The “Gifts of Pluralism” conference was held Oct. 27-28, 2001, on the campus of Pembroke Hill School. This was the first interfaith conference held in the Kansas City metropolitan area. Over 250 people participated in the event, and 15 distinct faith groups were represented. Participating faiths included American Indian, Bahá’í, Buddhist, Christian (Protestant, Catholic, Orthodox), Free Thinkers, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, Wiccan, and Zoroastrian. Guests were welcomed by Congressman Dennis Moore and Congresswoman Karen McCarthy, and high school and college students participated in the panels.[1]

The event was organized by the Kansas City Interfaith Council, under the guidance of CRES. Vern Barnet, conference president, was assisted by CRES Board Chair, Larry Guillot. Co-sponsors included KC Harmony, NCCJ, and Spirit of Service. Community of Christ, the Church of the Nazarene, and Unity School of Christianity were official observers. Funding for the event 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.[2]

Interfaith panels were held on Saturday addressing personal and environmental issues. Panels also discussed the social failings of the time, as they related to Kansas City, and the participants respective faith traditions. Sunday opened with an interfaith worship service, followed by discussions regarding the role of religion in Kansas City. Leaders from government, media, business, and non-profit groups participated, aiming to address the pressing question, “Where do we go from here?” [3] A 500-word declaration was adopted and signed in ceremony, featuring waters from area fountains, and rivers around the world.

Water has always maintained spiritual significance for many faiths and has become a symbol for interfaith cooperation in Kansas City. During the conference, 14 representatives of different faiths poured the waters together, emphasizing the oneness of the interfaith community.[4] A 32-page “Interfaith Passport” also emerged as a result of the conference, designed to encourage better understanding of faiths practiced in the Kansas City area. Those who visited twelve different faith communities and five interfaith events or activities, receiving endorsement “visas,” were honored at an awards dinner.[5]


[1] Barnet, Vern. 2001. “The Gifts of Pluralism, Kansas City’s First Interfaith Conference: A Success — A Model for the Future.” CRES. Accessed December 31, 2018.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Barnet, Vern. “KC Holy Water.” CRES: Many Paths. Accessed 20 February 2019.

[5] Barnet, Vern. 2017. “The Passport.” CRES. Accessed 20 February 2019.