Six events: Brisbane, Geelong, Geelong by Jenny Funston, Melbourne, Perth, Tasmania
Brisbane: report by Babs O’Connor
Four of us met at the house of Kerry McCarthy, one of the participants. We first held an interfaith ceremony, with prayers offered for different faiths—Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, the Baha’i faith, Confucianism, and indigenous traditions—and some lovely words from each faith read by Kerry. We started with a wordless prayer, and offered our gratitude to nature, then held a flag ceremony to pray for peace in each country. We closed our gathering with a lovely and well-earned lunch! Our numbers may have been small, but our intention was very big!
Geelong: report by Silvana Benacchio
Our SOPP ceremony in Geelong was held on the afternoon of May 20th, at the Grovedale Community Centre. Participants were greeted at the entrance to the hall and given bottles of water to hold onto during the ceremony, to imbue with their prayers and love. Some members of the Geelong Interfaith Network already knew about this part of the ceremony, and brought their own bottles, which they had been filling with prayers for weeks before the event.
I gave a welcome address and a brief explanation of the SOPP. We then took a few moments for a ‘Welcome to Country,’ to give our respects to the traditional custodians of this land. Then, Ally Finlay read Masami Saionji’s message for this year’s SOPP.
We then shared in prayers of various faiths, presented by members of the Geelong Interfaith Network. There were prayers from Catholicism, Judaism, Hinduism, the Baha’i faith, Sikhism, Islam, Buddhism, the Universal Peace Federation, the Unity Church, and the prayer May peace prevail on Earth. We paused briefly for reflection between the prayers.
The next part of our ceremony focused on the four elements, through which we offered our respect and gratitude to nature. We started with the water element, with a big blue bowl into which participants could pour the contents of their bottles. Water reminds us that our thoughts, words and actions affect the world around us, just like ripples in a pond. The fire element was represented by candles, linking us all to the one source of light. Fire reminds us that love burns within our hearts. Next was the air element, represented by beautiful paper birds made lovingly out of Japanese paper and feathers. The air reminds us that we are all connected, as what we breathe out, another breathes in, and vice versa. The fourth element was earth, represented by stones decorated with positive words. The stones remind us that we are part of the earth, and to the earth we shall return.
It was a joy to observe the respect shown by participants and the delight on children’s faces as they wound their way around the table of elements. I must also comment on the table itself, which was truly a work of art, and the energy it exuded was very beautiful.
We then recited the prayer that Masami Saionji led in the ceremony at Fuji Sanctuary (see page 27). This was followed by a performance by the Baha’i Children’s Choir, who gave us a delightful gift of innocent, pure and trusting voices. My heart truly melted with joy and love watching their cherub-like faces and feeling their beautiful, soft energy. They always bring such joy and delight to our SOPP ceremonies.
Next came our flag ceremony to pray for peace in each country. We had taken great care in preparing for this part of the ceremony, to make sure it went smoothly, and our diligence paid off. The flag bearers took delight in carrying the flags. They proceeded in groups of ten around the table of elements, all participants prayed May peace prevail on Earth, and then the flags were placed in receptacles around the table and the next lot of ten flags were carried in.
As we surrounded the circle of flags and the table of elements, we sang the word ‘peace’ in the official languages of the world, to show solidarity with all peoples. It was quite a moving experience. Robynne Mahoney then led us in a beautiful, heartfelt Global Peace Meditation, reminding us that we are all one—part of the same human race.
We closed the main part of the ceremony with acknowledgements and thanks to all the participants and helpers. Participants were then ushered outside, where we planted an Olive Peace Tree in the garden bed of the Community Centre. The prayer leaders took turns watering the tree with the water from the table of elements—the water that held the energy of our prayers. We affirmed, This tree is nurtured and sustained by our prayers and love, as each prayer leader poured water on it.
We then moved over to the peace pole that had been planted earlier that morning. I spoke briefly about peace poles and explained a little about this one in particular. A blessing for the pole was then read, followed by a few moments of silence allowing for personal prayer. I invited participants to place their decorated stone at the base of the Pole. We then prayed May peace prevail on Earth three times.
The ceremony culminated with the flying of ‘Kites for Kindness.’ Kite kits had previously been handed out to various faith groups in the weeks before the ceremony, giving people time to decorate their kites with all kinds of positive words and images. Although it was a relatively calm day, some managed to get their kites up very high! Children and adults alike played and had fun, while some came back inside to enjoy an afternoon tea with an international flavour.
My deepest appreciation goes out to all Byakko members and friends of Byakko, who made this another wonderful and successful SOPP. Although Jenny Funston could not physically be with us, we know that she was with us in spirit. We knew she would be holding the energy of love and sending it to us in support as she held her own SOPP at home. Her strong faith and dedication is inspiring.
When I stop to think that similar ceremonies were held simultaneously all over the globe, I am deeply moved. The SOPP has grown from its beginnings in Japan to all corners of the earth, and is still growing. Greatly Accomplished!
Geelong: report by Jenny Funston
Due to recovering from knee surgery, I was unable to attend the ceremony at the Grovedale Community Centre. I chose to hold my own SOPP at home by myself, which was really wonderful. I began by setting up a table with a mandala representing the major world faiths as backdrop, lighting the World Peace Flame and then offering prayers from different faiths. I had these prayers typed on lovely paper from some previous prayer ceremonies, so it seemed a great idea to use them. On completion of these individual prayers, I recited the multi-faith prayer written for our SOPP program this year.
My ceremony of prayer for peace in each country used tiny paper flags mounted on toothpicks and placed in a ceramic dish of sand. As I placed each nation’s flag, I prayed, May peace be in (name of country). Once all the flags were in place, I proceeded to pray for each nation in its own language(s). For me today, this was the most powerful part of my ceremony. The energies whirling through my crown chakra were very strong and I sensed the great importance of resonating and joining with each person on the planet through their own language.
I then sang the little song that Silvana Benacchio and I had conceived a few years ago, where the word ‘peace’ in each language was put to music. I recited Masami Saionji’s prayer of oneness (see page 27), and read aloud her message for the SOPP, even though I was the only one here.
The final part of my program was to have a Global Peace Meditation while listening to the singing of “May Peace Prevail on Earth” by Belinda McArdle, who wrote the words and music for us back in 2008.
It has been encouraging to hear from others who joined in prayers in some way on this great day. One lady who I met in Tasmania last year, and who is an official Fire Keeper of the Cherokee nation, was holding a sacred Fire Ceremony in the United States.
Melbourne: report by Gloria Grace Wallace
We held an SOPP ceremony at the Heartlight Centre in Melbourne on May 20. I began with some welcoming remarks and an invocation of the ‘three truths’: I am a beloved expression of divinity; I am here for a holy purpose; I am in the right place at the right time. We affirmed these three truths in a song, and then after a brief meditation offered two prayers—the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic, and a prayer for harmony between humanity and nature.
Next, I read a message of peace from the Mayan elders, which talks about 2012 being the beginning of a time of transition. After that, we offered a Dance of Universal Peace in honour of our divine Mother Earth, and then Peter Shalless read a poem entitled “Brotherhood with All Life.”
I gave a brief talk about Byakko Shinko Kai and Masahisa Goi, and then read Masami Saionji’s message. This was followed by the prayers from various faiths and traditions. We had 18 speakers in all, each of whom lit a candle with the World Peace Flame. They offered prayers from the Native peoples of the world, the Yogic tradition, Hinduism, Judaism, Buddhism, Taoism, Shintoism, Christianity, Islam, Sikhism, the Baha’i faith, the New Thought tradition, Unitarianism, Theosophy, and Isis Worship, and also a prayer from Byakko Shinko Kai. One speaker lit a candle for all other faiths and traditions (and those yet to come), and another offered a prayer on behalf of the angelic realms.
Next, we offered a prayer for peace in each region of the world. We prayed together: May peace prevail on Earth. May peace be in (name of continent). We continued with more songs and prayers, and closed with a song and dance circle. It was an amazing afternoon and everyone felt the energies and power of our gathering in the name of peace. We did indeed feel like one heart—meditating, praying, singing, and dancing together for peace.
One of the prayer leaders sent us this wonderful message: “I loved and enjoyed the whole time of our companionship, the heartfelt prayers of peace read and heartily expressed by every friend present showed me that despite our different paths, we are all united by one purpose, to experience the divine light in and out of us; and on the day, Mother Earth was the connection. The music was calming to the heart and uplifting to the soul, and the companionship of radiant friends filled me with energies and love. Even the body was nourished with a variety of foods and drinks prepared with love and healing energies. Thank you for bringing us together.”
Another wrote: “I wanted you to know that I felt so much connectedness of love and joy and oneness within a community. I felt like my heart was so open and connected with everyone there, especially when we sang together. I felt a complete joy within me and within the group; it was so blissful! I initiated holding hands with those next to me as we sang ‘Imagine’ because it was like we were one big heart together and it felt like we had done this before. And then, of course, everyone was holding hands and singing together and imagining peace!”
Perth: report by Eva Szauter
The Brahma Kumaris organization in Perth held its second SOPP ceremony at a local community centre on the afternoon of 20 May. We had been waiting for this precious day since last year. Participants had told me that they were looking forward to coming together to create harmony, peace and unity among ourselves and in the world. We also received great support from the prayer leaders and performers.
To open the ceremony, a young boy named Thomas Griffiths played a tune on the piano and Anke Goldschmidt carried the Earth flag into the room, accompanied by the Kaajal candle and the Pooja World Globe. Next, our MC, Bonita Mason, welcomed everyone and read Masami Saionji’s message and prayer. Then, all the prayer leaders were called on stage to light candles for peace, and afterwards they offered their prayers one by one, from the following faiths and traditions: the Baha’i faith, Buddhism (two prayer leaders), Christianity, Hare Krishna, Hinduism, Judaism, Universal Brotherhood, Vaishnavism, Brahma Kumaris, a prayer from an interfaith minister, and two independent prayers. It was very touching to see and hear how many of the people recited the prayers along with them. The prayer leaders seemed more comfortable than they did last year, perhaps because there was a greater feeling of togetherness. By the end of the prayers, there was a great outpouring of compassion and loving kindness in the room.
After the interfaith prayers, we had a minute of silence for world peace, and then we continued with Lillian Haagensen who led the Elm Dance. After this circle dance of healing and solidarity, we came to our flag ceremony. This year, everyone participated and was given one or two countries to which to send prayers of peace, love and prosperity. People were amazed at how many nations existed under the huge umbrella of humanity. Many said that their hearts were overflowing with love and a desire to live in harmony with all their fellow beings. It was truly an inspirational experience!
Following the flag ceremony we had some magical performances from The New Era Baha’i Choir conducted by Greg Parker, mandolin player Pat O’Leary, and healer and composer Maryanne Butler. At the end, we all came together and recited the Universal Peace Prayer, which was very powerful.
After the ceremony, one of the prayer leaders commented: “What a beautiful event! I became totally immersed in the day’s energy. The vibrations of love were almost tangible. I believe the day has had a resonating impact on peace, harmony and love.” One participant said: “Thank you for organising such a meaningful and inspiring event, such an honour to be invited to participate. I’m sure everyone felt that we sent out good vibrations for world peace yesterday,” while another remarked: “It is encouraging to see a community which has as its sole aim, peace on earth.”
My gratitude goes out to all the participants, to Jenny Funston, and to Byakko Shinko Kai for creating this divine jewel of a program.
Tasmania: report by Tom Teniswood
This year, our SOPP ceremony at Wind Song came after a time during which we were particularly busy with various community activities. As a result, I had only a rough outline of the ceremony in my mind, but not much hard detail.
It has become a tradition at Wind Song to light the outdoor fire—a ‘Welcome Fire’ and also a peace fire—prior to a ceremony, and to keep that fire burning for up to five or six days after a ceremony. Because of the windy weather we had been experiencing, it was not lit until Saturday, about the time a beautiful rainbow filled the sky.
On Sunday we were greeted with a fine, clear morning and as we set ‘the stage’ around the peace pole with various treasures that have come to Wind Song over the past few years, I realised how strong our links are to the indigenous peoples of the world. There was a ‘peace pipe,’ a tobacco pouch and eagle feathers to symbolise our connection and friendship with the Cherokee Indian people; a didgeridoo, a gift from the Aboriginal people of northern Australia; and the flag of the Maori people of New Zealand, a gift from the Whanganui River people on the occasion of our visit in March. Leni, who opened the ceremony, picked up on all of this as she welcomed everyone on behalf of all the indigenous peoples of the world.
We prayed prayers from our respective faiths, or lit a candle, accompanied by Mandy playing her harp—a time for thought and deep reflection. We followed this with ‘Our United Prayer to Honour the Sacred of Many Names,’ a compilation of extracts from prayers from many faiths, put together by Jenny Funston. During this prayer, there was a deep sense of purpose and intent as the words were spoken and several people commented on how powerful this was and the great energy that was generated.
Teresa Drozdz played one of her new compositions dedicated to peace—beautiful, tranquil and sincere—as well as some of her other pieces. Dian joined Teresa in beautiful harmony on her violin. Madeleine and Hollie, accompanied by Teresa, sang the John Lennon song “Imagine” and also “Somewhere Over the Rainbow.” These two girls love to sing, and earlier had been singing unaccompanied as people arrived, their beautiful voices joining with the rustle of the wind in the trees and the occasional bird song.
Our flag ceremony was again simplified, with the flags of 14 countries at a time presented, then a large Indonesian gong sounded and we all prayed May peace prevail on Earth. Everyone joined in to hold the flags and to carefully ‘plant’ them in the gravel surrounding the peace pole. As most people present had participated in this ceremony before, there was little hesitation about taking part, which gave a more vibrant energy and sincerity to the ceremony. Harp music played quietly in the background.
Terry led us in a Global Peace Meditation, and again we all joined in a beautiful silence in the natural environment, accompanied by bird song! We followed with a prayer for harmony between humanity and nature, and closed with Dian and Farida (on sitar) playing from ‘spirit’ to sum up the energies and beauty of the whole ceremony. At the completion of the music, most people sat for some time before leaving our ‘prayer field.’ This was a beautiful way to complete another successful and powerful SOPP.
We started our SOPP early in the day and finished in time for people to share lunch and enjoy a chat before making their way back to their homes. Everyone enjoyed the ceremony and many remarked that holding it outdoors makes it more powerful and reinforces the link between humanity and nature, or ‘the connection between the sky and the earth,’ as symbolised in the Tibetan Buddhist Dream Flag.