Many people have more than one career in their lives and some even gain notoriety for their second-act reinventions of self. Julia Child was in her late-thirties before she discovered a talent for French cooking. Helen Mirren didn’t have a breakthrough role until her forties and Winston Churchill’s political career didn’t gain momentum until he was in his mid-fifties.
The Reverend Dr. Gwynne Guibord literally answered a divine call to serve and that call didn’t ring until she was in her late-forties. Already accomplished with a successful career as a practicing psychologist in southern California, her life took a dramatic turn shortly after the passing of her sister, Cindy, in 1992. Twelve years her junior and known for her vitality, Cindy battled leukemia until her premature death at the age of 36. Stricken with grief, Gwynne heard a mysterious voice summon her by name, beckoning her to religious service. She responded and six weeks later she was enrolled in an Episcopal seminary.
After graduation from the seminary and her ordination as a deacon, Dr. Guibord soon found herself in Geneva as a delegate to the 1992 Assembly of the World Council of Churches, an inter-church organization of Christian denominations representing over 500 million Christians worldwide.
Other ecumenical duties soon engaged Dr. Guibord over the years including membership in a 2003 delegation sent to the Vatican to meet with Pope John Paul II. Their urgent mission was to deliver a letter to the pontiff on behalf of Pax Christi, a Catholic organization promoting peace, and the National Council of Churches in hopes of finding some alternative to the then-looming war in Iraq.
But having had a successful first-act to her life as a psychologist and a rewarding second one as a member of the Episcopal clergy didn’t prepare Reverend Dr. Gwynne Guibord for the unexpected third-act that followed. Financial constraints in the archdiocese brought an end to her official ecumenical and interfaith service but, as in the past, opportunity accompanied change. Change can be traumatic but she notes “Service to others has always been joyful, even when difficult.” She found a way to continue her ministry in a different way.
With help from a few friends she started the Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out, a non-profit interfaith organization. All interfaith groups promote understanding between the world’s religions and, although the concept is largely a 20th century phenomenon in terms of popular practice, its basis is as old as the Scriptures.
First, there’s the Christian understanding taken from the Bible (the Gospel of Matthew, 22:35-40):
“Then one of them, which was a lawyer, asked him a question, tempting him, and saying, Master, which is the great commandment in the law? Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord, thy God, with all thy heart, and with all thy soul and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second one is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the Prophets.”
Then from the Qur’an (Sura Ali-Imran, verses 64-68):
“Say: ‘O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word as between us and you: that we worship none but God…’ ”
More recent religions promote understanding, as well. In the Baha’i Writings, for example, believers are exhorted to: “Consort with the followers of all religions in a spirit of friendliness and fellowship.”
According to the Guibord Center’s mission statement, its purpose is to bring people “…together to challenge assumptions, unleash the Holy and affirm the faith that transforms the world.” But it’s not your parents’ interfaith group.
Any institution named after its founder is going to reflect that individual’s world-view, at least to some extent. Dr. Guibord was raised in an interfaith family. Her mother was Baptist and her father converted to Judaism from the Roman Catholic Church. She, herself, was raised a Methodist and later joined the Episcopal Church. It was a family and a family of religions all at the same time.
In a world that is religiously polarized, it’s not a simple matter to look past the divisions of religion, race and gender to the common concerns that unite us, yet justice demands it. The Guibord Center (which is sustained by individual contributions) creates a public space where its members are free to share their respective understanding with a more pluralistic acceptance of difference. It does so in ways that are as thoughtful as they are inspirational.
Religious differences are explored in the center’s 101 series which has included informational programs on the Sufi tradition, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, Judaism, Islam and the Baha’i Faith. More are scheduled in the coming year along with a special speaker’s series as well as community events tailored for all those interested in deepening their religious experience.
One wonders if the promotion of justice in the world at large doesn’t also address a personal need for equity. Does not the act of inclusiveness, for example, also appeal to one’s own desire for acceptance? Whenever the discursive elements of our lives collide in uncertainty there is an endearing wistfulness to such pursuits. If the purpose of religion is to bring the faithful together then it seems that the purpose of interfaith is at least allied, if not always appreciated.
To find out more about the Guibord Center – Religion Inside Out, check out the website: http://theguibordcenter.org/