Bahai News -- Jones promotes peace through religious understanding Article Last Updated: Monday, December 23, 2002 - 11:17:15 AM MST

Jones promotes peace through religious understanding

By Alina Larson - STAFF WRITER

Stepping into Margaret Jones' San Mateo home is stepping into Christmas.

Every branch, practically every needle of her Christmas tree bears an ornament, but not of the plain 'ol ball variety. Smiling elves, sweet angels and candy canes, Santas in all sizes and shapes crowd onto the tree, guarded below by a clan of white teddy bears. Big red stockings hang on the mantle above a group of wooden carolers and reindeer. A nativity scene graces the table. And in the den, an army of teddy bears in every nook and cranny wear red overalls.

``I have conversations with them!'' confesses Jones, 80, with delight. Which makes more sense when she explains that two rows of the larger bears represent her five children and her 11 grandchildren. Undoubtedly there are three more bears somewhere for her three great-grandchildren.

``Yes, I'm telling people, `No more bears,' '' says Jones. She doesn't have any more room.

But she clearly has no shortage of childlike energy and spirit. Which helps when your mission is world peace.

In addition to raising five children and getting her college diploma at age 72, Jones and her late husband Malcolm started the San Mateo chapter of United Religions Initiative on the rather eerie date of Sept. 11, 2000.

``There was no agenda. Just a focus for peace,'' says Jones.

The idea for United Religions Initiative began when Bishop William Swing of Episcopal Diocese California held an interfaith service commemorating the United Nations' 50th anniversary. The organization's purpose, as stated in its charter, is to ``promote enduring, daily interfaith cooperation, to end religiously motivated violence and to create cultures of peace, justice and healing for the earth and all living beings.''

URI's membership is created from ``cooperation circles,'' which require a minimum of seven people of at least three different religions. The Jones' original group of 12 represented Hindu, Catholic, Unitarian, Baha'i, Islam, Protestant and Church of Enlightenment faiths, who all decided that the focus of their circle would be education, listening and learning.

Now the group has around 30 active members. Members take turns giving presentations about the teachings, practices and traditions of their religion at each monthly meeting, held either at a member's church or home.

``We're not judgmental,'' says Jones. ``I think it's important not just to accept or tolerate people of other religions or cultures but to welcome them and want to be with them.''

Nebraska-born Jones learned her creed early. When her parents, who were Methodist, moved the family to Southern California ``We'd go to whatever Protestant church was closest,'' she says. She also cites her grandfather, a scholar and a lawyer, as an influence. ``He gave me the basis for believing in people and a wide world view over and beyond nationalism and organized religion.''

Jones' husband Malcolm shared her interest in meeting people of different backgrounds.

The two met as seniors in college - she was in nursing school, he in medical school.

Before Margaret got the chance to finish her degree the two married in 1945 and her husband was off to World War II. Over the years the couple lived in San Antonio, Texas, and throughout California, always staying involved in their church's community and youth outreach programs, and befriending people of different cultures.

Her open-minded attitude must have come in handy when a 70-year-old Margaret went to UC Irvine to get her bachelor's degree in sociology, with, naturally, a focus on religion. ``The kids were wonderful to me,'' says Margaret, who was paired with a 12-year-old boy genius student for a story on the oldest and youngest students at the university. ``(Going back to college) made a difference in volunteer relationships and leadership roles,'' says Margaret. Her strong involvement in URI led her to the organization's August global assembly in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. She loved the experience, particularly meeting people from throughout the world.

``I think people are looking for roads to social justice,'' says Margaret. ``We have so much to learn from one another. But unless the religions come together I don't know if the world has a chance.''

- For more information on United Religions Initiative, visit or call (415) 561-2300.

You can e-mail Alina Larson at or call (650) 348-4333.

©Copyright 2002, The Oakland Tribune

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