It was 1994 when the late Rev. Doug Hughes (1955-2007), living in
San Francisco, answered an ad by Rev. Aaron Zerah, an ordained Interfaith
Minister, in the Common Ground, the Bay Area’s Magazine for Conscious
Community. The ad informed the readers of a new seminary training
program that would ordain Interfaith Ministers. Interfaith Ministers
are individuals who have studied in many different traditions and
who seek to build bridges between them.
This program originated in New York by Rabbi Joseph Gelberman who
had started the New Seminary as a result of his many years in Ecumenical
works, and his close association with two other Interfaith teachers,
Sri Swami Satchidananda, a Hindu from Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India,
and Brother David Steindl-Rast, a Roman Catholic theologian from
Vienna. Rabbi Gelberman was a beloved Hassidic Rabbi, and well known
as a teacher, story-teller, and author. It would clearly be an honor
to be associated with the Rabbi’s program with the West Coast branch
of The New Seminary.
Rev. Hughes was interested because he had always wanted to be a
minister. He explored many traditions and the unique approach of
Interfaith was a good fit for him.
Rev. Hughes mentioned this program to Rev. Bhavani Girard, a long-time
minister from a yogic path, who also found the Interfaith concept
intriguing. Yoga is an Interfaith approach to spirituality, so formal
Interfaith training also felt like a good fit for her.
Rev. Hughes and Rev. Girard decided to take the program, but also,
because of their unique backgrounds, were asked to become Board members
as well. As it turned out, Rev. Zerah, Rev. Hughes, and Rev. Girard
did most of the planning and facilitating for the program. Rev. Zerah
was a gifted networker. Rev. Hughes had outstanding organizational
abilities. Rev. Gerard had many years of ministerial and teaching
The New Seminary West program in California began in 1995. The program
was exciting, the presenters were wonderful, and the students were
inspired. However, organizational struggles developed that resulted
in a split between the leaders. Rev. Zerah left to start his own
program. Rev. Hughes and Rev. Girard continued to lead the New Seminary
West minister’s training with Rabbi Gelberman’s blessing. On January
27, 1996, Rabbi Gelberman and his associate, Rev. Michael Festa,
traveled to Berkeley, California to ordain 7 new Interfaith Ministers
who completed the training program. An intensive, theological interfaith
seminary group examination process was led by the late Rabbi Gelberman
in the manner of inspired and exhilarating Torah Study.
While in California, Rabbi Gelberman, Rev. Doug Hughes, and Rev.
Bhavani Girard signed a formal agreement. The Rabbi gave his permission
to offer the New Seminary West program. Rev. Hughes and Rev. Girard
would continue to facilitate all programs. The next New Seminary
West program began in 1996 as a two year program.
Rev. Hughes began to explore the idea of separating from The New
Seminary in New York to create more autonomy and creative expression.
He worked tirelessly to train ministers in working toward tolerance,
understanding and respect for all faith traditions. It became clear
that in order to become independent, California law decreed the formation
of two new organizations. One entity would be the training program
(the seminary) and one would be the ordaining body (the church).
Thus was born the Golden Gate Interfaith Seminary and The Interfaith
Circle, respectively. The name Golden Gate Interfaith Seminary was
subsequently changed to the Golden Gate Interfaith Institute for
California fund-raising purposes.
Following the death of Rev. Doug Hughes January 12, 2007, the Golden
Gate Interfaith Institute came to an end as an organization. However,
our Church, The Interfaith Circle, continues to this day - vital
We are currently a legal 501c3 organization/Corporation with full
ability to receive tax deductible donations to our Church.
Ministers ordained by The Interfaith Circle continue to serve in
their communities offering spiritual counseling, performing ceremonies,
and offering Interfaith education. A small but strong group of TIC
ministers have been serving together for over twelve years.
We invite the community to attend our monthly Service Celebrations
focused on a different faith tradition each month at The Home of
Truth in Alameda, California. See: www.theinterfaithcircle.org for
more information about The Interfaith Circle.
We honor the Universal Truth that underlies all faith traditions
and promotes the love and understanding that transcend all dogma.
Rabbi Joseph Gelberman, a wonderful pioneer of the interfaith movement,
passed on September 9, 2010.
He left us on Rosh Hashanah, a High
Holiday considered a time of rebirth and new beginnings for people
of the Jewish faith.
He was 98 years young, leaving behind, and taking
with him to pass along, a legacy of love, joy and hope.
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