History of The Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council
During the summer of 1996, a series of hate crimes occurred in Huntington Beach. For members of the city council at that time, this was very disturbing, and they decided to do something about it.
Under the leadership of sitting Mayor Shirley Dettloff, and supported by Mayor Pro Tem Ralph Bauer, 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.
Mayor Shirley Dettloff remembers after hearing reports of the beating of a Native American, and hearing that Huntington Beach is the “capital of skinheads”, and other hate crimes, Dettloff reports “At the time I was the Mayor… Of course, I was horrified, and immediately went to Ralph and said with our history we should do something about it. We contacted the O.C. Human Relations group, got together with our Police Chief, and proceeded to write the Human Dignity Statement. It was brought before Council with a full audience in attendance and every Council Member signed the document. This has been a tradition with every Council. We then decided if this was not just a piece of paper that we had to have citizens committees to back it up and to keep updated on any acts that were committed against our citizens because of race, religion, sexual preference, color. We created a group that continues today, the Human Relations Task Force and the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council which are still working on these issues.
“My thought about the Interfaith Council was to empower the faith community to bring a moral dimension to Huntington Beach especially to our youth to the extent allowed by the Constitution and to make sure the faith leaders got to know each other and respected each other because they were all in the same business. It was also done to make sure that the faith community understood the complexity of government and that the political leaders were supportive of their moral efforts.” according to former Mayor and Councilman Ralph Bauer who approached leaders of Huntington Beach faith communities because they “recognized the moral force of faith communities” and wished us “to shine a light so that we can be kind and decent to each other”.
The first meeting of the council was in the fall of 1996 at St. Bonaventure Catholic Church with about a dozen people representing diverse faith traditions in attendance. Bill Shane and Sue Smith, then Director and Assistant Director of NCCJ (The National Conference for Community and Justice) 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, of St. Bonaventure Church said: “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. Many of the founding members are still involved today, as well as rich friendships based on mutual respect and understanding having evolved between individuals and the faith communities.
NCCJ was so supportive of the efforts of this new interfaith council that they agreed to coordinate the administrative functions, chair the meetings, and provide resources and education during the initial growth period of the council. NCCJ, also, provided information about other interfaith activities in Orange County and how GHBIC fit into the network of the OC interfaith organizations. Once GHBIC’s infrastructure was strong, they elected a board, created by-laws, and became established as a non-profit organization.
The first president of GHBIC was Father Kerry Beaulieu of St. Bonaventure Church, followed by Brian Clendenen of First Church of Christ, Scientist. That year the council held their first annual Prayer Breakfast in a tent at the new Waterfront Hilton Hotel with over 300 people in attendance.
Because the interfaith council never limited membership or participation to only HB Houses of Worship or service organizations, the name “Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council” was chosen. Houses of Worship, service organizations, and interested individuals from the surrounding cities of Fountain Valley, Westminster, and Seal Beach have been and remain involved.
Since it is an organization sponsored by the city of Huntington Beach, the council is provided a meeting room at City Hall after moving meetings from one House of Worship to another for the first two years. The interfaith council continues to meet at City Hall to this day. Faith leader offer invocations at city council meetings, carefully respecting the diversity of beliefs in the city, while believing that prayer can help make a community stronger.
In the early years, the council was able to raise funds to build a float and ride in the annual HB Fourth of July parade. A tradition began with Father Christian Mondor, of Saints Simon and Jude Catholic Church, and always an active, highly committed member of GHBIC, riding down Main Street on the float playing American tunes on his banjo. The float has changed over the years, but GHBIC/s participation in the parade has remained a constant. Father Christian continued to play his banjo (until his passing in 2018), along with both walkers and float passengers, as everyone joined in singing patriotic songs while reminding the community of the importance of our religious freedoms.
In 1999, a committee was formed to offer a special program at the Huntington Beach Pier to welcome the new 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 such events were held in early January during chilly temperatures, the date of the program was moved to coincide with the observation of 9-11.
When the nation was reeling from the events of 9-11, the interfaith council immediately responded to this tragedy by joining together and presenting a prayer service in Central Park with a diverse group of representatives offering prayers of peace and hope from many faith traditions. Several hundred people gathered on the lawn in front of the bandstand for this demonstration of solidarity in times of crisis.
This type of event, which encompassed features of the Procession of Light, continued until 2014 when it was replaced with the new Blessing of the Waves, which continues to this day at Pier Plaza during warmer weather. This spiritual event includes music and a paddle-out and celebrates the power of water and the environment in our lives.
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, GHBIC collaborated with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and their local Houses of Worship by beginning a Day of Service every April. Each year since then this event has engaged close to 1,000 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, the homeless, and more.
In 2018 GHBIC worked with the city of Huntington Beach in the creation, then dedication of a memorial recognition plaque on the pier in honor and memory of Fr. Christian Mondor and Pastor Sumo Sato, both avid surfers. These two individuals demonstrated through their love of the ocean and that oceans can bring people of all faiths together as they brought the community together. This living memorial serves as a reminder of who they were, what they meant to the community, and offers inspiration to carry on their message.
For the past 25 years, GHBIC has prayed together, worked together, and served together. They welcome thousands of people who attend the annual prayer breakfasts, Thanksgiving services, Processions of Light, and Blessing of the Waves. Council members visit one another in hospitals, grieve at memorials and funerals, and celebrate weddings of members’ children.
Together the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council has woven itself into the fabric of our city, bringing into reality the words of the Policy of Hunan Rights written in 1996. As members of the Greater Huntington Beach Interfaith Council, we have spent the past twenty-five years upholding these values and will continue forward, hand in hand, continuing this vision.
A Declaration of Policy About Human Dignity (first two paragraphs) by the Huntington Beach City Council
Huntington Beach is a city whose residents represent every walk of life, come from many nations, share varied lifestyles, and hold different religious beliefs. This diversity brings to our city a rich and varied cultural heritage. Our citizens honor and respect the diversity that exists in Huntington Beach. When acts of hate are committed against any citizen, it is considered an act against the entire community.
The Huntington Beach City Council declares that everyone should be treated with courtesy and respect, regardless of their racial background, their nation of origin, the religion they practice, their sexual orientation, gender, or disability status. It is the right of all citizens to pursue their daily lives with the knowledge that they will not be physically harmed or verbally abused.