Welcome to Dick Olson from Kansas City. He used to be my mother’s pastor, but that’s not why he’s sharing today’s story. He’s part of a vibrant interfaith scene in Kansas City. Every city in the U.S., as well as many of our small towns, has incredible diversity these days. Interfaith peacemakers are needed to work together to make the diversity a rich resource for the building of community rather than a cause of division.
Vern Barnet (born 1942)
By RICK OLSON
Vern Barnet is my interfaith hero. Vern is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, and after having studied at the University Chicago with Mircea Eliade (among others), served as a local pastor until the 1980’s when he gave his prime interest and energy to promoting interfaith work in the Kansas City region. In 1982, he founded the World Faiths Center for Religious Experience and Study, Inc. (CRES). This began with developing relationships with members of many faiths in the area. Then, in 1989 he founded the Kansas City (area) Interfaith Council with members of American Indian, Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian Protestant, Christian Roman Catholic, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Sikh, Sufi, Unitarian Universalist, and Zoroastrian members.
He wrote a much treasured and often quoted regular Wednesday column in The Kansas City Star on interfaith issues from 1994 to 2012.Vern has also taught comparative religions and related courses in a number of Kansas City area institutions, and entered into the life of the Kansas City area in countless ways.
In 2001, Vern was asked to preside over the area’s first major interfaith conference, “The Gifts of Pluralism,” and he also led a task force that surveyed the five-county metro area in response to religious prejudice following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The task force produced a report with many specific recommendations.
In 2007 he was the local coordinator for, and a member of the faculty of, the nation’s first “Interfaith Academies” for religious professionals and emerging religious leaders, with partnerships with Harvard University’s Pluralism Project and Religions for Peace-USA at the United Nations Plaza. This was held in Kansas City. In recognition of this many-faceted work, Ellie Pierce, principal researcher for The Pluralism Project, said, “At the Pluralism Project, we consider Kansas City to be truly at the forefront of interfaith relations This is in no small part due to the tireless efforts of Vern Barnet, whose work and writings have been an inspiration to all of us at the Pluralism Project.”
Even as I list some of his many achievements here, what impresses most about Vern is something else: his warm, open, inquiring, unthreatened, inquiring spirit coupled with his vast knowledge of and respect for each religion’s quest and contribution. He always is ready and willing to help with any interfaith endeavor in our community. For these reasons, Vern is truly an interfaith hero.
Care to read more?
Learn more about Daniel Buttry’s series of books on global peacemakers.