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Paul Ashby plans six-nation interfaith peace mission

Paul Ashby, pastor of Richmond Beach Congregational UCC, is on a six-nation interfaith “Peace, Respect, and Love in Action” Mission this spring? in Penang, Malaysia; Colombo, Sri Lanka; Phnom Penh, Cambodia; Hanoi, Vietnam; Chang Mai, Thailand; and Taipei, Taiwan.

He will have public interfaith dialogues with Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jewish and Daoist religious leaders as part of his travel through March. 

Paul and his wife Pam also plan to visit temples, mosques and synagogues in various cities. 

A group of monks in Chang Mai has promised to be their guide but add with a note of joy that “there are more than 400 temples in this city of 900,000 people!”  They advised them to bring good walking shoes because they will “walk more than a mile in the shoes of ancient faiths in Asia.”

Last spring, Paul was one of more than 700 people who applied for a Lilly Endowment Sabbatical Grant.  Because a packet  was lost in the mail, he did not discover until late September that he was awarded a fully funded grant of $46,533. 

His project is to do interfaith peacemaking in six different Asian nations. 

The goal is to go into regions where televangelists and missionaries have spread a message of rejection and judgment against other faiths and share in dialogue about the compassion of the Jewish rabbi named Jesus of Nazareth.  Often televangelists ignore the truth that Jesus was never a Christian nor did Jesus ever tell anyone they were going to hell, he said.

Paul will base dialogues on a theme central to Richmond Beach Congregational Church: “Peace, Respect, and Love in Action.”

His inspiration for this mission project was spiritual writer and Trappist monk Thomas Merton.  In the late 1950s, Merton was a pioneer of interfaith dialogues across many faith groups.  Merton provides a method based on sharing common ethical values, speaking respectfully about differences, and reflecting on ways different faiths open the human heart and consciousness to compassion, mercy, service to the poor, and forgiveness.  Merton also adds the humble recognition that no one has all the answers, Paul said.

This grant follows three decades of interfaith outreach and peacemaking for Paul. 

He has received a community service award for helping Tibetan Buddhist refugees, The Oklahomans for Equality awarded him the “Spiritual Inclusion” award for leadership in creating peace and understanding among faith groups, and he received a postdoctoral fellowship to study Asian religions at Harvard University. 

In addition to his service as pastor of Richmond Beach Congregational Church UCC, he has been elected twice to serve as vice president of Seattle Soto Zen.

Also, after having numerous sermons published in Global Vedanta (a Hindu journal), he received the honor of being a lifetime member of the Vedanta Society of Western Washington. 

This fits one of Paul’s favorite sayings, “God is greater than any one theology or anyone’s imagination.”

For information, call (206) 542-7477 or visit

Pacific NW United Church News Copyright© January-March 2019



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