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During the summer of 1996, a series of hate crimes occurred in Huntington Beach. For members of the city council at that time, it was a very disturbing occurrence, and they decided to do something about it.
Under the leadership of sitting Mayor Ralph Bauer, and supported by Mayor Pro Tem Shirley Dettloff, they took a multi-pronged approach to the problem. On May 6, 1996, the city presented a “Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity” which spoke directly to the community about the inclusive nature of the citizenry, and the importance of reporting hate crimes.
They followed this action by invoking two new organizations in the city – the Human Relations Task Force and the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council.
The first meeting of the council was in the fall of 1996 at St. Bonaventure Church, with about a dozen people. Bill Shane, then Director of the NCCJ (National Conference of Community and justice) with his Assistant Sue Smith, convened the meeting and presented information regarding the development of a successful interfaith organization.
One of the suggestions at that meeting was to elect a Board and officers, and begin to create by-laws. The wise voice of Father Rod Keller (now deceased) spoke up to say. “I don’t think we should do anything like that for the first year. We should just take the time to fall in love with each other.” That advice was well taken, and many rich friendships have evolved from participation in the interfaith council.
A year later, we did organize, and our first President was Father Kerry Beaulieu, followed a year later by Brian Clendenen of First Church, Christ Science. That year the council held their first annual prayer breakfast at the Waterfront Hilton in the tent. 300 people were in attendance.
Because we were an organization sponsored by the city, we were provided a meeting room at city hall after moving our meetings from one house of worship to another for the first two years.
We do not limit membership in the council to only Huntington Beach houses of worship and service organizations, thus we chose the name “Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council.” We have members from Fountain Valley, Westminster, Seal Beach and more.
In the early years, we found a way to raise funds to build a float and ride in the Fourth of July parade. A tradition began with Father Christian Mondor riding down Main Street playing his banjo to American tunes. Father Christian continued to play his banjo (until his passing in 2018), along with both walkers and passengers as we join in singing patriotic songs as we remind the community of our religious freedoms.
In 1999, a committee was formed to offer a special program at the Huntington Beach Pier to welcome in the Millennium. it was seen as a spiritual antidote to the fearful messages of doom that were circulating in the atmosphere. The Procession of Light began on January 1, 2000. After two Processions of Light held in January in chilly temperatures, we moved the program to coincide with the observation of 9-11 until 2014 when it was replaced by the Blessing of the Waves.
The Greater HB Interfaith Council has offered invocations at city council meetings, carefully respecting the diversity of beliefs in our city, yet believing that prayer can help make a community stronger.
In addition, our faith leaders have led prayers at many other civic events as well.
When the nation was reeling from the events of 9-11, the Interfaith Council immediately responded to this tragedy by joining together and presented a prayer service in Central Park with representatives of many faith communities. Several hundred people gathered on the lawn in front of the bandstand. it was a demonstration of our solidarity in times of crisis.
For over 20 years, GHBIC has prayed together, worked together, and served together. We have welcomed thousands of people to attend our prayer breakfasts, Thanksgiving services, Processions of Light, and Blessing of the Waves. We have visited one another in hospitals, grieved at memorials and funerals, and celebrated weddings of our members’ children.
In 2013, the Interfaith Council agreed to join with the Charter for Compassion by signing the Charter and becoming a partner. as a logical next step, representatives of the Interfaith Council approached the HB City Council, who voted to become a City of Compassion.
In 2014, we joined forces with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, in the city, and began a Day of Service each April, engaging hundreds if not a thousand members of the community to work side by side to improve our parks, clean up our beaches, as well as make handmade items for Alzheimer’s patients, hospitalized children, homeless and more.
Together the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council has woven itself into the fabric of our city, bringing into reality the words of A Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity.