whole multifaith community.”

“I want to include as many voices as possible in planning events and I am trying to build some bridges to work together. I think folks are getting excited and I keep getting suggestions on how people are looking for ways to be part of this experience. ”

The call for programming submissions closes on March 1, and selected programs will be announced on May 1.

Plans for the future of the Parliament are already well underway. The bidding process to find host cities for the 8th, 9th, and subsequent editions of the event, opened on January 7. The exciting news is that, going forward, the Parliament will occur every three years is, as Corban-Arthan states, “to keep pace with the fast-developing interfaith movement around the world.”

Parliament organizers encourage tourism bureaus, advocacy organizations, and government offices to review their Request for Proposals, available on the Parliament of the Worlds Religions website, for details.

Dodie Graham McKay

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Dodie Graham McKay is an initiated Witch and independent film maker living in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. She has been involved in magic, music and media since the late eighties, and finds it important to be connected to the currents and communities that influence our art, environment and magical practices.